The best places to pick up a picnic near London parks

·9-min read
Too gorgeous for its own good: Gladwell’s is a beautiful, tempting place  (Press handout )
Too gorgeous for its own good: Gladwell’s is a beautiful, tempting place (Press handout )

Though most of us are warily eying the thermostat, hoping not to touch it for a few months, the summer sun is gently waning. The next few weeks offer what’s perhaps the last chance of 2022 to grab the picnic blanket and take to the park.

We can’t help the changing seasons; we can, however, improve upon the hummus, sad batons and all the other flimsily-packaged, overly-chilled fare that always threaten to derail an otherwise perfectly decent picnic. While it’s true that London parks are often near Sainsbury’s, they’re near other shops too, many of which bake their own bread, make their own salads, and serve quality, well-sourced wines, charcuterie, smoked salmon and cheeses. Here’s our pick of the perfect one-stop shops.

Green Park, Piccadilly: Fortnum and Masons

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Not only is Fortnums five time the size, 50 times less stressful and 500 times better than the M&S next to Green Park station, it’s not even that much more expensive, if one shops wisely. Of course, there are the famed hampers, and they have plenty to recommend them — particularly the Summer Adventure hamper, which comes with mushroom and bean pate and the obligatory bottle of rose chilled in a bottle bag — but there’s plenty to picnic on in their food hall, a wander around which is an experience it itself. Start at the cheese counter with a wedge of cave aged cheddar, then progress to the pantry for accompaniments: the fig cheese and all-butter crackers are particularly good. Then head directly to the the deli for charcuterie, anchovy relish, olives, wild boar or mushroom pate and scotch eggs, which this year can even come in their own chiller bag, complete with condiments.

181 Piccadilly, W1, fortnumandmason.com

Regent’s Park: Panzer’s

 (Giles Christopher)
(Giles Christopher)

For 50 years, David Josephs shopped in Panzer’s; first with his parents, who went there with their parents before him, and then with his own family. Then came the devastating news: his beloved local deli was up for sale. After 70 years of service the owner and co-founder, Peter Vogl, could no longer keep pace. Josephs had a little know-how of fruit n’ veg, operating three others stores, but also knew Panzer’s was a community hub too, and so he bought it on the condition that Mr Vogl spent a year showing him the ropes. Since then Panzer’s has gone from strength to strength, reinforcing it’s Jewish roots — the house baked challah and bagels remain some of the best in town; the smoked salmon, cream cheese and hummus all made to their recipes — and building upon them with the very best versions any deli food you can imagine: charcuterie from Italy and Spain, samosas handmade each week by a local, an astonishing array of dips, crisps, pickles and salads and, outside, a bountiful display of fruit and vegetables which change reassuringly with the seasons. Pre-order one of their picnic hampers for speed and ease (and a cool bag) or, for the full experience, go on a Friday, when the challah is fresh and Panzer’s is at its bustiest, bustling best.

13-19 Circus Road, NW8, panzers.co.uk

Hyde Park: Harrods’ Food Hall

There are, to my mind, only two reasons to visit Harrods: the Christmas tree decorations, and the food hall. Both are a sight for sore eyes, but the latter has the advantage of being edible and of use perennially. Like Panzer’s and Fortnums, Harrod’s have hampers, but I don’t know why anyone would deny themselves the pleasure of breathing in the aromas at their on-site sourdough bakery; choosing a cheese from the dairy (think Borough Market condensed into one long cheese counter); or heading to their food-to-go section for a choice of jewel-like sushi or a sandwich so well filled, it borders on the structurally impossible. Opt for their golden, fragrant coronation chicken, studded with raisins and a onion bhaji, and banish all memories of those sad pots of yellow sludge from the supermarket. Don’t miss their pastries, either.

87-135 Brompton Road, SW1, harrods.com

Clapham Common: Trude’s

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Trude’s, warm, welcoming grocery store is basically a roll call of London’s best small scall producers: Two Tribes beer, Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses, Snapery bread, Secret Smokehouse smoked salmon and charcuterie from The Real Cure. It’s right on the Common too, so there’s absolutely no excuse for settling for the Sainsbury’s next to the station, with its ransacked shelves and sticky floors. Don’t miss the lamb kibbeh, baba ghanoush and flat breads sourced from the acclaimed Levantine-inspired restaurant Arabica — or Trude’s rainbow-like leaves and greens: the hot pink radishes in particular refuse to be ignored.

10 The Pavement, SW4, trudes.co.uk

Ruskin Park, Camberwell: Grove Lane Deli

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Like the park it sits a stone’s throw away from, Grove Lane Deli is small but perfectly formed. Run by a Afghanistan-based journalist turned Camberwell-based baker, it’s not really the place for a DIY picnic — unless you have a bread knife and a penchant for premium tinned fish — but it absolutely is the place for to pick up a sandwich. Made in their light open kitchen with their home baked bread and generously filled with their latest creation, recent hits have included beetroot with whipped herby feta, caramelised onion and house-pickled fennel, and poached chicken with tahini ranch dressing, grilled peppers, rocket, and chimichurri. Add a can of Perello olives, a seasonal pastry and a bottle of Macon de Villages, and you’re good to go.

