With organic ingredients sourced from the owner’s farm in Devon, the Petersham Covent Garden restaurant is spearheading ‘plot to plate’ cuisine in central London. Jenny Southan reports
Opened in 2018, the Petersham Covent Garden in London is a sister restaurant to Richmond’s famed Petersham Nurseries Café, which sits in a verdant greenhouse in the Petersham Nurseries garden centre. Surrounded by flowers and foliage, guests feast on fresh-from-the-earth organic vegetables, fruit and meat delivered direct from Haye Farm in Devon.
A long-time proponent of sustainable food systems, Petersham Nurseries expanded its footprint to a central London location four years ago, unveiling two restaurants (the Petersham and La Goccia), a delicatessen, a wine cellar and a florist. They also do pasta-making and floristry classes.
Petersham says: “True to the horticultural origins of the family business and the heritage of Covent Garden’s past, there could not be a more fitting location for this venture into central London. Whilst maintaining their passion for simplicity, flora, fauna and responsibly sourced produce, Petersham Nurseries have created an unrivalled setting within this urban environment.”
The Petersham Covent Garden offer a more urban alternative to the greenhouse setting but is set in a pretty courtyard off Covent’s Garden’s main square. Inside, the high-ceilinged space is decorated with oversized abstract artworks, chandeliers and floral displays – it’s far less rustic but an attractive proposition nonetheless. There is also an outdoor terrace with big pots of plants. What’s really innovative about the Petersham restaurants are what goes on behind the scenes. Passionate advocates of the Slow Food movement, they seek to have minimal impact on the environment and as source as many ingredients as possible from their own farm.
Recycling is a given, and considerable efforts are being made to reduce food waste – both sites also have their own aerobic food digesters to turn organic waste into water. Used coffee grinds, meanwhile, are sent to Bio-Bean, which turns it into biofuel. Petersham then buys the biofuel back in the form of “coffee logs” that it sells at the nursery.
So what is the dining experience like at the Petersham Covent Garden? With Petersham Nurseries owned by the Boglione family, it makes sense that the seasonal food served is rooted in Italian culture but, being London, you will find some international twists as well – for example, you might stumble across the use of miso and matcha from Japan.
There are both tasting menus (from £75-£90 with accompanying wine flights from £85) and a la carte menus available with plenty of options for both vegans and vegetarians.
When I visited, dishes included the likes of smoked mackerel with lemon croquettes and horseradish (£9); lobster with coco beans, samphire and bisque (£22); slow-cooked egg yolk with potatoes and mushrooms (£18); cod with clams, tarragon and sprouting broccoli (£32); Haye Farm lamb cutlets with carrots and baby leeks (£34); and braised ox cheek with Chianti Classico, puree di patate and Zisola olive oil (£24).
Being vegetarian, I opted for a pretty appetiser of Jerusalem artichoke crips with chanterelle crema cotta, followed by a deep green cime di rapa (turnip greens) risotto with salty capers and Parmesan; and then roasted onion squash with puntarelle, black olives, chilli and lentils. I was given numerous glasses of delicious Italian wine to sample including a very complex orange wine, but there is a great cocktail menu too. Signatures include the Petersham Vintage Negroni (£16) made with Elephant gin, Campari and a Petersham Vermouth blend; and Thyme Perallini (£13), made with pear puree, thyme syrup, lemon juice and Petersham prosecco.
My big regret was not leaving space for dessert – but options might include baked raspberry cheesecake (£8.50), Petersham mess with Sicilian lemon curd (£9) or a selection of British and Italian cheeses with crackers and Yorkshire chutney (£14).
The philosophy and farm-sourcing of ingredients make the Petersham Covent Garden stand out as innovator, and overall it’s a pleasing reimagining of the Petersham Nurseries experience. More formal and less bucolic than the Richmond flagship, it’s lacking a little in soul (I missed the heavy granite tableware) but the food is tasty and the staff keen to please. I’d also be interested in returning to try one of their floristry classes.