A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The hidden secrets of Petersham Nurseries
Heading off to what certainly may be considered as one of the more unique restaurants in London, we find ourselves to be very fortunate to be visiting such a place on a rather rare balmy summer’s evening, finally arriving on our English shores. Petersham Nurseries is indeed a well kept secret which took us a long time to discover as the name of this sublime restaurant, cafe and gardens can be somehow mystifying. Rarely will one be served a colourful dish of monkfish with edible flowers or wild salmon so fresh in taste and firm in texture you feel as if you have caught it yourself in the wild rivers of Iceland. However, this was what head chef Damian Clisby had in store for us as we caught a glimpse of him preparing his dishes when entering this enchanted garden, something out of a fairy tale. If ever there would be a restaurant in heaven it would be like this, Marcella declares.
Looking at the menu you immediately relate this most unusual of eateries to Italy. The reason for this soon becomes clear as we are introduced to Francesco Boglione who is Italian and his Australian wife Gael, the owners and creators of Petersham Nurseries as we know it today. When settling in this part of the world in the mid seventies the flower and plant nurseries were no longer a part of the estate only to be acquired by the family later and reinvented to this oasis of calm greenery and culinary delight some 10 years ago. The owners of this unique place have definitely found their true passion in life, to be observed and felt everywhere you walk, with much of the produce homegrown in the gardens as well as sourced from local farmers, keeping in tradition of the slow food movement with which they have formed a close alliance.
Chef Damian Clisby and our host for the evening, Natalie, are most willing to educate us about the philosophy of Petersham Nurseries, guiding us through the kitchen and gardens on a tantalising journey of sight and smell. On a handful of evenings throughout the year, the Boglione family invite you to dine in their restaurant at night – normally only open for lunch. As the sun sets over Petersham, you are invited to settle at antique tables in candlelight, adorned with freshly cut stems from the garden; a perfect setting to browse a bespoke menu inspired from the garden that showcases the exceptional produce for which Petersham Nurseries is renowned for.
Damian works alongside Culinary Director, Lucy Boyd, gardener, food writer and cook, who has worked at the Nurseries for most of the last decade. Lucy's exceptional produce knowledge, culinary background and lifelong affection for Italian flavours, combine perfectly with Damian's technical skills and shared passion for ingredient-led cooking. Together they create an evolving menu inspired by what is growing in the garden, the changing seasons, and the Nurseries’ connection to the environment. We are told that the sourcing ethos of Petersham Nurseries inspires their chefs, who are respectful of the produce they work with and appreciate its exceptional quality and taste. In turn the small farmers and artisan producers, who grow or produce these ingredients, benefit from our support, in many ways a virtuous circle best espoused by the aforementioned slow food movement.
In addition to an acclaimed restaurant, Petersham Nurseries hosts gardening and floral workshops, as part of the Petersham Nurseries School of Garden Inspiration, as well as food and wine workshops and foraging walks. To mention some of these, in late July there will be a wild food walk with the charismatic and knowledgeable chef and horticulturalist, Claudio Bilcoletto, followed by a late lunch at the Nurseries and in September a two-day masterclass with Kiana Underwood of Tulipina will take place, with a focus on creating the perfect wedding centrepieces, bouquets, and garden floral installations in the beautiful glasshouse setting of Petersham.
So, you very much get the feeling that this is not just another chic restaurant, recently in vogue and liable to fade with time. It is organic and alive, destined to bloom every year, very much like the plants and flowers that adorn its premises. You may feel that your first visit has been a pleasurable dream when leaving but rest assured, it is a dream to be lived again and again.