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