Part leafy paradise, part fine dining.
Tucked away from the streets of Richmond by a ten minute cab ride or, as the website states, a brisk 30 minute walk, Petersham Nurseries is about as far away as you can get from London (mentally, at least) without actually going very far at all. The nursery is perched on the edge of an open field with the Thames winding through the land nearby. The downside is that parking here is very tight and traffic can be bad at times, so you’ll want to leave the car behind. For even more of a reason to walk, Petersham Nurseries is in danger of closing because the amount of visitors contributes to the area’s growing traffic problem. Although they’ve been given a one year reprieve, it’s best to leave the car at home.
The actual restaurant is towards the back of the nursery, sheltered in a greenhouse during the winter and under shades in the summer. The effect is very rustic, with vines creeping around the edges and flowers bursting from the corners. The kitchen is even located in a long wooden building that used to be the landowner’s garage. On every table are white linen napkins and lovely wine glasses and silverware, plus a fresh flower in a vase. Combined with the dirt and pebbled floor, it’s a decor that strangely goes well together – it looks as if the nursery just grew up around the restaurant one day.
Service (clad in Wellingtons) is fast and efficient, and the different types of diners (older couples, young mothers, local businesspeople) all mix in quite happily. Even though this is definitely a destination restaurant – and they’ve had diners making the trip from all across the world – because of its location and its lack of pretension you feel like you’ve found a hidden foodie hideaway that’s all your own… even though it’s become so well known that the chef, Skye Gyngell, has even had her own fashion shoot in Vogue, not to mention a new cookbook and a column in The Independent on Sunday.
The menu changes weekly to coincide with what’s seasonably available, and starters are between £10 - £15 whilst mains range from £15 - £25. The bread served at the beginning of the meal is crisp but oily at the same time, dripping with lovely salty butter. Recommended starters (if they’re available, of course) include a Dorset crab salad, which comes as a generous helping of fresh sliced crab in a creamy, slightly smoky Tabasco butter. Scattered on the side are small green Padron peppers, Spanish peppers infamous for their hot-or-not taste; most of them are sweet and mild, but every once in awhile you’ll bite into a spicy one.
A main of roasted pork belly with braised Borlotti beans is a filling choice. The pork is a juicy and succulent slab on the bone, covered with a crisp and salty crackling, whilst the plump, creamy beans look almost like little speckled eggs. Mixed in with the spinach it makes for a well-textured dish. Desserts aren’t listed on the menu but are instead brought out on a chalkboard, old fashioned pub style. Rhubarb and ginger pudding melts in the mouth, with sweetly tart chunks of rhubarb and globs of fresh cream draped over a moist, ginger-infused sponge. The pink rhubarb and pale yellow cream are bright and cheerful, looking almost as pretty as they taste.
The large jug of Elderflower Cordial is a bargain at just £5 – two people could each fill up a few glasses of the sweet and bubbly lime green concoction. There’s also a decently long wine list, mostly European and ranging in price from £15.50 – £55, with a few options available by the glass as well.
The Last Word
It might not be the easiest place to get to, but make the effort on a nice day or for a special occasion and you’ll be justly rewarded. Best stick to public transportation or walk, though!