Traditionally, London’s parks have not been good hunting grounds for quality refreshments, but now a new breed of cafe proprietor is on the rise. They’ve realised that there are yummy mummies, office workers and strolling locals out there looking for good coffee and cake and sound sandwiches in civilised surroundings. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Parco Cafe in up-and-coming Vauxhall.
Experienced caterer Henri Laghi has partially demolished disused public lavatories, rebuilding and substantially extending to create a cool, white, modern cafe of 26 covers. The counter and coffee machine are sleek enough to grace the kitchen of any of the pricey apartments that have sprung up nearby in recent years, and you can lounge on a leather sofa and perch on a bar stool if you’re too cool for conventional tables and chairs. There are terraces to both sides which seats an additional 65 customers with lovingly-planted borders and conversation-starting potted plants like chillies and vines. The surrounding park is one of the lovelier leafy oases of south London with its celebrated lavender garden, model village and tennis courts.
The clientele is as varied as you would expect in an area where the well-off, working class, arty intellectual and Portuguese communities have long rubbed shoulders. Expect plenty of mums and kids mid-morning and afternoon, and an invasion of office types at lunchtime. Meanwhile, the cafe is already proving popular for private functions, unsurprising when it’s hard to think of a more picturesque setting nearby.
Parco Cafe has kept things simple, stylish and Italian. After a brisk walk through the park on a cold day, a mezzaluna (£3.90) would hit the spot. You might have thought the term referred to a crescent-shaped, doubled-bladed chopping knife, but it seems it can also mean a hot, folded pizza bread filled with mozzarella, tomato and oregano plus either ham, mushrooms, anchovy or olives. A daily-changing range of hot panini is available at £3.50, plus filled ciabatta, bacon or sausage bloomers, BLTs, and a selection of sandwiches from £2.00.
There’s toast and jam (£1.50) and a fine array of cakes and pastries (from £1.20) for those seeking something sweeter. Granny herself could not improve on the well-flavoured, moist banana and walnut loaf. Equally good is a generous slice of light, not overly sweet blueberry cake. Cones or tubs of quality Italian ice cream are a sure-fire hit (£1.40 for one scoop, £1.90 for two).
There’s the full range of coffee options we expect these days (£1.20-£1.80), various teas including herbal infusions (£1.10-£1.20) and hot chocolate (£1.80). A good range of still and sparkling soft drinks features high-quality Fentiman’s Traditionals like Victorian lemonade and ginger beer (£1.70). Health-conscious middle-class parents will surely rush to buy their children fruit smoothies (varieties change daily) for £2.80.
If you are used to the mass-produced cappuccinos of the international coffee chains, Parco Cafe’s (£1.50 regular, £1.80 large) will be a double revelation, for it actually tastes of coffee and is hot enough! Even more delicious and inexcusably decadent is the marocchino (£1.50), a cup of quality hot chocolate into which a shot of espresso is poured at the last moment.
The Last Word
This is just the place to sit in the sun with a long, cold drink or an ice cream, or to shelter in winter with hot chocolate and a bacon bloomer. Its owners have created a modern, sophisticated space that also manages to be child-friendly. And they’ve gone to great lengths to source top ingredients and serve them with skill. Up-and-coming Vauxhall has come up just a little further thanks to the arrival of Parco Cafe.