4a Grove Lane, SE5 8SY, grovelanedeli.com

Crystal Palace Park: Penge General Stores

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Some things are simply bound to fall short of the scaly-eyed expectations which precede them. The Mona Lisa is one, eggs benedict another, and a third are the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, which to listen to locals you’d think were on a par with Jurassic Park’s animatronics, as opposed to barely-decipherable statues covered in moss. Don’t go to Crystal Palace for the dinosaurs, do go for Penge General Stores, which like Trude’s dishes up delights from some of London’s finest food growers and makers (including Ted’s veg, fruit and salad, Happy Endings’ ice cream and Flor’s bread). Worth mentioning to is the range of vegan and coeliac-friendly fare on offer here, from gluten free crackers and vegan cheese to plant-based sorbet.

55 High Street, SE20, @pengegeneralstore

Highbury Fields, Islington and Paddington Gardens: La Fromagerie

 (COMMISSIONED WORK)
(COMMISSIONED WORK)

Not one for vegans or the dairy intolerant, La Fromagerie is as the name suggests: the cheese place. But it is the place for many other things besides too, including baguettes, pastries, condiments and beautifully seasonal fruits. At the time of writing, jammy figs and velvety peaches clamour for the company of soft goats cheese and cool, smooth mozzarella; soon it will be ripe plums and plump dates. Choose the cheese in the half light of their cheese cellars then emerge blinking into the light to decide — or ask a knowledgeable staff member — which wine, biscuits and stone fruits pair best.

2-6 Moxon Street, W1, lafromagerie.co.uk

Burgess Park, Camberwell: Gladwell’s

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

“I just went in for some milk,” my mother would say in a daze, as she unpacked cheese, pastries, sundried tomatoes and other sumptuous sundries from our local deli in north London. Sometimes the milk wouldn’t appear at all. Gladwell’s promises a similar fate. This elegant, airy deli manages to be both spacious, and stuffed with produce, from a curated mix of fish, meat, cheese and veg suppliers. There’s fresh bread from Sally Clarke bakery, French cheese from Mons, Bermondsey-brewed beer and Greek olives from Oliveology. There’s even an entire wine vault, stocked by south London suppliers Wines Under the Bonnet. By all means, go for the milk — it’s from a small dairy in Kent,as it happens — but stay for the array of picnic-friendly food and drink, especially their creatively-filled focaccia sandwiches.

2 Camberwell Church Street, SE5, gladwells.co.uk

Peckham Rye Common: Feeling Food

Birds flying high, sun in the sky, breeze driftin’ by — it must be Peckham Rye, home to Peckham Rye Common and the memorably named Italian deli Feeling Food. There’s everything you’d expect from an Italian deli (foccacia, tomatoes, thoughtfully pre-potted Gorgonzola) as well as a few bits you wouldn’t, like brownies, cookies and kimchi, sourced from local businesses London Fermentary and Marta and the Muffins. There are those curiously delicious curly savoury biscuits that suck all the moisture out of your mouth with each bite, as well as Italy’s beloved crisps, Fonzies. There are olives galore. Opt for these, a Caprese focaccia sandwich, a Peroni (or several) and head for the common, the sound of Nina Simone’s ballad ringing in your ears.

40 Peckham Rye, SE15, feelingfood2017.com

Clissold Park, Stoke Newington: Stokey’s Delicatessen

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

I’m bending the rules here — blame the confidence of being on home turf — because whilst Stokey’s is a great delicatessen, it is one of several places in Stokey in which you can score a great picnic, and it’d be a shame not to explore. Come here for the charcuterie, their speciality, and the bread and pastries, baked by nearby bakers Brunswick East. Add their house-made hummus and a canned cocktail or two (made by Vacay and genuinely decent). Then head to Made in Little France for a bottle of chilled crémant, Jaines and Son fishmongers for your mackerel pate or smoked salmon, and Spence bakery for dessert.

182 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16, stokeys-delicatessen.business.site

London Fields, Broadway Market: L’Eau à la Bouche

Though always impressed by the elegance of the cool new delis in which everything is artfully ordered around wine crates and houseplants, my heart is with the hodgepodge, often family-run delis of yesteryear, where you can’t see the wine for the cheese and charcuterie and where five different varieties of olives jostle with nuts and dried fruit and where the queue exists outside of the normal definitions of space and time. L’Eau à la Bouche is such a place. It is French, in so far as the family, cheese and wine are concerned, but the best of Spain, Italy and even Britain have a home on its creakingly laden shelves. Where it’s Frenchness is unmistakable is in strings of purple garlic which adorn its walls, and in les crêpes, filled with jambon, fromage or champignon according to a recipe inherited from the owner’s mother. Order one to take away, then fill up on wine and snacks and head to London Fields for tres jolie time.

35-37 Broadway Market, E8, labouche.co.uk