Truly unique dining with delicious Italian fare
Skye Gyngell‘s star was ever so ascendant when she landed at Petersham Nurseries. From her compelling story of overcoming the odds as a troubled teenager in Australia to her position as food editor for Vogue, she seemed to transubstantiate dross to gold wherever she went. However, credit also needs to be given to Petersham Nurseries, for while her culinary pyrotechnics certainly helped in winning one of Britain‘s most beautiful garden centres a coveted Michelin star, the setting is a star turn all its own, and one of London‘s best lunch restaurants at that.
We certainly found this during a lunch visit on a chilly Saturday in December as we strolled into the dining room, a scene that would rival anything from Rudyard Kipling‘s tales of subcontinental opulence. Much of the room has been assembled by daughter of owners Gael and Francesco Boglione, Lara, who serves as managing director. Extensive traveling through India inspired her to create ‘Rama Paintings‘ which are interspersed throughout the room.
The floors may be earthen, but they‘re manicured with the same meticulous attention as a zen garden. Petersham Nurseries is canopied with glass ceiling panels and bamboo screening, with verdant vines climbing up the many metal columns supporting the greenhouse structure. Amongst this are situated zinc tables, granite pillars and terracotta pots from India as well as Murano glass and Sicilian crockery - all sourced by Lara Boglione. The effect is dazzling. During our visit there was a palpable hum of excitement permeating the room - it was quite exceptional, as was the food…
When Skye left the bucolic countryside for the bright lights of the big city at Somerset House, Damian Clisby, formerly head chef at HIX, took the reins. His cooking bears much in common with that of the River Café, making provenance and seasonality primary considerations. We were gobsmacked by our first plate, a masterwork in yellow of fried polenta, razor thin slices of delica pumpkin, and rosemary. It was a great bellwether dish. What followed was a parade of ineffable freshness. An autumn salad of purple sprouting broccoli, romanesco, chilli and parmesan was as vividly flavourful as it was varied in colour. Raw shaved Spinosa artichokes with pomegranate, castelfranco and mint were similarly artful. It felt almost criminal mussing it up with our cutlery.
Moving on, the mains were a bit more ample and less prettified. A fillet of hake with white coco beans, sea purslane, fennel and dill was a muscular, hearty dish. Something you could imagine a Ligurian labourer tucking into after a difficult day in the fields. Dover sole was a bit daintier, however when coupled with salt-baked beetroot and sea beet, it took on an almost Nordic stature. We brought things to an end with the baked original bean ‘Cru Virunga‘ - a 70% chocolate mousse from the Congo, with a chocolate caramel shard nestled in its centre.
One thing is for certain, Petersham Nurseries is fairy tale dining at its finest. If you‘re looking for the equivalent of a rare orchid in London‘s dining scene, or, indeed, a rare orchid itself, we can wholeheartedly endorse Petersham Nurseries, which offered us one of the most memorable dining experiences of late.