Top Three Reasons to Check Out Dulwich
What is it about Dulwich? This charming, villagey south London suburb has been making all the right news lately and prompted a WHLondon visit to check out its attractions. With the Oru Space Cafe in East Dulwich winning the Best Cafe award at the Good Food Awards 2024, and East Dulwich included in a list of best places to live in the UK (yes, the UK – not just London!) we hung out at its cultural and dining hot spots and put together our top three reasons to check out this leafy, family-friendly neighbourhood.
The Oru Space Cafe
There’s always another cool new eatery opening somewhere in London and the breadth of choice for eating out has raised our expectations to Mount Everest levels. But the Oru Space Cafe is that bit special precisely because there is no capitulation to showy competitiveness. The cafe’s wholehearted wellness and healing tenets embrace the exact opposite. The terracotta-toned colour scheme on exterior and interior walls and decor is simple, serene, centring and gently stimulating to the senses. The local community vibe puts one immediately at ease. You get the feeling all the customers know each other; it’s probably not the case, not even with the cafe’s Wellness Members Lounge and co-working hub on site. Just that sense of comfort, community and being at one with the world. The Sri Lankan influenced food is fantastic, by the way!
The Sri-Lankan Lentil Dahl arrived as a transcendently creamy mix of lentils, garlic yoghurt, coconut sambol, pickled red chilli, coriander and topped with kale. There’s the option of a fried egg in the dish as well. And no long wait for your grub. What tends to happen with these award-winning eateries is the resulting surge in popularity has them struggling to keep up with orders but none of that here; lots of helpful and eager staff on hand. A deserved Good Food Blue Ribbon winner.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
You’ll find Britain’s first purpose-built gallery right here in pretty, postcard-perfect Dulwich Village. It was built in 1811 when galleries were still essentially spare rooms (albeit, very large ones) in the homes of the nobility, gentry and wealthy. Designed by leading architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), it still reminds you of an aristocrat’s pad and is preserved true to the architecture and layout of the period, right down to the deep burgundy-hued walls of the interior. The white-walled look of today’s galleries first emerged around 1897. The gallery’s magnificent collection of Old Master paintings dates from the 1600s to 1800s, so you can check out the works of Rembrandt, Poussin, Gainsborough and Van Dyck, to name a few.
And catch the Rubens & Women exhibition if you can – still a few more days to run. Peter Paul Rubens was pre-eminent amongst the Flemish artists who came to prominence in the seventeenth century and at his peak recognised as Europe’s No.1. You may notice some of the works repeat a facial likeness to his second wife Helena Fourment. And it’s fascinating to see his preparatory chalk and pen studies for altarpiece panels alongside jaw-droppingly awesome masterpieces such as The Three Graces, and Three Nymphs with a Cornucopia. The well-muscled female forms in his paintings show he used female sitters for the head and male models for the unclothed body. We’re informed this was a practice he borrowed from the great Michelangelo and also followed seventeenth-century etiquette. The exhibition is presented and surveyed as a diversification of art history.
Nestled between Sydenham and Dulwich, this ancient woodland was once part of the Great North Wood and dates back to 1272. Interestingly, these woods were once so vast that Norwood, the neighbouring district, gets its name from centuries past when the Great North Wood reached far and beyond. Today, Dulwich Woods is your green sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of city life, an enchanting sprawl of untamed natural beauty that offers escape, recalibration and contemplation surrounded by centuries of natural heritage.
Get here. Get green. Get back to nature after your cafe and gallery visit.