St Martin-in-the-Fields hasn't lived up to its name for centuries. The original church was indeed built among the fields, away from the royal hub of Westminster and the houses of the City. But London soon caught up with the church. Today, it could scarcely be more urban, sited about 100 metres from the official centre of the capital in Trafalgar Square. Bucolic, it ain't.
There are many reasons to visit this historic building, but perhaps the most popular is the subterranean Cafe in the Crypt. This sepulchral restaurant offers one of the creepiest lunches you can find in the West End. Church dining rooms are no rarity in London, but it's unusual to find one in which your table rests upon ancient grave stones, and beneath 18th century brick vaults.
The canteen-style food is decent value and more-than-decent quality, with well-chosen dishes that cover all bases. Put the grave back into gravy with the hearty roasts, or savour more healthy fare from the well-presented salad bar. There's also a tempting selection of desserts, and the usual mix of drinks. The cafe opens early for breakfast, offers afternoon tea, and evening meals most nights.
If the main dining area's too busy, head into the series of rooms to the west of the main crypt. Here you'll find a much cosier space, with less bustle than the main canteen.
The crypt has a chequered history. During the 1930s, the space was a well-known homeless shelter. Up to 140 people would sleep down here every night. One side room, perhaps that shown above, housed 44 bunks reserved for women. Queen Mary paid a visit in 1933 and was particularly taken with the 'children's corner', a "disused vault now turned into a tiny chapel where children read and prey every day". The crypt was also used to billet soldiers during the two world wars. Part of the space was turned into a club for troops in the 1940s, complete with dart board and ping pong. It's also served as a dance hall, exhibition space and a branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau.
While you're in the crypt, take a look at the small museum space. Highlights include the local whipping post and a statue of the first Pearly King.
Cafe in the Crypt is open 8am-8pm (Mon/Tue), 8am-10.30pm (Wed, for live jazz music), 8am-9pm (Thur-Sat) and 11am-6pm (Sun).