On a crisp autumnal afternoon with a clear blue sky and a subtle warmth in the air that signifies the last waning days of summer, we went to dine al fresco in the pretty setting of Inn The Park. With two children ensconced on the cosy banquette, I felt I'd got the short straw by facing the restaurant rather than St James’s Park, until I realised that actually I could still enjoy the magnificent greenery of the ancient trees above the duck pond, the pods of the London Eye and Charles’ Union Jack flag flying on top of the palace turret, as it was all perfectly reflected in the glassy facade of the restaurant.
With famed restaurateur Oliver Peyton at the helm, Inn The Park prides itself on proper British food – both traditional and modern with a twist – carefully sourcing the best produce from small independent producers, rare breed farmers, specialist fishermen and artisan producers. The children’s menu offers a fairly safe choice of Pork and Leek Sausages with Mash and Onion Gravy, Roast Chicken Breast with Carrots or Organic Salmon & Pollock Fishcake with Spinach (at £7.50). Joe chose sausages, while Grace went for Chicken with mixed vegetables (£2.50). And while four-year-old Joe got stuck in with the thoughtfully provided pencils and activities sheets, I browsed the Sunday Roast Menu. Although Peach, Tomato and Basil Salad sounded light and refreshing, I opted for the rather more daring Smoked Eel, Crispy Pig Head and Dandelions – despite the protests from my daughter, followed by the more conventional Elwy Valley Lamb Leg, Roast Beets and Mint Jelly.
While Grace and Joe tucked in heartily to their dishes, I must admit that I sort of poked around a bit, trying to distinguish what was smoked eel and what was crispy pig head. The dandelion was easy to spot, but it was the surprise half-boiled egg that I found most often at the end of my fork. I concluded that the eel and crispy pig are more of an acquired taste (but it also showed me that I would be rubbish at dining out on kangaroo bollocks and sheeps’ eyes in I’m A Celebrity… because I found it hard to get over the quandary of which particular crispy part of the pig’s head I was actually chewing on).
Hypocritically, I had no qualms, however, in devouring the plump legs of the Elwy Valley lamb with roast potatoes and vegetables, complemented with the sweet red beetroot and mint jelly.
After our hearty main meals, I was a little surprised that we all managed a dessert too (the list of ice creams was too tempting for the children, and I wanted to see just how untidy an Eton Mess can be). Our desire to linger is also testament to Inn The Park’s relaxed ambience and beautiful setting, not to mention the theatre of life that was playing out around us. We were next to a group of Sex & The City girlfriends, debating the merits of one of their new beaus – an Argentinian hedge fund manager – while a couple on the other side fed their baby giant petals from a huge globe artichoke. The most eccentric vision, however, was a woman enjoying an intimate dinner with her designer dog, who had his own plate of sausages. My only qualm was that he was better behaved than Joe. But, as I was in a generous mood, I did let Joe off his lead afterwards so he could have a run in the park.
Contact: tel: 020 7451 9999; www.innthepark.com.
Address: St James's Park, SW1A 2BJ; nearest tube station, St James's Park