Saturday, 28 February 2009

HOT: Petersham Nurseries Restaurant, Off Petersham Road, Richmond TW10 7AG

I thought I'd done with Chiswick forever, so I was frustrated when I discovered that I'd have to schlep out there again, on my precious weekend, to rescue a blue skirt that I'd abandoned at the dry cleaners.

But in a Pollyanna moment of inspiration, I decided I'd make a fun trip of it and head out to Petersham Nurseries for lunch. It's a tube/train to Richmond, and then a short bus ride, but the trip is quite pleasant as the hectic density of Central London transforms into the villagey Richmond high street and then the bucolic fields and winding Thames, where the birds twitter and the air smells fresher.

The restaurant is an extension of the delightful shop and is located inside one of the large greenhouses, which gives it a sense of alfresco dining even in the depths of winter. It was gasp-inducing in its beauty - a dirt floor combined with rustic French country chic, with a dash of the subcontinent in the Indian hangings and bamboo mats slung on the walls and the ceiling. The table decorations were simply a pot of fragrant herbs and a dusky pomegranate or bright lemon, and on the sideboard was an antique Salter scale loaded with an abundance of freshly picked clementines.

And the food was absolutely incredible. Given the expensive menu, I had originally resolved to only have two courses, but that was quickly thrown aside. My starter of Dorset crab and white polenta was a meagre description for the inspired pairing of flavours and textures. As slowly as I could, I savoured the light summery flakes of crab and lemon zest melding into the warming winter comfort of the polenta. Next up was a crispy skinned and juicy guinea fowl, balanced with a pat of anchovy butter and some lightly charred Treviso radicchio. Dessert was a barely baked blood orange tart, oozing bright citrus flavours.

I was so impressed by the setting and the quality of the food that I felt I compelled to have a word with the Australian chef, Skye Gyngell. She must get gushing foodies coming to her all the time (she's written a couple of books and writes a column in the Independent on Sundays) but I hope she understood the depth of my appreciation. I told her that it was my last weekend in London, and in my two years it was one of the best meals I'd ever had. A special memory to take home with me.

PS If you want to visit Petersham Nurseries, you'd better go soon, as it may not be able to continue as it is for much longer. They are currently applying for permanent planning permission with Richmond City Council. To support their application, click here.

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