Parliament Hill Café, Hampstead Heath
by Des Ayuno
Sunday brought breakfast with the delectable S, over from NY for a few days. Her fabulous, funny fashion blog may exhaust the average thesaurus of superlatives, but the lass has impeccable taste in dining establishments of all shapes, sizes and sleb quotients. “Come to the Italian,” she suggested airily. Further investigation revealed its name, though apparently no one actually calls it that, and thus its location (handily, as it seems to possess nothing so pedestrian as an address, perhaps to preserve its word-of-mouth cool. I remembered that S, when in Manhattan, practically lives at the Waverly).
From the bottom of the hill it looked unprepossessing enough, a grey ’70s low-rise block. Inside it had all the cheerful, clattering trappings of a posh school cafeteria, except with clusters of panettone hanging from the ceiling. We waited for our veggie breakfasts in an ambience that, against all the odds pertaining to London park cafés, was more Corbusier cool than concrete eyesore. An authentically Italian waitress finally delivered enormous white plates, piled high. Fried eggs were big, plump and not at all greasy. Rich red tomatoes (in midwinter! How? It was like the prison dinner in Goodfellas) were grilled with precision. Mushrooms were massive pale chunks sautéed ever so lightly. I prefer them more caramelised, but S protested that these retained a wondrous freshness, quoting, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” There were more beans and slices of toast than either of us could finish. And the veggie sausage, replete with crispy – crunchy! – crust and velvety yet hearty interior, has set a new and impossibly high standard for all veggie sausages of the future. At a mere £3.60 (the meaty option costs the same), it is an economic mystery and a culinary joy.