Hattie Lloyd 26/02/24

Free Art, Wine, And Boating Past A Chinese Pagoda

Itinerary Location: Victoria Park |  Duration: 5-7 Hours

These days, dating in London’s no walk in the park.

Apart from this date, which literally is a walk in the park.

However… we’ve also thrown in a sprinkling of romantic hundreds and thousands for the icing on this already highly amorous cake. Like an exceptionally cool gallery championing cutting-edge art. A Sri Lankan breakfast enjoyed overlooking a lake. And an intimate, candlelit new wine bar set in a former stables block.

No time for neigh-sayers; grab your beloved and meet them at:


pavilion cafe victoria park

Ticking off every square on your ‘idyllic café’ bingo card, the original Pavilion Café sits in a converted Victorian kiosk at the southern tip of Victoria Park. Its distinctive glass dome rises up to meet a canopy of leaves overhead, flooding the interior with sunlight, while the canopied terrace juts out over the park’s expansive boating pond. And in a surprising twist of fate, the food here actually matches up to the setting.

Pavilion’s famous for its Sri Lankan cooked breakfasts; packed platters of dhal, string hoppers, coconut roti and sambol that are the closest things you’ll find to a breakfast aphrodisiac. But if you’re after something smaller, you’ll also find freshly baked pastries, focaccia sandwiches and kimchi cheese toasties equally worthy of your attention.

Fuelled up, take a gentle eight-minute stroll out of the park, over Regent’s Canal and into:


chisenhale gallery

Benoît Piéron, Slumber Party (2023) Photo: Andy Keate

Chisenhale Gallery used to be an old veneer factory – but you should always look past the surface. For behind the aged and scruffy exterior of this 1930s block lies an above-par gallery for under-the-radar art.

Chisenhale was founded over four decades ago by a group of artists who wanted not just to display great art, but to nurture great artists. They commission work from rising stars both locally and across the globe, working with them to develop their ideas and foster a sense of community. As a result, they’ve helped to springboard the careers of major figures like Lubaina Himid, Rachel Whiteread and Cornelia Parker (who all had their first solo exhibitions here), and they still produce an impressive four shows a year, each bolstered by a programme of events and talks.

Chisenhale’s exhibitions are entirely free to visit, making it the ideal spot to scratch that cultural itch without shelling out £20 for a blockbuster show at one of London’s bigger galleries. And it’ll give you plenty to talk about as you explore:


victoria park

Aleksandr Chalikov/Unsplash

Victoria Park is London’s oldest public park, generously bestowed upon ‘the East End working class’ in 1845. Young Oliver Twist wouldn’t know what to do with himself today: aside from acres and acres of lush greenery and open skies, the park now has a skate park, tennis courts, football pitches and, of course, its own Chinese pagoda. In Spring, the cherry blossom bursts into bloom, in summer you can take a boat out across the lake, and even in the colder months you can flit from stall to stall at the Sunday market, keeping your core body temperature topped up with piping hot arepa and fresh coffee as you go.

Take in a long loop of the park and wind back around to the Royal Gates (just next to the solitary Royal Inn pub). Head for the awnings straight ahead, and carry on past The Empress all the way up to The Lauriston by the roundabout (yes, there are a lot of great pubs here, but bear with us). Because over the roundabout, just past the grocer’s, is –

BRUNO | 5.30pm


Wine whisperer Michael Sager has just added another bar to his stable. Well, specifically, he’s added a bar to this stable. Bruno is set in a converted stables block – a tiny, rustic space that seems to have been barely designed to hold a group of people, let alone a couple of horses. As a result, it’s one of the most atmospheric wine bars around – low-lit and cosy in winter, with a smattering of shaded tables out front in summer.

Sager’s time running the immensely popular Sager + Wilde and Equal Parts has allowed him to build up quite the black book of contacts over the years, and the bar here is almost entirely stocked with bottles sent directly by the growers themselves (with the gaps filled in by a couple of bottles from his own personal cellar). The result: a wine list where it’s physically impossible to pick a dud.


My Neighbours the Dumplings victoria park

Bruno is almost quite literally neighbours with My Neighbours The Dumplings. Head down the next arm of the roundabout, down the well-heeled Victoria Park Road, and there’s no missing the team of nimble-fingered chefs making the day’s dumplings in the window of this favoured spot.

Inside, it’s a scenic mixture of wooden fretwork, neon signs and tasselled silk lanterns, where sake bottles double as candlesticks – waterfalls of wax attesting to many a date night spent here. If it’s a balmy evening, ask to sit in the even lovelier walled garden at the back.

potstickers at my neighbours the dumplings

The dim sum-style nature of the menu lends itself well to flexibility, on the off-chance you’ve overindulged at Pavilion. There are dumplings, of course, in multiple guises: pork & prawn siu mai, elegantly crimped har gau, crispy potstickers, and more. But their other showstopper dishes include meltingly tender cubes of crispy pork belly and a warm noodle dish thrumming with cumin-spiced lamb. Of course, you can always pop in to pick up a pack of their frozen dumplings to rustle up at home, alongside a bottle of Plum Margarita and a jar of their tongue-lashing chilli oil…

…if you want to park it for later.


The Itinerary:

Pavilion Café | Victoria Park, Old Ford Road, London E9 7DE

Chisenhale Gallery | 64 Chisenhale Road, London E3 5RG | Open Wednesday – Sunday

Victoria Park | Grove Road, London E3 5TB

Bruno | 211a Victoria Park Road, London E9 7JN

➎ My Neighbours The Dumplings | 178-180 Victoria Park Road, London, E9 7HD

Looking for more inspiration? Try these 101 London Date Ideas on for size

Itinerary: Victoria Park

Start at Pavilion Café, Victoria Park, Hackney, E9 7DE