What’s it like at Petersham Nurseries Cafe, Richmond
PUBLISHED: 06:04 06 December 2019
Continually attracting the famous, wealthy and aspirational through its gates near Richmond, Petersham Nurseries Café is
a living, breathing lifestyle destination
With its magical blend of cosmopolitan cool and country life, Richmond has long attracted people who are in love with bohemian chic living. Artists, musicians and film stars often look to move to this area, which is blessed by offering a mix of city living with tranquillity and unhassled freedom.
If you didn't know that Petersham Nurseries was celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, you might think it's been at the foot of Richmond Hill forever, as it feels like the original source of it all. It's a trend-setting place where time stands still. It looks like it was built for a social media generation (despite opening before Facebook) and has become a haven for famous faces, well-heeled lunchers and aspirational dreamers.
One look around the nurseries' plant and antique collections and you may need to remortgage your house. I'm not really the homes and gardens type, but it's easy to see why people can fall in love with this rustic dream. The fantasy was made a reality by the Boglione family in 2004. They transformed the local garden centre that just happened to be next door to their spectacular Petersham House, and it quickly turned into the lifestyle destination we find today.
At its heart, you'll find the charming and disarmingly named Petersham Nurseries Café. A sophisticated restaurant hidden within a glasshouse and surrounded by antique furniture, mirrors and paintings, it's pretty as a picture and usually only opens for lunchtime service. It's not somewhere you should visit in a rush however.
Head chef Ambra Papa is focused on a slow food philosophy. In practise, this means celebrating the produce of Harry Boglione's Haye Farm, a 66-acre mixed organic farm found on the border of Devon and Dorset, and seasonal vegetables and edible flowers grown in the kitchen garden at Petersham. The menu is also a celebration of the family's Italian heritage.
When we visit, we're greeted out of the autumn sunshine by our waiter, Fabio, who was so enamoured while visiting for lunch over the years that he left his high-flying job to join the team. It's that kind of place; one step inside and the spell is cast.
The fantasy certainly comes at a price, but Petersham Nurseries knows its market. The tables around us quickly fill will people who you imagine don't even need to check the bill and then probably grab an eye-wateringly expensive chandelier or two on their way out. They all look annoyingly relaxed, happy and successful though, which perhaps says something about the vibe the place emanates.
Such is the popularity of this Richmond eatery that they've also opened a city destination in the heart of Covent Garden, with not only two restaurants but a shop, deli, wine cellar and florist. It's a dream people continue to buy into. Back in Richmond, we enjoy appetisers of crisp autumn vegetables dipped into indulgent spiced pumpkin hummus and fresh-as-you-like bruschetta with courgette, mint and pecorino. Our starters of risotto with earthy wild mushrooms, parmesan and marjoram and fiery Portland crab soup with tomato, fennel, agretti and garlic sourdough are both alive with deep flavours and freshness too. The house red wine we're recommended is absolutely fantastic - and dangerously enjoyable for a lunchtime treat. Looking for something a little lighter? Try a carafe of freshly made Amalfi lemonade.
Our mains of fillet of John Dory with courgette, rosemary, nocellara olives and kale and Haye Farm lamb with Charlotte potato, onion, thyme and chard are very tasty. We have sides too, but they're not essential as the portions are good. To finish, I opt for the original bean chocolate with honeycomb and olive oil ice cream, which is utterly addictive, and Sylviane picks the St James with seed crackers and Petersham honeycomb - an indulgent cheese plate that, like all the dishes, is presented with love and attention.
Dining here during the day definitely makes you wonder about the magic a few candles and a starlit sky must bring in the evenings. Fortunately, supper clubs, wine tastings and workshops are held here throughout the year. The place is a living breathing lifestyle destination. Many places are trying to be Petersham Nurseries, but I'm not sure all pull it off with quite so much grace.
There's much to admire even if, like myself, you're not easily swayed by antique mirrors, and designer wellies. There is a substance to this style and I loved learning about their work at Haye Farm - the farm to plate philosophy is everything I hope continues to grow in this country.
Is the food the best value around? Probably not. (We're very much in the Michelin star price bracket.) Is it a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience? Undoubtedly. Either way, it's an extremely seductive place.