The first time I went to Petersham Nurseries was for a Slow Food lunch with the subject of edible flowers. Back then Skye Gyngell had just started to work her magic behind the stove, today she has handed over her wooden spoon (or whatever) to Greg Malouf claiming that receiving a Michelin star has driven her away.I’ve read a substantial amount of grumbling regarding the prices (for example in John Lanchester’s review for The Guardian) which for a la cart is about £50 a head and for the set lunch goes from £28.50 for two courses and £32.50 for three courses. In London and environs that can’t be considered extortionate, surely? Is it because you can also buy pots of lavender that this seems expensive to some? Or because of the bathroom, which reminds me of the composting outhouses from my days at girl scout camp but with running water.The service is faultless. Young british women, wearing flowery blouses and sensible flats. Thick, straight (in spite of the 70% humidity) hair pulled back in ponytails and a sheet of fringe brushing their eyebrows. Their cheeks blushed just like the many heavy-headed roses surrounding us. Our principal waiter is a british man, who looks like he’s come off the set of Chariots of Fire.My sister and I eat outside under a loosely thatched roof, which provides plenty of dappled sunshine. We are close enough to the trickling fountain that it gives us some relief from the sweltering humid heat (what is it with the weather? It can only do 18ºC and raining or 30ºC and humid?).
I am looking forward to seeing what Greg Malouf does with the produce of the garden. And with Middle Eastern food which is still largely unexplored in the west and at its point of origin, very rustic.
I order the 3 course set menu finding it at once good value and a good way to discover the new style of Petersham nurseries. This starts with a fattoush salad, whose usual form is a chopped salad with fried pieces of flat bread but in this incarnation is all manner of greens I don’t recognize and small beets, juicy white radishes, sweet cucumber, even sweeter tomatoes some cherry and some peeled wedges of a larger variety. Instead of deep-fried flat bread, there are crunchy slices of sourdough sprinkled with sumac. Three violet blossoms adorn the salad like a crown. It is beautiful, to behold and to eat.
My sister has the Shiraz salad. A herb salad with plenty of tarragon and chives. And more flowers than a meadow: vibrant blue borage flowers, marigold petals, nasturtium blossoms and leaves. All tousled together.As my main, I have a leg of corn-fed chicken with a large wedge of lemon, its peel reassuringly gnarled like a rheumatic knuckle. The bed of chickpeas, baby leaks and grains it lies on is to my mind better than the main event. Even though I struggle to eat on hot days, I polished that off. The two scoops of peach and rose sorbet blows me away. More peachy than any peach and tragically over before I am truly finished with it. The chocolate cinnamon mousse with the quirky camel biscuit is less of a success although I imagine it would be nice in the winter. An appointment prevents me from lingering which I want to do. Petersham is not like any garden center you’ve ever seen. The word ‘idyllic’ is totally inadequate to describe it.
With a la carte mains hovering around £30 there is no doubt that it isn’t cheap. But there is a certain art to ordering well and I think it is a unique place and an afternoon there is like applying a soothing balm to the soul.
Off Petersham Road