Ask for a Coca-Cola at Inn the Park, and the response you’ll get will probably be similar to the one we got: “We only do organic here.” And not in a snooty, holier-than-thou kinda way, but in a ‘it’s good for you, so try it’ kinda way. The restaurant works hard to make sure everything served is organic, fresh and sustainable, and the waitresses manning it are rightfully proud. And so it is this, and a surprisingly tasty organic cola that arrives within minutes, that sets the scene for what’s to be a rather pleasant meal at Peyton & Byrne’s wooden eatery in the middle of St. James’s Park.
The key to Inn the Park is coming on a good day; on a bright, summery afternoon it’s positively delightful, with a large al fresco terrace on which to watch winged creatures duck and dive on the surface of a lake, but on a cloudy, drizzly day it can seem positively miserable no matter how good the organic cola. So hit up weather.com beforehand.
The venue itself is all-out Scandinavian, with an Ikea-inspired wooden structure featuring floor-to-ceiling windows for remarkable views over the lake, age-old trees, period buildings and just a peak of the London Eye. Inside, it’s a Tom Dixon-designed affair with chalet-chic interiors featuring simple café-style tables and chairs, shiny silver lighting and wood glorious wood everywhere you turn.
On the eve of our review – damp and darker than usual for May – the restaurant was quiet, with just a few tables filled inside and out; but on a summer’s afternoon, expect crowds at the bar and a reservations book that’s fit-to-bursting with wanting equal measures of sun and sustenance. The opening times are sporadic, too, but keep an eye on the website and you won’t go far wrong.
Food-wise, the menu is classic Brit fare done well with everything using seasonal ingredients and sourced from local specialist suppliers, rare breed farmers and artisan producers. We opted for starters of ham hock salad with crackling – pleasant enough and suitably crunchy, but nothing special – and fried squid, which, if we’re completely honest, was like the calamari served up in hundreds of restaurants across the capital: just OK. Mains were slightly more successful, with dishes of longhorn rib-eye steak – served perfectly pink and juicy, tender, bursting with flavour – and honey-glazed whole spring chicken and wild garlic stuffing, with gorgeously seasoned skin and a stuffing that made us wonder why chickens aren’t that born that way to begin with. Wrapping things up nicely was a particularly messy Eton Mess – served like a work of modern art and tasting significantly better than we remember from our schooldays – and a just-so banana split, which lacked invention and imagination. Washing things down is an organic wine menu, and the house red – a 2009 Carinena – did the job just fine.
While we wouldn’t necessarily opt for Inn The Park for dinner – it lacks occasion, it has to be said – we would suggest this urban oasis for a languid, Pimm’s-soaked lunch on a suitably sunny day. For that purpose, it ticks every box.
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