From plant to plate

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Tip­ple of the day: Sim­plic­ity adds charm

A choice of, say, spinach soup with nut­meg, then sea bass with toma­toes, mint and salsa verde, rounded off by a chocolate slab with Jer­sey cream and gin­ger caramel, is £27.50 ($54). Two cour­ses cost £22.50; wine by the glass from about £4.

Week­end lunches are the most pop­u­lar and the a la carte menus are more ex­haus­tive, with en­trees av­er­ag­ing £12.90 and mains, £24. The ca­sual Tea House, with its cen­tre­piece stone foun­tain, serves sand­wiches, soups and home­made cakes (lemon pop­py­seed, fig and al­mond, carrot and more).

I take a stroll around the es­tate, past dis­plays of spring and sum­mer bulbs: nar­cis­suses with names as jolly as Yel­low Cheer­ful­ness, post­box-red ro­coco tulips and hy­acinth va­ri­eties in baby pinks and blues. If I had an English gar­den, this would be a heav­enly source of or­na­men­tal trees, olive bushes and, from the shop, bright-blue welling­ton boots with wool lin­ings and French gal­vanised wa­ter­ing cans.

The con­ser­va­tory-style shop, which spills into the cafe, is full of lovely flo­ral cards, Asian od­dments, gar­den­ing tools, French pro­vin­cial an­tiques and urns, and gor­geous gift items such as vin­tage rib­bon curled on to wooden bob­bins, beeswax can­dles and linen table­cloths and tea tow­els. I buy a roll of royal-blue rib­bon, gold-threaded with Peter­sham Nurs­eries’ sig­na­ture twin ele­phant-head mo­tif, and hope by the time I have used it all I can go back for an­other per­fect day in green­est Sur­rey.

Check­list

Peter­sham Nurs­eries is at Church Lane, off Peter­sham Road, near Rich­mond, Sur­rey. Train to Rich­mond from Water­loo takes about 40 min­utes; taxi from Rich­mond sta­tion to Peter­sham Nurs­eries takes about 10 min­utes. Peter­sham Nurs­eries can also be reached by Ham­mer­tons ferry ser­vice across the Thames from Mar­ble Hill Park to the river­bank out­side Ham House. Due to on­go­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues with the lo­cal coun­cil, arriving by car is dis­cour­aged; park­ing fees ap­ply. The nurs­eries are open seven days; lunch in the cafe, Wed­nes­day to Sun­day, 12pm to 2.45pm. The Tea House is open daily. Lunch reser­va­tions es­sen­tial (book as far ahead as pos­si­ble). More: +44 20 8605 3627; www.pe­ter­sham­nurs­eries.com.

Francesco and Gael [Boglione] asked me [in 2004] to have a look at their nurs­ery to see if we could do a tea room or cafe. It was all ce­ment floors at that time but I could see I would be happy cook­ing there with a veg­etable gar­den and a nice view. If I’d known what was go­ing to hap­pen or if some­one had said: ‘ This is the fu­ture’, I may well not have done it. Not be­cause I’m not proud of it or don’t love it but, hon­estly, it’s nearly killed me. For a long time I was start­ing at 4.30am and there was no kitchen; we had a four-burner stove in the cafe.

We saved up to build a proper kitchen and even now it’s half the size of most. It cost us £28,000 [$54,706]; a lot of kitchens in the West End [of Lon­don] cost £2 mil­lion. We’re very pro­ducer-ori­ented at Peter­sham. We use about 49 pro­duc­ers, no big sup­pli­ers or com­pa­nies.

They are more en­ter­tain­ers than chefs. I think they have their place, but if I’m looking at a cook­book, it won’t be Gor­don Ram­say or Jamie Oliver. I want some­one who can chal­lenge me, and who has a huge knowl­edge of pro­duce and who I can learn from. Some­one like Alice Wa­ters, who pro­vides a com­pen­dium of cook­ing lessons, or Richard Ol­ney’s

Pa­tience Gray’s or Judy Rodgers’s Skye Gyn­gell spoke to Michelle Rowe. For the full Q & A in­ter­view go to:

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