Su­san Kuro­sawa takes a tasty ex­cur­sion from Lon­don to Peter­sham Nurs­eries Cafe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

T’S hard to imag­ine a more con­vivial daytrip from Lon­don, at least when a gourmet lunch and gulps of good coun­try air are one’s goals. Peter­sham Nurs­eries is at Rich­mond in Sur­rey but, while its name im­plies just plants and flow­ers, many of its vis­i­tors have no in­ten­tion of stock­ing up on the likes of dib­bers and tele­scopic pruners. Their fo­cus is to sam­ple the cook­ing of feted Aus­tralian chef Skye Gyn­gell at Peter­sham Nurs­eries Cafe.

There is some­thing so in­trin­si­cally English about it all. On the spring day of my visit, there’s but­tery sun­shine, bum­ble­bees and the faint smell of roses in the air. I grew up in Sur­rey and th­ese mem­ory prompts are so per­sua­sive I feel as if I am a girl again, skip­ping through mead­ows in jodh­purs and pig­tails.

Peter­sham Nurs­eries — glasshouses, gar­dens, plant and gift shop, cafe and tea shop — is set along a lane close to the south bank of the Thames, with views up to his­toric Rich­mond Hill. This is a toney neigh­bour­hood of Ge­or­gian and Queen Anne man­sions, Range Rovers and BMW con­vert­ibles; lo­cal coun­try squires have in­cluded the likes of Mick Jag­ger.

Aus­tralian-born Gael Boglione and her Ital­ian hus­band, Francesco, bought Peter­sham Nurs­eries, ad­ja­cent to their her­itage home, Rich­mond House, in 2004. They have turned it into one of the re­gion’s best nurs­eries, and per­suad­ing Gyn­gell to come on board and su­per­vise the food out­lets has proved to be the cherry on an al­ready en­tic­ing cake.

In terms of tone and decor, Gyn­gell’s cafe is no or­di­nary af­fair. It’s a won­drous folly that seems to have grown or­gan­i­cally from its sur­round­ings. Din­ers sit at the rear of the main earth-floored green­house at mis­matched wooden and cast-metal ta­bles and chairs, many painted a vivid aqua­ma­rine, sur­rounded by pots of flow­er­ing shrubs, Asian arte­facts and ch­ests. In­dian rough-wo­ven blinds screen the glass roof; a slate propped up by a tub of hy­drangea sug­gests the week’s aper­i­tif; per­haps a melon prosecco or rose pe­tal bellini.

Gyn­gell al­most ex­clu­sively uses lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and works in con­cert with res­i­dent for­ager Wendy Fog­a­rty, gen­eral man­ager of Peter­sham Nurs­eries.

Fog­a­rty set up the Bri­tish branch of the Slow Food move­ment in 1996 and has been de­scribed by

news­pa­per as one of Bri­tain’s top 50 food­ies. Her on­go­ing mis­sion is to look for what’s new and fab­u­lous from pro­duc­ers across Bri­tain. Even the soft drinks here, such as pure ap­ple and pear juices from Cheg­worth Val­ley Farm in Kent, have been cho­sen with par­tic­u­lar care.

Gyn­gell’s sim­ple food re­lies on each sea­son’s best, from new as­para­gus to sum­mer’s young run­ner beans. Her menus change weekly and herbs, salad greens, her­itage toma­toes, stone fruit and berries come from the walled gar­dens of Peter­sham Nurs­eries. Even ed­i­ble flow­ers play a part in dishes such as wild sea bass carpac­cio with pea shoots and nas­tur­tiums.

Dur­ing my visit, the week­day (Wed­nes­days to Fri­days) lunch menu, which of­fers a trio of veg­e­tar­ian op­tions, fea­tures three starters and mains and four desserts, in­clud­ing a cheese plate.

Flo­ral flavours: Aus­tralian chef and au­thor Skye Gyn­gell at her Peter­sham Nurs­eries Cafe, just out­side Lon­don

Pic­tures: AAP, Su­san Kuro­sawa

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