From plant to plate
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.
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: