“Slow Food is an international grassroots non-profit organisation bestowing the virtues of the good, clean, and fair life.” – Petersham Nurseries.
The leafy borough of Richmond is often lauded over for its natural beauty – Richmond Park & Green, the River Thames with its cormorants and herons, the Deer Park and Kew Gardens. But just a short walk out of town is perhaps one of the most glorious and unchanged views in London – that of the river Thames winding its way alongside Petersham commons with its grazing cattle and on through the outskirts of London to Windsor Castle just visible on the horizon.
Luckily for those who make the walk up the hill from the town, one of London’s best-kept gastronomic secrets lies hidden in a greenhouse just beyond the fields below. Petersham Nurseries began life as part of the grounds of the next-door Petersham House which by the late 90′s had been sold-off and turned into a struggling plant nursery. Gael and Francesco Boglione saw potential and bought the place in 2004, breathing some exotic new life into its old glass houses. Indian shutters, french tables, hand-crafted chairs and Italian glass were brought in to sit amongst the plants, creating an undeniably romantic setting. All that was needed was a menu to match and that task was given to Skye Gyngell who soon netted a Michelin star for the quality of her food, instantly putting the place on the fine-dining radar (which as it turned out was not really what the nursery was after).
Gyngell departed and Greg Malouf, an eco-conscious chef from Melbourne, took over stewardship of the food as a guest chef for the summer months and the nurseries are now managed by the Bogliones’ daughter Lara who studied Social Anthropology at SOAS, writing her dissertation on seeds and sustainability. The restaurant is currently run by long-standing head gardener and chef Lucy Boyd and the pair are both in firm alignment where food matters are concerned. Under Lara’s stewardship, Petersham is slowly building up a reputation for itself as a centre for the Slow Food/locavore movement and we were lucky enough to catch a few minutes with Australian slow food enthusiast Daniel Wilson – who had joined the Petersham team from the University of Gastronomic Science to help launch their Petersham Platform…
The University of Gastronomic Science is based in Piemonte, Italy, and was founded by Carlo Petrini, the originator of the Slow Food movement. Daniel explained to us how Petersham is aiming to inspire others to bring Slow Living into their lives. Of the food that is served in the cafe, as much of it as possible is sourced locally from producers that the staff have met personally, and some of it is even grown in the garden itself. For example, the café serves coffee from a small-batch producer, originally from New Zealand and now based in Dalston. Local Zucchini, herbs, honey, and pears (in autumn) are all used in the kitchen, as well as edible flowers from the cutting garden.
The words ‘slow’, ‘seasonal’, ‘local’ and ‘organic’ have begun to appear much more widely on restaurant & café menus over the last five years but it’s important to ensure that these terms don’t become lost in fashion, only to be binned in favour of the next foodie craze when that inevitably arrives. We all have a part to play in this and restaurants such as Petersham, as Daniel explained, are helping to keep the ideas resulting from the philosophy fresh.
Local honey production and urban beekeeping for example, are becoming increasingly important in highlighting the challenges that bees are currently facing in Europe and the US, and so using these ingredients in cooking – as well as running public talks on the subject – can help to highlight the wider issues concerning food production which we often don’t question as consumers. Daniel had a fantastic anecdote on the subject of urban beekeeping in New York – apparently the keepers of one rooftop hive were a bit perplexed when they noticed their bees were producing red honey which tasted remarkably good. Wondering what kind of nectar their bees could be feeding on took them on an investigative quest which ended up at a nearby Maraschino cherry factory. Their bees had been feeding on the left-over syrup streams which ran out of the factory and was turning their honey a beautiful bright red. Sometimes mixing traditional food production with the city environment can yield unexpected results, as Petersham Nurseries is something of a testament to.
The café and wider nursery business is a member of the Slow Food Supporters Scheme which means it is able to demonstrate its commitment to good, clean and fair products. “Good”, as the their website describes, “is the quality and taste of the food you are eating, clean refers to the standard of production and consumption, without damage to the environment, animal welfare or our health, and fair ensures that the farmer, cheese maker, fisherman (or fisher-woman), hunter or baker, is respected, remunerated appropriately and able to live with dignity”.
As part of their wider social ethic, the nursery stocks fair trade items from around the world such as handmade baskets made by retired priests in Northern England. Lara spent a number of years travelling and developing international buying links and it is due to her time spent connecting with families and communities in India and elsewhere that you see the “Rama” paintings in the restaurant, for example. She has also made connections with a village community that produces terracotta pots; granite pillars and zinc tables (copper versions will be found in the shop in the coming months); and closer to home sourcing Murano glass, olive oil and Sicilian crockery.
The Nursery has also made efforts to build relationships with local schools, including one that specialises in teaching children with learning difficulties by giving them a plot in the cutting garden to help with sensory learning. More recently, under Lara’s stewardship, the team have also begun to run bi-monthly ‘Petersham Platform’ events, which are author talks on subjects that align with the nursery’s social mission, such as wild food, foraging and sustainability. It has been Lara’s desire to create a space for discussion, education and expression, aiming to engage with the community of fellow thinkers on issues of sustainability, food education, ethnobotany and culture.
The nurseries’ popular supper clubs have just started again for the season and below is an example of the delights on offer in April:
April Supper Club Menu
- Petersham Rose Prosecco
- Deep-fried Borage, Sage and Amalfi Lemon
- Risotto of Nettles and Garden Herbs
- Buffalo Mozzarella on Bruschetta with Broadbeans and Proccuitto di Parma
- Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio with Goats Cheese, Taggiasche Olives and Rocket
- Langoustine with Castelfranco, Chives and Lemon Mayonnaise
- Monkfish and Scallops with Rosemary, Datterini and Baby Spinach
- Spring Vegetables with Feta, Soft Herbs, Chilli and Bhatura
- Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with Artichokes, Baby Potatoes, Green Beans and Mint
- Braised Rabbit with Peas, Baby Turnips, Carrots, Chervil and Lemon
- Amalfi Lemon Tart
- Chocolate Sorbet with Almond Biscuit
- Capria (Worcestershire, unpasteurised goats milk cheese) with Honey Snow-Almonds and Oatcakes
Petersham Nurseries can be found tucked away on Church Lane, Richmond TW10 7AG and is open — for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday, 9am – 5pm
Sunday, 11am – 5pm
For more information on the plight of the bee see http://www.soilassociation.org/wildlife/bees
Pop into Petersham in the coming months to try the first harvest of their own honey.
Thanks to Daniel Wilson and Charlotte Senn at Petersham Nurseries for taking the time to talk to us!