Summer at The Petersham Nurseries Cafe

I recently had the great pleasure of dining at Heston Blumenthal’s super-hyped London restaurant Dinner and while I enjoyed the experience it had me wracking my brain for my top 10. Needless to say I didn’t get very far into the list before coming to Skye Gyngell’s fabulous Petersham Nurseries Cafe.

I was lucky, or generous, enough to accompany my significant other to lunch at the Nurseries last year for a birthday treat. And what a treat it was.

The Petersham, who were awarded a Michelin star in the most recent guide, are only open for a three hour window Tuesday to Sunday in the summer months, so when they say ‘bookings essential’ they mean it. Booking are also essentially a month in advance and you’ve got to be quick! I imagine even quicker these days.

Although booking can be a palaver I can only reassure you that it’s well worth it. Our lazy summer lunch was a hazy dream of intriguingly and intelligently matched flavours and textures and a complete delight. Looking back over the photos (yes, I was one of ‘those’ people with a giant camera snapping away) it brings it all back.

Perhaps some (my father included) might describe a bare-floored nursery an unorthodox place for a Michelin starred eatery and certainly compared to the expensive and expansive fit out of Dinnerbyheston it’s a far cry. It doesn’t have floor to ceiling glass or a multi-thousand pound 16th century remodel of a pulley system to roast pineapples. In fact, Gyngell commented in an interview with BBC Woman’s Hour that her kitchen wasn’t even connected to the gas or sewage mains. It’s a completely different kettle of fish but for me it’s an utter inspiration.

Gyngell’s cooking is also a revelation. And this is no exaggeration, having cooked from two of her three cookbooks, and although there is a lot of effort involved the flavours never fail. On that sunny day in May 2010 we gobbled our way through three courses containing a rainbow of flavours; from soft and creamy ricotta di bufala, tomato and sweet salty basil oil, a peppery kick of good chorizo combined with young squid caramelised from the grill, a tender and developed blend of flavours from slow cooking lamb with red peppers, paprika and black olives.

Gyngell’s cooking dialogue makes good use of roasted spices, vert juice, herb oils and other complex arrangements but rather than add a pretention to the meals they leave you with a depth of flavour you really can appreciate.

Dishes on the current menu that have me salivating include: Crab Cakes with Rocket, Lemon Mayonnaise & Chilli Oil, Whole Dover Sole with Jersey Royals, Asparagus, Tardivo & Fontodi Olive Oil, Pannacotta with Alphonso Mango Granita.

Part of the beauty of the Petersham is the friendly egalitarian feel to the experience - but don’t get me wrong, you will still walk away spending £100+ on lunch for two. If you can’t quite squeeze to that the good news is the Nurseries have a lovely tea house with light bites, a good range of teas from the pot and rather good coffee. It really is a lovely adventure to walk over Petersham meadows down the lane and into the cultivated oasis of the nurseries.

Gyngell, hailing from Sydney originally, was awarded Australian Woman of the Year in 2011, an accolade well-earned, but it seems, humbly accepted.