Believe it or not, food and garden centres can go together
by Victoria Prever When was the last time you had a good meal at your local garden centre? Not such a crazy question. Garden centres have moved on from weak tea in polystyrene cups and individual packs of biscuits. Since gardening became hot and growing your own veg lost i
When was the last time you had a good meal at your local garden centre?
Not such a crazy question. Garden centres have moved on from weak tea in polystyrene cups and individual packs of biscuits. Since gardening became hot and growing your own veg lost its Good Life image, suburban nurseries seem to have come up in the world.
In south London, Petersham Nurseries boasts an award-winning café and restaurant. Up north, we can also play that game and have our own gourmet garden centre. Clifton Nurseries was established deep in Little Venice long before gardening became sexy. It has been supplying plants and foliage to Maida Vale residents for more than 150 years. It's an institution.
Now, tucked away among the lobelia and pots so expensive you'll most likely need a mortgage to buy them, is the Daylesford Organic café. It sits under sheets of tied bamboo roofing with brick walls and pillars painted white and sandstone-tiled floors. It's all terribly beige and (bleached effect) white.
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Oversized pots are dotted around and on each table is a healthy looking houseplant - no doubt provided by their landlord. Beige watering cans hang from brown painted beams and next to us sat a huge wooden contraption lined with misty glass bottles - apparently an antique device used by winemakers to test the quality of their vines.
It was all a bit like arriving on the terrace of the home of Nicole Farhi and Terence Conran's love child. Staff are decked in similarly designer uniforms. Maxi-length chocolate coloured linen aprons and brown trousers with white T-shirts and chef caps all emblazoned with Daylesford Farm calligraphy. Someone has clearly spent considerable time and money here.
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Perhaps they should have spent a bit longer on their menu. At 3.30pm we were presented with a menu that offered various forms of (designer) breakfast. Bircher muesli (obviously), Granola (what else), scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or bacon, a basket of breads, a selection of French breakfast patisserie or a BLT made from pain de mie (your common or garden sliced loaf would never do, darling). The extensive list of fresh juices were unavailable.
Unhappy at the limited choice, but not inclined to go in search of alternatives, Grumpy had made a quick visit to the counter in the indoor section of the café. There was little else to choose from apart from some cookies and granola bars. Grumpy chose scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and I picked the posh bird's BLT.
Almost immediately (and before our drinks appeared) my sandwich was delivered to our table, with an omelette for Grumpy. The unwanted omelette was rejected and our (very sweet but clearly less than useful) waitress returned to tell us that they didn't actually have any smoked salmon. Perhaps they could have shared that information before we ordered? She was dispatched for a menu, from which Grumpy chose... an omelette. A second omelette was prepared and delivered. By this time my sandwich was long gone.
The BLT had been more than acceptable - I'd go so far as to say, really quite good. The posh bread was tasty enough, well toasted and suitably crumbly. The crisp bacon snapped and crumbled like autumn twigs but tasted far better. It came with lettuce and some sprouting beans, definitely a food of the moment and a tiny pot of chutney, which was a bit like inviting George Clooney to your wedding - very tasty but pointless. Grumpy's omelette was also well executed. Good shape, nicely cooked but accompanied by the same lettuce and sprout combo and the random chutney.
My caffe latte and Grumpy's green tea were attractively served in Daylesford-branded cream (what else) coloured china. Both came with a tiny shortbread
heart-shaped biscuit. Nice touch.
Post omelette, Grumpy took a stroll into the Daylesford deli - a small shop offering expensively priced Daylesford branded organic foodstuffs from jams and jellies to all manner of dairy produce as well as cakes, biscuits, cereals and some Daylesford grown veg.
A large supply of smoked salmon sat smugly in the chiller. Quite why the chef from the café wasn't able to walk next door and open a pack of salmon to serve to guests was a mystery.
A conversation with one of the waiters revealed that a fridge malfunction meant that they were serving an abridged menu that day. Ordinarily, there would have been some more substantial food on offer. We'd been unlucky. Fine. But why not let us know? If you're having a problem in the kitchen, share with us and we'll sympathise. Don't just sound like you're not trying or worse, take an order for something you don't have.
After our meal, I had a quick trawl around the shop. At one end are the coffee bar and a communal table to eat at on less clement days. At the other, and on shelves around the edges, are various forms of phenomenally expensive goods catering to those with sufficient time, money and inclination to garden in soft leather and sheepskin knee pads and feed their dogs with gourmet dog biscuits.
Don't get me wrong, Grumpy and I enjoyed our visit to the posh garden centre and café - but with a raised eyebrow.
It's a lovely place to spend a few hours and I believe they're capable of better things. If I'm right, and the substance does indeed match the style, it may be worth a second visit.
Daylesford Organic Café, Clifton Nurseries,
Clifton Villas, W9.
Telephone: 020-7266 1932.
Food: Four stars
Service: three stars
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 10am to 5.30pm, Saturday 8.30am to 6pm, Sunday 10.30am to 4.30pm.
Cost: £21.95 for one course with coffee/tea including 10 per cent service charge.