Kennington Park Cafe and More:*Update regarding the Cafe*. The cafe I knew and loved closed 18 months ago because the new rates were too high for them to run the kind of business they wanted to offer to the community. The new Cafe supposedly opened this weekend – but is only currently offering takeaway drinks, pastries and ice-cream. Obviously for the local community on a wet day that’s no help at all. My impression so far is that it will disappoint. I’ve noticed how close the seating is outside – tables and benches crammed together – which could be a nightmare for a non-smoking asthmatic like me. I’m unconvinced by a business that puts up signs to say it has opened when it is offering so little. And, I’ve yet to buy anything, but I’ll check back once the cafe has opened fully (in July they are promising…) and try. Until then, I will just mourn the old, friendly place where I could hang out on a wet day and enjoy a bite to eat.
It is still a honeymoon phase. Discovering new places, meeting new people I’m finding much to reinforce a decision to move South of the River, despite the protestations of many of my North London friends. Kennington and Walworth are both packed with history – I’m now a regular visitor to Kennington Park, discovering more every time I walk around the gardens.
Kennington Park itself is Grade II listed. First opened in 1854 on the site of what had been Kennington Common, it already had a chequered history – apart from being used for public executions until 1800, it was also a focal point for public speakers – including the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley. And, on 10 April 1848, the Chartist movement held their biggest rally on Kennington Common. Shortly after, the common was enclosed and made into a public park. I particularly like the 1853 Prince Consort Model Lodge (aka ‘Prince Albert’s Cottages’) which were re-erected from the Great Exhibition which were designed as model accommodation for the working classes by the architect Henry Roberts.
I love the timber-framed Cafe. Built in 1897 in the Arts and Craft style, it is still open every day for tea, coffee, salads, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, soup and some rather fine cakes. I’ve become something of a regular because the WiFi works well and a lunch of a toasted panini filled with roasted vegetables and mozzarella, artichoke, sundried tomato and goats cheese or even brie and bacon is around £5. I treat myself to a cup of tea and lunch for around £6 when I am working from home the whole day and not doing something in the evening. And, on Sundays, I sometimes even indulge in a slice of carrot cake.
The salads are very fresh, honest concoctions of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and sometimes a bit of carrot. You can add in a whole chicken breast, various cheeses or a large portion of (canned) tuna for a full meal. If you order a jacket potato there’s a reasonably sized side salad included in the price.
There is a range of teas – all served in hearty mugs. And the coffee is freshly brewed from a proper espresso machine. There’s a selection of ice-creams including the bluest gunk I’ve ever seen, which seems to be very popular with all the under 7s!
If the weather is nice there’s a terrace outside or a more informal picnic area with benches. The cafe has a set of buzzers so you can even wander off and sit on the grass if you prefer. Indoors there’s an area with comfy chairs and sofas or a dining room section with tables and chairs. In the winter there’s even a fire. Dogs are welcome too.
Walk around a little after you’ve eaten. There’s plenty to see. The sunken area to the side of the Prince Consort Lodge is the site of an old World War II public shelter. Bombed during the blitz, it was the greatest civilian tragedy in the UK, over 100 people lost their lives.
More happily, the formal flower garden has just reopened after renovation with lottery funding. It’s a pretty enclosed area with benches and water features where I could easily sit and get lost in a book for a few hours. There’s plenty for kids too – a playground, an adventure park and a skateboard bowl. And, it’s where I now go running. If I was a little braver I might try using the outdoor gym facilities, but I’m concerned that is just a little too close to making a fool of myself in public. So, for now, I’ll stick to staggering around the park early in the morning and to walking there at lunchtime.