It was with much anticipation when we made a booking for lunch at the Petersham Nurseries Cafe.
I've read many things about the nursery and cafe. The cafe is headed up by chef Skye Gyngell, an Aussie, who helped get the cafe its first Michelin star. I've also seen many photos of the nursery in foodie magazines - the gorgeous flowers and design.
The nursery is located in the upper-middle class suburb of Richmond. The thing that struck me about the place was that there was a mix of the down-to-earth gardeners that worked there, a good dollop of the insufferable Prudes and Trudes (if you've watched Kath and Kim, you'll know what I mean) and a sprinkling of the fashionably 'bright young things'.
The nursery is absolutely gorgeous and stunningly designed. It's a pity that I'm not a skilled photographer - you could spend the whole day there taking photos.
The nursery has a teahouse, which doesn't require a booking. It's mostly cakes and light meals (quiches, sandwiches, etc). Tables and chairs are scattered around the nursery.
The cafe is in an enclosed building. Finding the entrance of the cafe was a bit confusing. We first went through an open area, which we thought was the entrance, but was actually the access between the kitchen and the cafe. While we were there, we happened to see a massive baked salmon being brought out of the oven.
The main door to the cafe is kept shut, so the only way is through the gift shop. It's a rather cunning set up - the gift shop has lots of gorgeous and beautiful furnishings (with hefty price tags). It's probably a good thing that we've made a point not to accumulate too many things while we're in London - otherwise I would have ended up buying enough furnishings to set up my own gift shop.
First impressions of the cafe is that it's like an Aladdin's cave. It's like you're in a fantasy conservatory with flowers and greenery everywhere, and sunlight peeping through the canopy.
The second impression wasn't so good. While we stood at the quasi-reception area, a staff member just busied herself with something, without acknowledging our presence. I thought this was a bit shabby given that I had high expectations for a Michelin-starred place.
When we were finally seated, our waitress was more attentive and friendly.
To quench our thirst, we ordered a jug of homemade lemonade. It had lots of lemon and mint in it and was made with soda water.
For mains, I ordered the scallops, which came with grilled radicchio, yellow beans and anchovy and chilli butter. Plump, juicy scallops (with the roe). I loved the anchovy and chilli butter, it gave the the dish a lovely rich, savoury flavour. I couldn't really taste the chilli in it, though. The vegetables were very fresh and the different textures and flavours worked well with the scallops and butter.
The Lawyer went for the slow-cooked rabbit with saffron, datterini (a type of tomato), cucumber and basil on bruschetta. It was a more generous sized dish than the scallops. Two rabbit marylands. The Lawyer loved the dish, and had wished there was more bread to mop up the lovely sauce.
For dessert, the Lawyer and I shared the lemon tart with strawberries and creme fraiche. It is no exaggeration that this is the BEST lemon tart I've ever had. The custard filling had body, but was so incredibly smooth - it just melted in your mouth. The pastry was light and buttery. I have to say that this was the best dish of the day.
Service was a bit mixed. When we were waiting for our table, the staff just ignored us. When our main dishes arrived, a kitchen staff just plonked them onto the table - I expected a bit more finesse. However, our waitress was very nice.
A tip for other diners, our waitress was a tall woman. She bears an incredible resemblance to Skye Gyngell. I mustered the courage to ask her whether she was Skye - she laughed and said, no. Apparently a lot of diners mistake her for Skye.
In terms of the food and the overall experience, the PNC is a great place to go. The menu changes weekly. I would love to go back to try the teahouse, as the food look scrumptious, and the prices are easier on the wallet.
Petersham Nurseries Cafe
143 Petersham Rd
Richmond TW10 7
Telephone: 020 860 5362