Roast dinner, a little history, and a lot of culture are three ingredients which, in our book at least, make for a perfect Sunday afternoon. The Spaniards Inn at Hampstead Heath has each in spades. Built sometime in the late 1500s, it remains one of the best pubs in London. The gardens are splendid, the decor inside is oak-panelled and atmospheric (there is a pocket-sized snug which is beyond cosy) and the Heath is on its doorstep.
The history of this place is rich, too. Centuries back, highwaymen (including Dick Turpin if you believe the pub's own folklore) frequently used the inn to watch the road and refuel ahead of what was then a two-hour coach trip into the city. Aware of the pub's reputation, there was once a tree, within full view of the pub, where captured highwaymen were hanged by the authorities.
The pub also has a great literary heritage. Not only was the pub mentioned in Dickens's 'The Pickwick Papers' and Bram Stocker's 'Dracula' (who apparently borrowed one of the stories of The Spaniard's resident ghosts for the book), but two poets famous enough to have just one name each - Byron and Keats - were regulars.
That, then, takes care of the history and the culture. Now for the roast.
In dire need of some refuelling of our own after an excellent evening the night before, we sat down with a friend in the afore-mentioned snug for lunch. Named by The Guardian as home to one of the top 10 roasts in the country - and one of the top 10 pubs, full stop - we had high hopes. They were met, and then some. Delicious, thick-cut beef. Crispy-on-the-out, fluffy-on-the-inside roast potatoes. A light-as-air Yorkshire pudding, perfect gravy and delicious, fresh-in-season vegetables.
The conversation evaporated the moment the plate hit the table, and didn't even return to its pre-meal level afterwards. We were too full and content - and a little snoozy, too - for anything so strenuous as talking.
Outside, the sun was beginning to break through the clouds and the pub's beautiful gardens starting to fill. Way back when, it offered unbroken views as far as Windsor Castle. Not so anymore, of course, but while they may have been surrender to the urban sprawl, The Spaniards Inn itself remains as fantastic as ever. Seek it out, highwayman or not.