This week, we visit the oft-forgotten borough of Redbridge. See the foot of the post for other boroughs.
1. Best curry: Curry Special, Greengate Parade, Newbury Park.
Alright, it’s not a terribly imaginative name for a restaurant but by jove it’s good curry. The cuisine is north Indian, delivers many of the usual dishes you’d get in any decent Indian eatery and we’ve found all the ones we’ve tried to be rich and flavoursome. The décor is bright and modern, service is friendly and staff are happy to answer any questions about the food. So what do we recommend? The dal makhani is gorgeous and buttery, karahi gosht is tender and offers a good balance between heat and spiciness and the Punjabi prawn curry is delicious with mushroom rice. Curry Special are also well-known in event catering circles. Newbury Park tube station on the Central line is about five minutes away.
2. Best place to learn to sail: Fairlop Waters, Forest Road, Hainault.
Well, in fact it’s the only place in Redbridge to learn to sail. You can mess about on the water in a variety of craft; dinghies, canoes or powerboats and they also offer windsurfing. It’s a lovely area to be outside in; Fairlop is located right on the outskirts of the borough. The rolling fields surrounding the 40-odd acres of water might fool you into thinking getting there would be a problem but it’s mere minutes from Fairlop tube station. Public transport, blue skies and hauling on ropes – what more could you ask for?
3. Best place to borrow a book: Fullwell Cross Library, High Street, Barkingside.
As part of the London Libraries Consortium, Redbridge boasts 12 libraries in the borough though, sadly along with many others in London, some are tipped for closure. Fullwell Cross, with its curious turquoise canopy, has recently re-opened after renovations; visitors can now make use of a garden which was previously inaccessible. They also have free wifi so you can peruse Londonist and renew your books online to avoid those annoying fines. Despite being brought bang up to date we reckon the librarians will still look sternly over the tops of their glasses and shush you in the traditional manner.
4. Best green space: Wanstead Flats, Wanstead
It’s the southern-most point of nearby Epping Forest and was used for grazing livestock as recently as 1996. Wanstead Flats made the news last year when a mystery blight killed off some of the duck population. Fortunately, the perpetrators were apprehended but the area faces a new threat – being taken over by the Metropolitan Police as a base for the Olympics, which is causing a storm of protest. In the meantime, you can still enjoy the peace and quiet as there’s no access to vehicles. Check out the wansteadbirder blog for the lowdown on our feathered friends who frequent the Flats.
5. Best stately home and park: Valentines Mansion & Gardens, Ilford
Built in 1696 for the widow of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Valentines Mansion and gardens is an oasis in a sea of pound shops. The house was acquired by the local council in 1912 but fell into disrepair until 2006 when, happily for us, Heritage Lottery Funds and Redbridge Council renovated it. The walled gardens are delightful and even the kitchen gardens have been restored to their former glory. A boating lake and a long pool with pretty grottoes at either end could be part of a pleasant walk, while the wildlife all but pulls your sleeve and asks for its picture to be taken. Gants Hill tube station is only five minutes away.
6. Best place to cycle: Redbridge Cycling Centre, Forest Road, Hainault
Described as the 'first piece of Olympics legacy', the cycling centre was opened in 2008 by Boris Johnson. Redbridge replaced the Eastway Cycle Circuit which was demolished to make way for the Olympics VeloPark. Not that only bikes are allowed – on the weekend of our visit there was a skateboarding event. It's got road and off-road tracks and, best of all, it's purpose-built so even the wobbliest rider won't have to worry about being sideswiped by a skip lorry. The views are fab too – we could see all the way across to Canary Wharf and the City and were even lucky enough to be able to watch the planes heading for the Her Maj's birthday flypast going overhead.
7. Best place to get dramatic: Vital Stages at Redbridge Drama Centre, Churchfields, South Woodford
Away from the main drag of South Woodford with its plethora of bars and restaurants is the Redbridge Drama Centre. Where arts funding from many councils is exiting stage left, RDC's hasn't and so it continues to bring the theatre to the lives of local children and young people. Coming up on 23 June is a reworking of Macbeth from the Redbridge Young Theatre Workshop, which comes with the somewhat intriguing warning label 'may contain scenes of a comic nature'. Vital Stages is the professional company attached to RDC which specialises in touring schools, fringe productions in London and corporate training.
Sandwiched between shops on an unlovely one-way system and overlooked by some hideous modern office blocks, you could be forgiven for missing Ilford Hospital Chapel entirely. Built in 1145, its almshouses have seen service as a leper hospital and its chapel even survived the demolition inflicted on many churches by Henry VIII.
Not very far away in Barkingside is the remnants of Dr Barnardo's Village, originally built in the 1870s. It's hidden behind a sprawling Tesco, on a road lined with new-looking blocks of flats. But pop through one of the gates and you're on the original green, surrounded by attractive Victorian houses. Residents may find themselves with more neighbours, however, as Barnardo's plans to demolish its rather ugly headquarters and stick in some new builds. The village also has the only children's church in the UK, with small pews and child-themed stained glass windows. Barkingside tube station is just five minutes away.
9. Best nightspot for celeb spotting: Faces, Gants Hill
If spotting footballers and members of the cast of The Only Way Is Essex is your bag, then Faces is the place to go. Other nightspots where you might see a surfeit of fake tan, white limos and bling are Funky Mojoe’s in South Woodford (thoughtfully located next to an old people’s home – a bit of a planning fail on the part of the local authorities, we think), and the King William IV in Chigwell (yes, we know it’s in Essex rather than Redbridge but it’s not far over the border and the food’s not bad either).
10. Best pub: The Cricketers, High Road, Woodford Green
For a quiet pint in convivial surroundings, visit The Cricketers pub along the High Road. They've taken their decorative cue from the proximity of Winston Churchill's old house and the rather belligerent-loooking statue of him just up the road on the green, but we don't hold that against them. They do some decent real ales (McMullen) and it's a great place to sit and read the Sunday papers.
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