It’s rare in our journalistic family when we venture out together to cover a story focused on both of our areas of interest–wine and food in my case and gardening for Mary. Granted, gardening and food and wine are very much related; but how often do you visit a wonderful nursery that also happens to sport a Michelin star?
Our trip to Petersham Nurseries Café, which only served lunch, would be nearly as rewarding as the destination. And the number of calories burned to get there boded well for a good appetite and little worry about what or how much we’d consume.
We caught a train at London Waterloo for a scenic trip southwest 15 miles through the suburbs to Richmond upon Thames – a place the locals tag as London’s most attractive borough. It is attractive, and in places downright bucolic. No wonder it’s been a magnet for royalty and the rich and famous for centuries. We weren’t either, but we had a credit card – and as it turned out, that was a good thing.
Richmond sparkled under blue skies when we arrived. The River Thames runs through the heart of the borough for 21 miles linking Hampton Court Palace, Richmond town centre and Kew Gardens with central London. The town center was bustling and prosperous looking as customers scurried in and out of shops and restaurants. The architecture was a mixed bag, but in aggregate seemed to work together.
Leaving the train station, it took us a bit to get our bearings. After wandering down several city blocks and making a few wrong turns, we spied what looked like parkland that seemed to signal we were leaving the town center. When we finally reached the Thames, we set off along a walkway that meandered its banks.
It was a warm, very pleasant day, perfect for enjoying the giant trees and grand hotels and mansions lining the path. We passed a couple of stylish restaurants set next to the river and a ferry dock which serviced passenger boats plying the river, including to London proper. The ferry would be a very pleasant option to the train trip if we were to head this way again.
After a mile or so, we passed through a gate to enter an immense field studded with trees and cows. A prominent sign warned pedestrians: “If a cow chases you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead–don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it.” Did the cows only chase people with dogs? Did they chase hungry journalists too?
As we cautiously proceeded, the path made me think of the yellow brick road with mad cows instead of wicked witches. I knew there would be no great Oz at the end of this road, but hopefully a culinary wizard would be there to perform some magic in the kitchen for us.
A half-mile later, we exited another gate and finally spied our destination. It certainly looked like a garden center – an upscale one at that, given the expensive luxury cars huddled together in the dusty parking area at the entrance. We wandered through the nursery and the Petersham Teahouse, which serves a seasonally and Italian inspired sweet lunch menu of cakes and other baked goods, before we spied our destination.
My first impression of the café was that a bunch of clever kids played restaurant in their backyard. They set-up used tables and chairs on the bare dirt, made shade canopies from bamboo mats and metal poles, decorated with ferns and bougainvillea, and hung out the open sign. Rustic – but somehow it worked, and in fact was very cool. But could they cook?
We were warmly greeted and seated at a table next to a large potted palm. The shabby chic chairs were actually quite comfortable, but it was still a bit of novelty to look down at a dirt floor.
We turned our attention to the short lunch menu created by head chef Cat Ashton and supervised by culinary director Lucy Boyd, who is the head gardener and former chef. It is amazing that the restaurant has maintained its quality and Michelin star while going through several executive chefs, including noted Australian chefs Skye Gyngell and Greg Malouf in recent years.
The restaurant is known for its seasonally inspired dishes created using locally sourced ingredients from small farmers and artisan producers. Edible flowers, herbs and heritage vegetable varieties were harvested on site from the Petersham House Walled Kitchen Garden.
Thirsty after our morning exercise, we ordered a refreshing Corbieres rose from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, an area known for its roses and red wines. At $36 it was a good value. To start, we shared a tomato and feta salad with fresh herbs and olive oil. It was a superb choice; the bright red tomatoes tasted as if they had been plucked off the vine by the server on the way to the table, and the feta was first rate.
For our main course we ordered rabbit and a veal chop, both beautifully presented and perfectly prepared. Both were wonderfully flavorful, with a perfectly caramelized golden sear on the outside and moist and tender inside—not a simple task with either dish. They served the rabbit in a bowl with a pool of delicious sauce, with wilted spinach leaves and cucumber spears. They topped the chop with white beans, spinach, and cubes of orange squash. Both included a lovely piece of garlic toast drenched in olive oil. Every bite was amazing; we were sad to scrape the last morsels out of our dishes with the delicious bread.
But our sadness turned to delight as our server slipped a dessert plate between us. It was a plate full of sweet sunshine – a perfect slice of lemon tart crowned with sweet sliced strawberries and a generous dollop of Creme Fraiche. The plate was soon clean and crumb-less.
If you look at Trip Advisor, there’s a lot of grumbling about the restaurant’s prices, especially from locals. Our tab including the bottle of wine came to a hefty $189.00 with tip and tax. Not our everyday lunch tab, but not our everyday lunch.
Full and extremely satisfied, we backed our chairs away from the table, engraving trailed in the dirt floor, and began our leisurely trip back, hoping not to run into an ornery cow along the way.
Petersham Nurseries Café
Church Lane, Off Petersham Lane,
OPENING HOURS & CONTACT as of September, 2020
12PM – 7PM
12PM – 7PM
12PM – 10.30PM
12PM – 10.30PM
12PM – 5PM
For the first time ever, service will extend on selected evenings, until sundown.
*Bank Holiday Monday 31st August
11:00am – 5:00pm
020 8940 5230
COVID RULES FOR THE RESTAURANTS
Our restaurants access will be limited to diners only.
Tables will be positioned in line with government guidelines.
To minimize contamination, menus will be single use, tables will be re-set frequently and you will be served by the same waiter throughout your meal.
We have changed our use of condiments to sachets only. **
We will not refill glasses to minimize contact.
Our Teahouse in Richmond has changed from self-service to table service.
We welcome children, however, for the safety of other diners we ask that they remain at your table or accompanied by an adult at all times.
It is a government regulation that all diners provide contact details for track and trace.