Places To Eat In London: Petersham Nurseries, Richmond
We have a real problem in London that if a restaurant is not near our home or our work, or if it is not conveniently placed on one of our preferred tube lines, we never bother to eat there. The River Cafe is so awkward to get to via public transport I waited until I lived within (reasonable) walking distance to visit, for example. As part of my Mum’s birthday treat trip to Kew Gardens we finally made it out to somewhere else we’d both wanted to eat and is a nightmare to get to: Petersham Nurseries – the original one in a Richmond garden centre, not the new, easy to get to outpost in Covent Garden (with their great small plates concept La Goccia next door!)
If you have the chance, go. The greenhouse you eat in is beautiful, the food is great and the garden centre is fun to mooch around. Save it for a special occasion; you’ll need to book a lot in advance to get a table, and if you’re driving there like we did, good luck to you – there is barely any parking which can get very stressful, so take the bus and walk, or take a taxi from the nearest station. However, it is worth noting that if you’re disabled, you can call ahead to get a space saved for you, which is a really helpful touch to take the stress out the whole thing!
Plan ahead, and once you’re there you’re in for a real treat. During the summer months there is brilliant purple bougainvillea everywhere, the like of which I’ve not seen since the last time I was in Los Angeles, and the pillar our table was sat next too had jasmine growing up around it, perfuming our whole meal with its blossoms.
Shall we start with a few drinks? The wine is not the exciting thing here, the list is expensive and if you ask me a little overpriced, but the other drinks are incredible. Mummy and I kicked things off with the house bellini, which, that day was strawberry and raspberry, a stunningly rich and aromatic nectar, perfectly chilled and sparkling, and made in such a way that it did not instantly separate after a few sips. One of the best we’ve ever had.
If you’re not drinking there are a few homemade soft drinks available by the pitcher, we loved the slightly effervescent homemade lemonade, which was the right balance between tart, refreshing and sweet. Oh and the bread? It was simply just good, but it was complimentary, and came with the most amazing dipping oil.
Daddy was not really feeling any of the starters so just got the ham and melon, designed to go with drinks which he marked as rather good. As it is a favourite of ours, us girls had the risotto, which that day was pea and parmesan. Looking around the other tables I wished I’d got the tomato and goats cheese salad, but the more risotto I ate the more I came to appreciate just how well the risotto was done. Al dente rice, a soft but not sloppy texture, and peas that we don’t think had been cooked at all before being added, along with the mint just at the end so that they had a lovely crunch, and allowing the mint to keep all of its bright colour and fresh flavour.
The mains really told us why everyone raves about Petersham so much, and why humble Italian plates being served out of a simple garden centre have managed to garner such a cult following. I know I write this a lot, but I’m still thinking about my charred squid served with blistered cherry tomatoes, olives, capers and fresh herbs. Everything was so fresh and bright, the tomatoes had such a concentrated flavour, and the fish was smokey and tender. I wish I’d still had bread to mop up all of the juices; this dish was even more impressive to me as it was the squid dish at La Goccia which was the only slightly disappointing thing I ate during that meal.
My parents both had some sort of wild garlic puree with their mains, my Dad chicken with a hasselback potato, my Mum some wonderfully cooked brill with asparagus and peas. We pretty much stuck to our own dishes, but got the warm courgette salad to share, which really was a strong dish. Full of bright flavours, the courgettes were soft but still with a lot of bite, a zingy dressing, and wonderfully roasted garlic. It was one of those sides that was a star alongside it’s fellow dishes on the table, rather than just a supporting act for overly hungry people.
The puddings came out equally as strong. How beautiful was the pavlova with strawberry, raspberry and basil (syrup, not the leaves, which I find rather hard to navigate in desserts)? Served with a vanilla cream they’d not just spent time on the presentation, it actually did taste as good as it looked. A candle arrived in my Mum’s apricot and thyme tart (exactly what you expect a well executed slice to taste like) simply because our waiter had overheard that it was a birthday treat, which was a nice touch, but the real star of the show was my dessert: a small marble bowl filled with an impossibly light, billowy chocolate mousse, topped with a scoop of bright strawberry ice cream, dressed with rose petals and freshly made honeycomb shards (if you’ve ever made it at home you’ll know what I mean – it never quite tastes as good once you’ve put it in the tin as fresh shards do straight from the pan). A perfectly indulgent without being too much end to the meal.
As mentioned, if you love fresh, bright, seasonal Italian food in a beautiful surrounding and you’ve got a special occasion coming up, do go to Petersham – with careful planning, it is really worth the trip. However, if you want the food without all the bother, I also think you’ll have a fantastic time just heading into Covent Garden instead.