My two companions and I journey into southwest London on a beautiful crisp and bright spring morning – the perfect conditions for a trip to Chelsea Physic Garden’s newly opened café. And as we enter the grounds, our senses are treated to the wonderful botanic sights and smells. Spring has most certainly sprung here.
After a short wander around (we have a hungry four-year-old in tow, after all) and having taken in the highlights of the garden’s 5,000-strong collection of edible, useful and medicinal plants, we seek out the café. We don’t want to miss out on the garden views while we eat, but there’s still quite a chill in the air so, rather than opting for one of the tables outside, we choose a spot in the undercover marquee attached to the main building.
Our cheerful waitress, Ewa, is keen to make sure our smallest guest is well looked after, offering him a cushion to sit on and a blanket to wrap up in. She takes his order first – a freshly pressed apple juice and child’s portion of cod goujons, both of which are served with our starters in order to leave plenty of time for his meal to cool down… Not that he can wait, because it’s served with an order of fries inside a mini watering can, which he’s rather tickled by and curious about.
As he chomps on his fish and chips, we peruse the menu, some of which includes ingredients grown right here in the garden. My husband chooses from the specials – scallops of the day, served with dainty slices of black pudding and a caramelised apple dressing, topped with pea shoots. The delicate texture and buttery flavour of the scallops match beautifully with the rich black pudding and sweet yet acidic apple. His only criticism? There’s not enough black pudding! I go for the mackerel and yuzu paté, which packs together a sharp punch of flavours.
After a lengthy wait – everything is freshly prepared and cooked here, we remind ourselves – it’s on to the mains. He chooses gnocchi with a homemade almond & wild rocket pesto, served with pecorino, broad beans and a squeeze or two of lemon. In contrast to the starters, this dish is a subtle mix of flavours. I choose fish again – a superfood salad with poached salmon. The fruity flavour and firm crunch of pomegranate seeds complement the moist salmon and tender roast squash, which are accompanied by a mixture of leaves, including a herby scattering of fresh mint. This is a delicious and generously portioned salad that’s really satisfying (and made all the better when washed down with a crisp, dry rosé).
As we finish our younger guest is starting to get restless, so we’re pleased to hear that the puds – an array of freshly baked cakes and pastries, many of them gluten- and dairy-free – are arranged on a stand in the café. Off we all pop to have a look. It’s difficult to choose from the sheer variety of interesting flavour combinations, but in the end the little one chooses a chocolate brownie, I go for the sour cherry and pistachio slice and my husband gets the orange, lime and lemon cake, which comes highly recommended. The citrussy sweet latter option gets our top vote.
After another wander around the grounds, where we discover the world’s oldest rock garden – made, in part, from fused bricks and flint as well as lava from Iceland that was transported up the Thames by a ship in 1772 – we leave with very full tums, our little one as content as we are.