London’s Best Park Bench Meals
Humongous sandwiches, freshly baked patties, and unapologetically messy tostadas. All best enjoyed ‘al bencho’.
For Londoners, it’s a right of passage to see a lot of ‘interesting’ things occur on park benches. Magic tricks, break-ups, feral teenagers mounting each other at 10am on our favourite bench near the office, we’ve seen it all. But March 8th, 2021 will forever be known as the day the park bench went from seat to restaurant. With stage one of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, green open spaces with nice benches have become the place to be. But you can’t necessarily eat anything on a park bench, unless you’re willing to risk a stain to your new white trainers. That’s where these meals come in. They’re all certified delicious options you can easily eat ‘al bencho’ and are so good they’re worth turning your 20-minute walk into a two-hour stroll to get to them. Let us begin.
Who said parks have to be green? Not us. So it’s a good thing you can find Nanny Bill’s over in more-grey-than-green Wembley Park. Their Dalston Dip burger comes with a pot of thick signature gravy to dip and smother your burger in. Gravy - for all the roast dinners and sausages it’s transformed from alright to seriously tasty - has lost its sex appeal. But Nanny Bill’s is bringing it back. Yes, this burger is a mess. But who are you trying to impress anyway?
All Island Grill
If, like us, you are a keen walker - particularly when walking in the direction of somewhere that is going to feed you sensationally charred and spice-tingling jerk chicken and carrier bag full of plantain - then let us recommend you head toward All Island Grill. The spot in Dalston is neighboured by other Caribbean spots but this, we think, is the one. The jerk chicken has the kind of char that flakes away, and the chicken is impossibly moist even after a being warmed up. It’s a two person portion that, once you find a bench, can easily be dispatched by one.
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Nori is in the deliverable vicinity of both Richmond and Bushy Park and that is very good news. Their tendon (tempura donburi) is a bowl of fluffy rice with prawn and vegetable tempura on top, covered with a kimchi mayo and unagi sauce - a mix we would very much like in a squeezy bottle, always to hand. And the pumpkin curry: a bowl of rice, topped with perfectly shaped pumpkin croquettes and a pot of vegetable curry sauce on the side, is also excellent. The tendon tastes punchy but light, and the croquette curry is comforting and warm - exactly what you need on a breezy bench.
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There is great power in holding a wrap. Cast your mind back to a time when you were walking down a street with a giant wrap in your hand. All those people staring, wishing they too were about to eat that beautiful, glistening carbohydrate vehicle packed full of chicken or beef or falafel. Basically made you feel like you were in this scene from 500 Days Of Summer. But the My Big Fat Greek Sausage pitta wrap from Kalamaki in Fulham is potentially the most envy-inducing wrap we have ever come across. Packed with wild boar sausage, Aegean slaw, caramelised onion, and chunky chips, it’s a beastly, flavourful thing. Don’t skip on the feta sauce.
Exercising your right to exercise in the vicinity of your home is important at the moment. So if you’re around Hackney then it’s worth DMing Satsu at the Gun. It’s a wander away from Well Street Common and Victoria Park, and everything there - from a perfect mess of a double smash patty cheeseburger, to a deep-fried tofu sandwich - is good. If the crab katsu rice is on, get it. It’s a sloppy and sweet curry sauce with flecks of rich crab meat, spring onion, and coconut hints. It’s not the only thing you’ll ever eat on a park bench, but it’ll probably me amongst the best.
If you’re looking to up your daily step count with the promise of tempura rolls as reward, then make Takahashi your plan. The Japanese spot in South Wimbledon has a great service going on where you can call and collect, so your nigiri, maki, and sashimi can be ready and waiting. All are very good, but the one that stands out is the shrimp tempura maki. It has the perfect ratio of sticky rice to crispy battered shrimp.
We would happily cycle for two hours to get to one of Sam’s sandwiches. And this is coming from a group of people who championed the post-breakfast nap. A street food spot inside Shepherd’s Bush Market, it’s home to certified Proper Sandwiches. There’s none of that soggy bread or rock-hard crust drama here, only seriously tasty Algerian sandwiches packed full of fish fillet, merguez, marinated chicken, and, importantly, chips. Plus, if you’re on a bike or are feeling particularly energetic, you can take your sarnie on a romantic stroll to the pretty little lake at Ravenscourt Park.
