Food and Drink: Eating out and in the open: Emily Green lunches and dodges the litter at four municipal park cafes in north London

Every few years, a famous person publicly undertakes to improve some dark and dirty corner of British catering. Egon Ronay opted for motorway service stations and airports. Prue Leith tackled several of London's royal parks, after taking rather a bruising while raising the standards of British Rail.

But mostly the standard of catering in public places is determined by those who do the job in the first place. This is no barrier to improvements, and Peter Propper is so impressed by the job his wife, Anne, has done since she took over the Queen's Park Cafe in north- west London, last November that he rang this newspaper to say so. By way of emphasis, he added that the park's owner, the Corporation of London, was intent on improving the quality of food served in all its parks.

'Are we?' asked a corporation press officer. I decided to find out, and ate lunches in four park cafes.

The Proppers' cafe is in the centre of Queen's Park, next to the tennis courts. The rhythmic thwok of balls sounds gently beneath the screeching of children. Women in summer frocks, most with small children, occupy mismatched garden furniture. Sparrows bathe in an old water fountain. It is dreamily pleasant, and faintly shambolic. There are rubbish bins everywhere. Mrs Propper explains: 'If (the public) don't have a bin within arm's length, they throw rubbish on the ground.' Rubbish still tangles in the hedges.

The cafe itself is small, bright and cheery. A colourful collection of teapots lines the top shelf. Tennis balls are sold next to a lurid variety of crisps. I ordered pasta (fusilli with tomato sauce) and a tuna salad (tinned fish with green beans, hardboiled eggs and olives). The pasta was fine. The salad needed dressing.

I returned for pudding. Through a hatch, a middle-aged woman was visible - probably Mrs Propper's mother, who bakes for the cafe. I ordered a slice of chocolate cake, rich, moist and good, served on a paper plate with a plastic fork.

The hissing coffee machine and boxes of panetone strung from the ceiling of The Parliament Hill Cafe in Hampstead Heath give it away as being Italian-run. The owner, Alberto D'Auria, hails from Salerno and has run the cafe for eight years. Dishes called 'spaghetti nap', 'spaghetti bol' and 'chicken dinosaurs' indicate a degree of assimilation.

I ordered lasagne. Outside, there were more children, more litter. I settled inside at a wood-effect laminated table screwed not just to the floor but also to a set of orange plastic chairs.

Ten minutes later a large girl in open-back sandals flip-flopped into the room. 'Number seven]' she bellowed - and kept on bellowing until I realised that I was number seven. The pasta, served on a blazing-hot oven dish, was tough, but the filling was fine.

I was number 39 for the yelling waitress at the Osho Basho Cafe in Highgate Wood. The curious monicker combines the names of the owner (Basho) and that of his 'spiritual teacher' (Osho). It signals other alternatives: order a Coke and you get Whole Earth cola with the rainforest stimulant guarana. The menu is vegetarian.

In other respects, however, Osho Basho embraces Western indulgence. Near-naked children clutch lurid raspberry-red and lime-green ice-lollies. Adults opt for gooey but good pastries from the local bakery, Queen of Tarts, good Lavazza coffee and a decent selection of beer and wines, including a claret, an Italian pinot grigio and a Californian sauvignon blanc called 'Highgate'.

I had ordered a first-class but blazing-hot lentil, red pepper and coriander soup. It would have been perfect for November. Strangely, there were no cool summer soups on offer. Accompanying the hot soup was a basket of spongy granary bread and melting packets of Anchor butter. I ate on the lovely terrace, lyrically English, with views over a cricket ground. Less lyrical were the screaming children and customers dropping litter.

Tony Pazienti calls his cafe in Golders Hill, at the northern extreme of Hampstead Heath, the Refreshment House. Everyone else calls it 'Tony's Cafe', and has done for the 22 years he has run it.

Here, Jewish north London behaves in a decidedly Italian fashion. On a terrace overlooking an animal park with flamingos, pheasants and goats, young mothers in designer sunglasses feed their children 'home-made' gelati. Old, leather-skinned gentlemen drink pinot grigio and eat simple pasta dishes. The freshly squeezed pink-grapefruit juice is delicious. And because more food is home-made, and less prepacked, there is less litter.

The press officer at the Corporation of London had not heard of an improvement drive because there isn't one. 'We ask that all the cafes supply affordable refreshments for park-goers,' she said. They do.

Queen's Park Cafe, Kingswood Avenue, NW6 (081-960 6946). Open daily 10.30am-8.30pm, or an hour before the park closes. Lunch with beverage approx pounds 5.

Parliament Hill Cafe, Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath NW5 (071-485 6606). Open 9am-6pm daily. Lunch pounds 2- pounds 5.

Osho Basho Cafe, Highgate Wood, London N10 (081-444 1505). Open Tues-Sun 8am-9pm, or until dusk. Lunch pounds 2- pounds 5.

'Tony's Cafe', Refreshment House, Golders Hill Park, Hampstead Heath NW3 (081-455 8010). Open 10.30am-sunset daily. Lunch pounds 2- pounds 5.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam