Ideally snuggled into the leafy and sought-after surrounds of St James Park, Inn The Park is yet another successful Peyton & Byrne venture (The Wallace, National Dining Rooms et al) that reflects the pair’s tried and tested flair for understated classics. And should you be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the ever-elusive British summertime, the restaurant provides an idyllic al fresco oasis overlooking one of London’s plusher parks.
Architecturally, the exterior is a mastery of design that merges seamlessly into its fertile backdrop: horizontal timber beams traverse a long, sinuous structure, almost sauna-like in its aesthetics. A spacious decked area forms the facade, offering striking views of the park’s lushly unkempt lake, while the upstairs rooftop bar boasts cityscape vistas that can be enjoyed over the treetops – and preferably a stiff cocktail. The interior, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, has ample seating space for diners, as well as a self-service café for casual and kid-friendly lunching.
We were welcomed immediately on arrival by a sunny hostess who shuffled us off to a well-lit booth. When it comes to the food, the evolving menu isn’t going to knock your culinary socks off in its originality, but then that isn’t what the restaurateurs are known for. Like many of Peyton & Byrne’s other projects, Inn The Park sticks to traditional recipes done simply, elegantly and with an emphasis on domestically sourced seasonal produce.
Though we were confident enough in the cocktailing proficiency of the bartenders, the overcast yet sticky evening air swayed us towards the rosé offerings, and our chirpy waiter was quick to inform us that Inn The Park would be featuring new varieties of blush during each of the summer months. With June dedicated to French vineyards, a highly recommended Côtes de Provence selection proved an instantaneous hit.
Scanning the starters, it didn’t take long to engage our hankering stomachs. The eclectic rotating selection runs the full gastronomic gauntlet, from veggie options like asparagus with purple sprouting, egg and hazelnut; to pulled lamb with broad beans, peas and tahini – with plenty of seafood options in between.
There’s certainly an entree to appease all palates, and with the option of ordering three for £16.50, the upper section of the menu makes for a pretty swell nosh-up in itself. Unsure of portion sizes thus far, however, we played it safe and stuck to two: grilled octopus with jersey royals; and buttermilk fried chicken with Blue Monday and smoked hot sauce.
With none of the starters comprising more than four ingredients, we weren’t anticipating pretentiousness or pomp – and we got none. The octopus bragged a perfect char and was generous in its portion, with just the right amount of seasoning to let the deep-sea dweller shine.
Though somewhat seduced by the crab salad with avocado and Nashi pear, the die-hard fried chicken fanatic in me just couldn’t deny a new fry, and while it was by all standards delicious, the meat didn’t quite live up to some of its trendier fowl-focused competitors – think Bird, CHICKENliquor, Chick ‘n’ Sours. The batter was crisp and sufficiently peppery, however, many years spent gorging on old-school American-style thighs left me longing for more heat and boatloads more blue cheese. Regardless of one’s setting, fried chicken should always showcase flavour before style.
I opted for oven-roasted hake on a bed of lentils and chorizo for main, while my friend picked the rump of lamb with broad beans, pea puree and salsa verde. The hake was moist and its bedding well-balanced: the saltiness of the chorizo brought some much-needed pizazz to the lentils. And while my friend enjoyed her lamb, I couldn’t help but notice her eyeing up my rather more sizeable portion after devouring her own.
Though I don’t think I’ll ever qualify as a sweet-tooth, chocolate is one thing I struggle to repudiate. Needless to say, I went straight for the only sane option – a chocolate pot with pistachio brittle. In line with the rest of the evening, it was hustled out in a timely manner alongside my guest’s choice – an unashamedly British treacle tart with clotted cream.
Neither survived long, and my friend (who most certainly is a dessert devotee) had only praises to sing about the buttery slice. My chocolate pot was everything I’d hoped for: dense, decadent, substantial and silky smooth. My only advice: avoid the exceptionally thick layer of brittle if you’re a regular dentist-goer – a pickaxe might’ve been more apt than a spoon on this occasion.
Impenetrable pistachio fortresses aside, the evening’s flaws, overall, were minor. The service was stellar from the get-go – friendly and attentive, but far from overbearing; while the food was consistent, both in flavour and presentation.
Visitors to Inn the Park should expect minimalism, finesse and high-quality ingredients that celebrate the best of what Britain has to offer. And if you don’t go there for the food, then you have little excuse not to go for the ambience. Consider it a little slice of country life – complete with greenery, G&Ts and perfectly cooked proteins – plonked slap-bang into the restless heart of our ever-bustling metropolis.
Inn The Park, St James’s Park, London SW1A 2BJ