Print Send via e-mail GPS Facebook Twitter
Get directions from | to | via this address
Petersham Nurseries Café (Richmond-upon-Thames)
Nurseries, an Australian lady from Sydney, old-fashioned roses, Indian tapestries, a rustic and bobo atmosphere, secateurs, bulbs and choice gastronomic products... Lunch in an English garden.
Here you have an eatery that has now been spoken about for several years in the capital... Located in London's Arcadia in the very chic Richmond, 20 minutes from Waterloo Station by train, Petersham Nurseries Café has appeared in Vogue and is said to have been frequented by the likes of Mick Jagger and Madonna...
It's not done to refuse an invitation to Petersham Nurseries Café tucked away down a little lane*, so on a fine September day we made our way there. Rather than go by car, we strongly recommend you work up an appetite by a short walk along the Thames and through Petersham Meadows.
Petersham Meadows are home to peacefully munching cows (protected by an Act of Parliament of 1902), no doubt reassured in the knowledge that chef Skye Gyngell buys only organic meat from Lord Newborough's farm in North Wales.
As soon as you step into the nurseries, you realise they take the future of the planet seriously. After crossing through the large dahlias, lavateras, ipomeas and pelargoniums, you discover that the flower pots are in biodegradable coco fibre from Sri Lanka (exit plastic pots!), and that the fertilisers are based on seaweed from the Scotch coasts or on Indian neem tree... In short the nec plus ultra of organic agriculture.
To reach the 'restaurant room' you cross a shop in a large greenhouse with a beaten earth floor. On sale are boots, spades, cuttings, garden furniture, antiques, concrete copies of ancient statues so perfectly imitated and mossy that you'd swear they'd been weathered by two of three hundred years of Scotch drizzle... The whole gamut of chic gardening tackle is to be found here from 99 p to £ 2,000.
The restaurant is at the rear of the greenhouse. Plain old iron or wooden tables, ferns, tapestries and Indian paintings make a serene setting.
During the week, you're not likely to see Madonna of Kylie Minogue (who is supposed to have a house in the neighbourhood), but venerable old ladies having a good time and a few forty-something mothers of the type who go jogging in Richmond Park while pushing a three-wheel Red Castle buggy. There's no rushing, it's peaceful and relaxed but the room will inevitably become full. You're advised to book a fortnight before for a table in the week, and a month in advance for the weekend.
What's on the menu? It's hard to define Skye Gyngell's cuisine. Some commentators describe it as 'modern European cuisine', while others call it 'rustic and eclectic French cuisine'.
Even if she partly trained in France with Anne Willan at La Varenne cooking school, then at the Dodin-Bouffant, we would rather be tempted to speak of a kind of fusion cuisine of which the main asset is its simplicity and freshness.
Skye Gyngell uses a wide array of preparations and ingredients of Mediterranean and Oriental influence to set off her dishes: many fresh herbs collected on the spot, grilled mixed spices (caraway, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom...), roasted tomatoes and red onions; walnuts, grilled hazelnuts and almonds; tomato and pepper chutney; pistou and saffroned mayonnaise or ailloli; yoghurt flavoured with mint, tabasco, ginger and garlic...
The menu is short (5 starters and 5 mains), but changes every week, Skye being adamant about cooking only seasonal produce, if possible from her own garden. For the aperitif, while the flute of champagne with its crystallised rose petal was most subtle, on the other hand the Poole prawns with chilli and lemon mayonnaise were unconvincing. The taste of the chilli was far too strong, hiding that of the prawns. But that didn't stop us from finishing our plate and dipping again and again into the extraordinary mayonnaise.
The rest of the meal went off without any false notes. For instance, the morganatic marriage of scallops with creamed corn and chilli oil (£ 9) may appear improbable but works: the extremely fresh scallops, just fried quickly and most juicy, worked very well, most unexpectedly, with the sweet taste of the maize.
As a main dish, the roasted halibut with crème fraîche, preserved lemons and Cuore di Bue (£ 17) is amazingly simple, yet a precision masterpiece: fried and crisp skin, fleshy texture of the fish, sweetness of the tomato... A perfect composition. For greater objectivity, we can mention that our table neighbour went into rapture about his roast squab with chanterelles, spinach and Borlotti beans (£ 17).
All in all we were impressed by the originality of this venue and combinations of prepared foods, well garnished dishes, the precise cuisine, and the freshness and excellence of the produce: lentils from Castelluccio (Umbria) or Le Puy, organic vegetables and herbs from the garden, walnuts from Perigord, honey from Richmond Park, cheeses by Anne Wigmore, choice Welsh lamb… On the other hand, we considered the prices rather on the high side: with a starter and a dessert, it's hard not to spend less than £ 25 to £ 27 without wine... A form of selection by money in a bobo and cool atmosphere.
* On Petersham Road take the cul-de-sac Church Lane.
Off Petersham Road
Bookings: 020 8605 3627
Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am – 4:30 pm
Sunday and Monday, 11 am – 4:30 pm