Sunday, 30 March 2014

Circular Walk around the Sissinghurst Estate, near Cranbrook, Kent

A clutch of charismatic old red brick buildings sitting in gently rolling Kent countryside, Sissinghurst Castle is a popular National Trust property, renowned for its elegant gardens. At the entry desk next to the car park, you can pick up a map of walks around the estate. The longest of these is a three mile circular walk that takes you past the vegetable garden, several fields and down to Dig Dog Lane, which provides good distant views of Sissinghurt's massive brick barn and its octagonal towers with their conical roofs. From the lane you cut back across the fields towards the castle, before skirting around the small lakes and through the eerie woodland on the south side of the estate. You emerge from the trees to cross a couple of fields before heading back through a newly-planted orchard adjacent to the car park. Involving a couple of minor climbs, this walk is pleasant, rather than spectacular. 7/10

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Les Deux Salons, William IV St, central London

A little piece of Paris in London, Les Deux Salons is a grand bistro serving fine French food with the requisite touch of snobbery.  Beyond the over-staffed reception, the vast, two-storey, dining room and adjoining bar is a sea of wood-panelling, mirrors and spherical lights. With its tiled floor, it isn't exactly cosy, especially if it is far from full on a Friday night. Still, the skills of the chefs and the sommeliers more than compensate. Even the lower priced wines, which start at about £19 a bottle, are smooth and satisfying, while the cooking seems to be consistently good.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Macaron, The Pavement, Clapham, south London

Overlooking the green expanse of Clapham Common, Macaron is well placed to turn the heads of commuters walking between the tube station and Clapham Old Town. Dressed to resemble a traditional boulangerie and patisserie, Macaron has very large windows that ensure you won't miss the fine display of cakes, pastries, filled baguettes and quiches. Baked on site, the food might make a Parisian homesick. You can sit at the large communal table, one of the smaller tables or in the sun trap seats on the pavement. Macaron is a refreshing antidote to the Starbucks, Costa Coffees and chain stores just round the corner. 8/10

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Lincoln's Inn Fields, central London

The quirky facade of the Sir John Soane's Museum breaks up the austere Georgian terraces around Lincoln's Inn Fields  - the largest public square in London

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Cycle ride Herne Hill to Woldingham, south London

Fresh tarmac and beautiful countryside within the M25
A 25-mile round trip by back roads through some fine rolling countryside, this ride from Herne Hill to the outskirts of Woldingham is a popular Sunday route for London cyclists. In the first mile, you pass by genteel Dulwich Village and the grandeur of Dulwich College before climbing steeply up to Crystal Palace. You then speed down Anerley Hill, passing Crystal Palace Stadium on your left and then ride five  miles in a straight-ish line, through bland suburbia, until you reach West Wickham. When you get to the junction with the A2022, you go straight over, following Layhams Road into the countryside, up past the police dog training centre and on to Skid Hill Lane, which eventually turns south west into Hesiers Road. Complete with new tarmac, this pleasurable stretch overlooks a picturesque bowl-shaped valley which seems a million miles from the London sprawl just to the north.  You've been climbing steadily since West Wickham, taking you up to an altitude of about 250 metres at Beach Farm where the route hits the Limpsfield Road. This is a good place to turn round unless you want to stop for refreshments in Woldingham. The return leg is largely downhill and is much quicker, but the upper reaches of Anerley Hill make for a nasty sting in the tail. 7/10

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Cadence, Anerley Hill, South London

Carefully positioned on the route Sunday cyclists take back into London at the top of gruelling Anerley Hill, Cadence is a cafe-cum-workshop-cum-bike retailer. Dedicated to all things cycling, this pit stop pulls in bands of lycra-clad two wheel aficionados. The noisy television might be showing highlights from the Tour de France or you can watch a mechanic aligning a wheel while you sip on a pricey, but creamy, coffee. The cafe has a good selection of cakes, including large slabs of moist flapjack. As you'd expect, there is plenty of dedicated bike parking and you can borrow a lock. But the outside tables don't catch the sun in the morning and you might not feel comfortable arriving on a £100 bike from Halfords in your jeans. 7/10

Friday, 7 March 2014

Burgess Park, south east London

Shaped like a right angled triangle, Burgess Park starts as a narrow, long tract of green at Camberwell Road, gradually widening as it approaches The Old Kent Road. Although it is mostly flat, the 56 hectare park has been recently re-landscaped, planted with wild flowers and kitted out with smart new benches and signage. It boasts a sizeable lake, several playgrounds, a top notch BMX track, an array of other sports facilities and a keenly-priced cafe in the Grade II listed Chumleigh Gardens buildings - an atmospheric set of almshouses surrounding a garden in the heart of the park. Created on land heavily bombed in the Second World War, Burgess Park has its origins in the 1950s and is a much-needed green lung in a densely-populated and a relatively deprived part of London. 7/10

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Peckham Library, Peckham Hill Street, South London

Built in 2001, Peckham's distinctive library is balanced precariously over the courtyard below. The upper floors provide far-reaching views of the skyscrapers of the City of London through the tract of green land that makes up the Surrey Linear Canal Park. The light and airy interior is almost as modernist as the exterior with black poles threading their way at angles through the floors and ceilings.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

T-34 Tank, Pages Walk, South London

A decorated Russian T-34 tank on the junction between Pages Walk and Mandela Way near The Old Kent Road.  According to various web sites, the tank was parked on this patch of ground as a protest by the disgruntled landowner who failed to get planning permission for a property.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Victoria Inn, Choumert Road, south London

In a middle class enclave on Peckham's borders, the Victoria Inn can be buzzing on a Saturday night. Brimming with bright young things, the up-tempo music is loud and tables are hard to come by. The tasteful interior is a well-judged compromise between Victoriana and clean, contemporary lines. The menu ventures beyond classic pub grub and into more imaginative restaurant-style fare. The smoked pork shoulder with winter slaw, potatoes in paprika and bbq sauce (£13.50) is a fatty, fleshy and satisfying cold weather dish.  The beaded halloumi sticks (£6) are rich, salty and dry - you really need the excellent cauliflower and gruyere puree accompaniment. Another good choice is the squid with cucumber, carrot, kohlrabi & mango salad £7), which offers a good, crisp mix of textures and tangy flavours. On tap are a decent selection of beers, including some from the microbrewery at the sister pub The Florence and the smooth Italian beer, Moretti (£4.20 a pint). Fizzy water seems to be free. The waiting and kitchen staff, who you can see though the large serving hatch, work hard and with good humour. It is easy to see why the Victoria Inn is popular. 7/10