• Urban Adventures

    Richmond Park & Petersham Nurseries

    01 February, 2018

    Last Saturday, we abandoned our usual weekend chores and seemingly unending house renovations in favour of a day out with friends in Richmond.

    A walk through the woods and grasslands of the park more than lived up to my expectations, which had long been fuelled by the dreamlike misty morning scenes I’d glimpsed through the small square windows of Instagram.

    Although we weren’t early enough to catch that particular magic, there remained an air of bleak enchantment about the place: a carpet of curling brown bracken under foot, the bare branches of the trees stark against a white sky, the skittish deer, the whistling wind, a robin’s song.

    After a couple of hours we’d explored only a fraction of the 2,500 acre reserve, but that’s simply a convenient excuse to make a return visit sooner than we may otherwise have planned. We’d have happily stayed all day, but an eagerly anticipated lunch at Petersham Nurseries was calling…

    We first discovered the Petersham name through its pop-up restaurant at Wilderness Festival a few years ago when, on several occasions, we found ourselves standing forlornly outside the canvas tent – casting wistful glances at the list of dishes on the chalkboard menu – because every table was already booked. So when we decided to visit Richmond Park and it dawned on me that the nurseries were only a short walk away, there was only one choice for lunch. And oh, was it worth the wait.

    Shaped around a deep-rooted commitment to responsible sourcing and production, in terms of both food and homeware, Petersham is a hub for all things slow and seasonal. It’s owned and run by Gael and Francesco Boglione, with the help of their children, and much of the organic produce used in the teahouse and café is supplied by Haye Farm in Devon, which belongs to their son, Harry. A place of simple beauty and rustic charm, Petersham offers a uniquely holistic and immersive experience that celebrates the home and the natural world as two balanced and inseparable elements of one harmonious way of life.

    The two shops are both treasure troves of thoughtfully-curated and well made items. Handmade plant pots, and a bountiful array of botanicals with which to pair them, sit side by side with finely crafted glassware, textiles, furniture, tools and gifts. Draped with blinds sourced from India, festoon lights and trailing vines, the aesthetic is one of whimsical romance tempered by a keen eye for design.

    By this point, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that the food is delicious. The café held a Michelin star from 2011-2014 (won by former head chef Skye Gyngell, who went on to set up the seasonal dream that is Spring, at Somerset House) but its greenhouse setting defies all stereotypes of gloved waiters, starched tablecloths and stuffy, outdated rituals. Much to Ted’s delight, even dogs are allowed to enjoy the atmosphere. By comparison, however, the café is more formal than the next door teahouse, which runs on counter service from a little wooden shed outside. This is the option we chose; covering our plates and ducking our heads against the drizzle as we hopped over puddles and back into the greenhouse, with its worn metal chairs and planters brimming with spring bulbs.

    The hearty Italian-inspired dishes were just the comfort and warmth we needed after our walk. A thick thyme-roasted onion soup and a wedge of sourdough to share, a subtly-spiced chicken and chickpea casserole with kalettes and potatoes for me, and pork and rosemary meatballs with creamy polenta and a rich tomato sauce for Jack. All followed by the best (and, incidentally, vegan) chocolate cake I’ve tasted for a long time. We tucked in with such gusto that I have no photos to show for it, but I can say with confidence that each dish looked as good as it sounds.

    Safe to say, this may have been my first trip to Richmond but I’m certain it won’t be my last!

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