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Petersham Nurseries Cafe

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published November 29th 2010
At the Petersham Nurseries café the linen is perfectly laundered and the silver perfectly polished, but the floor is exposed clay, which leaves some of the eclectic collection of wooden and wrought iron tables wobbling slightly. But that's one of a small collection of 'prices to pay' for the very atmospheric pleasure of eating in a greenhouse.

Ok, so maybe it's better described as a collection of conservatories, but the roofs, as well as the walls are definitely frosted glass, and the plants that wind their way casually overhead are certainly thriving in the warmth.

It's not just the atmosphere that lends from the nursery location - for the café is only one part of the business, a lot of this business is still in cultivating and selling plants – but the menu does too. When it says your wild sea bass or monkfish stew comes with leaves, they mean leaves AND flowers, and not just any flowers, leafy orange flowers deliciously dusted with minuscule amounts of salt. And though this description might make the food sound rustic, this is some of the finest food in west London, and chef, Skye Gyngell's name is known and appreciated by foodies in Paris and Sydney as well as London. So the food is only rustic in look and freshness, as far as the flavours go it's considered sophisticated by food critics as well as by little ol' me.

The menu is limited and changes daily. To be honest they're making it easier on you limiting the number of starters and mains to about five of each and offering only four-ish deserts (opt for summer pudding or chocolate sorbet if they're on offer), because otherwise it would take everyone an age to order. Everything's fresh as a daisy (mind the botanical pun) and seasonal, which is essential considering the ambience, which lends heavily from the best kitchen gardens. I'm sure I spotted the plant my floral 'leaves' came from when I went a-wandering around the nursery after lunch.

Price is another of the few 'prices to pay': it's not cheap. Mains range from £19 - £29, starters around the £12 mark and deserts are about £7. The wine list is more reasonable than the menu.

The other main 'price to pay' is convenience. Richmond is at the end of the District Line, and the Petersham Nurseries café is a, albeit lovely riverside, 25 minute stroll from the station. Though a field of cows. To get you into the mood of farm fresh, kitchen garden eatin'.

The café currently only has a daytime license, so weekend lunches are the main sessions, which, combined with the fact that the chef is world class and a food writer for Vogue, means you have to book ahead. Their website says a month is enough, but if you want to book a Sunday lunch it might be worth booking further in advance than that even. They're also open Wednesday – Friday, but it's seasonal.

A Sunday lunch at the Petersham Nurseries is definitely a special occasion event – but it's so unique, with its genuinely warm and delightful setting and service and fantastic food (try the chickpea curry, with leaves, it's one of the dishes past diners speak of in hushed tones when you tell them you've secured a booking), that it actually feels like a special occasion. It could be that we were very lucky when we visited, but it felt like the seatings were smartly staggered so that everyone got timely service. And everything made for a really lovely and memorable meal.

Nicely topped off with the purchase of a passioflora plant – which despite being of the passion fruit family you apparently can't eat.

If your budget won't allow it don't fret – you can still come down and enjoy the teahouse section where they serve freshly baked cakes that are simply the bees knees.
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When: Saturday and Sunday lunch
Where: Church Lane, Off Petersham Road, Petersham Richmond, Surrey TW10 7AG, nearest tube Richmond
Cost: Around £90 for two courses for two including wine.
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