The Bull & Last
Hampstead Heath is undoubtedly London’s finest green space and anyone who says otherwise is far too impartial for this partisan editorial team. Aside from the greenery, the leafy woodland bits, and the never-not-entertaining dog ponds featuring lots of soggy good boys and girls, it’s also surrounded by some excellent pubs serving excellent food. The Bull & Last (on the Gospel Oak side) is one of these and its takeaway menu is very appealing. There’s haddock and triple-cooked chips, a roast beef sandwich with aioli and horseradish, or, if you want a park pudding, Ferrero Rocher ice cream.
You. A bench. The distant squawk of a seagull landing in the Thames. Mei Mei’s nasi lemak from Borough Market. Is there anything else you could possibly need? Well, maybe physical affection and a national ban on faux-inspirational ‘new normal’ TV adverts, but seeing as we can’t help with that, let’s focus on this coconut rice dish. Packed full of peanuts, fried chicken, and egg it’s perfect for a sit-down lunch on the river. You can’t go wrong with their kaya toast or Singapore curry either.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
La Chingada Mexican Food
We’ve got a few recommendations when it comes to La Chingada. One is that you should come hungry. Because this little taqueria has a knack for making you order, then making you order some more, and then, just as you finish chewing your last el pastor taco, or cram a final gooey tostada into your face, making you wonder… chicken wings? Our other tips are on where to set up shop. There’s a pretty comfy step next door or, if you’re of a more patient disposition, wander up to the actual Surrey Quays where there’s water, space, and benches. Just make sure you bring napkins. Lots of napkins.
Wine N Rind
One of our staff writers is in a deep and meaningful relationship with a goose from her local lake. You’ll either react to this nugget of information with concern or email us a picture of ‘Amelia Neckhart’, the swan you now visit daily. In all honesty, it’s only partly to do with the goose and a lot to do with Wine N Rind’s toasties. This Tottenham cheese shop is putting things between bread that you never even dreamed of. Think ’nduja and sausage ragu, cacio e pepe, and Mont d’Or with black truffle. Pick one up and head to the Lordship Recreation Ground for exceptional bird-watching action.
Right before lockdown 2.0 we had a sentimental bench moment in Brockwell Park, poignantly staring out over this city like we were starring in some ITVBe series called ‘My Heart, Broken By Lockdown’. Or something. Anyway, match some of the best views in the city with some great jerk chicken and curry goat from homely Caribbean spot, Healthy Eaters. Getting a couple of freshly baked patties is also a necessity, you know, for ‘warmth’.
40 Maltby Street
On a sunny day you want to be up bright and early for two reasons. The first is carpe diem and all that stuff. The second is because 40 Maltby Street makes sandwiches that, in the words of the internet, are absolute units. These big boys fly off their proverbial shelves, whether filled with pumpkin fritters and roasted tomatoes, or homemade fish fingers and pickled cucumbers. You’re also a five or ten minute wander from the Thames, so there are nice seating spots aplenty.
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Max's Sandwich Shop
When you think of Finsbury Park, what do you think of? Is it the the reds and greens of enormous trees in the park? Or the old rush hour pile ups outside the station at 7am on a Wednesday? Maybe it’s hoardes of Arsenal fans skipping to the stadium and trudging back. We think of all these things, to be honest. But we also think of Max’s sandwiches. Big, pavement-slab-sized focaccia whoppers, filled with ham hock, gooey egg, piccallilli and shoe strong fries, or roast guinea fowl and tarragon salsa. Yeah, that’s probably the thing we think of most.
The lake-adjacent Victoria Park café may be an obvious choice, but that definitely doesn’t make it a bad one. Anyone who’s enjoyed Pavilion’s breads and pastries will know that they know their stuff, and it’s the same after you eat from their cafe. The menu changes daily, but expect things like potato, onion, and comté pie, fish stew with crunchy bread covered in aioli, or a hasbrown, fried egg, and Ogleshield breakfast bun.
Ah, the great outdoors. Or as otherwise known by Londoners as, any quaint little patch of grass where you can kick back with an angsty pigeon or two. But wherever you choose to sit down and enjoy it, you should know that Smokestak’s beef brisket bun is a perfectly formed, handful of joy. Our game plan would be to hit up this barbecue spot for your bun and some skin-on chips, cycle to Victoria Park, stare down whoever happens to be on the bench you want, then sit back and enjoy your brisket, much to the envy of everyone who sees you. Self-satisfied nodding encouraged.