db Eats: The Petersham Covent Garden
Greedy Lucy shaw Head to the brother of Petersham Nurseries in central London for a delicious pea and lemon risotto and an Umbrian peach chardonnay.
The concept: Run by Italian-Australian couple Francesco and Gael Boglione, Petersham Nurseries in Richmond started life in 2004 as the most glamorous garden center in the world serving loose teas and homemade cakes, where you could take a wardrobe with your potty pants.
Francesco made a name for himself as a furniture and antiques dealer and wanted to create a space where flowers and Lloyd Looms were for sale. Now supervised by his daughter Lara, in 2018 Petersham Nurseries opened a branch in central London in Covent Garden, with its own delicatessen, wine shop and café.
The decor: Like the Richmond original, its brother Covent Garden brings the outdoors in via an explosion of flowers. Adorned with foliage, the space sparkles with the glittering glass of its fleet of Murano chandeliers, while mouth-blown vases in pastel hues frame the space, making it more private and intimate.
An abundance of mirrors, marble tables and glass give the room a light and airy feel. The designer has cleverly created a grand and elegant space that feels warm and welcoming rather than cool and austere. The central courtyard, a few inches from Covent Garden’s bustling Neal Street, is calming and transporting.
The food: Taking a local and seasonal approach, the majority of the organic meat, vegetables and eggs used in the dishes come from Boglione’s Haye Farm in Dorset. Specializing in plot-to-plate meals, while the dishes have a distinctly Italian accent, most of the products used to create them come from the UK.
The best way to enjoy the Petersham in all its glory is through the seasonal tasting menu, which offers a wonderful overview of the ingredients the chef has to play with at this time. When we visited in early September, we were treated to a mix of dishes celebrating the best of late summer cooking.
Signature dishes: The tasting menu is smartly judged, as the dishes seamlessly evolve from small, light bites to bolder, bigger flavors, though nothing feels heavy, and you leave pleasantly full rather than growling.
One of the most delicious pieces of the evening was a smoked mackerel and lemon croquette, which exploded with a salty and citrus flavor, leaving me craving a bucket full of divine bites.
The creamy lemon pea risotto was equally delicious, the subtle tangy flavor of citrus perfectly balancing the verdant sweetness of summer peas in an inspired combination that I can’t wait to recreate at home.
No Italian tasting menu would be complete without a pasta dish, and Petersham’s trip with frilly cacio e pepe bottoni with beans and mint did not disappoint. Like risotto, the freshness of mint teamed up with packets of buttery pasta in an explosion of vibrant summer flavors. A burst of iridescent red mullet, meanwhile, sang the sea with its salted caper and salicornia sauce.
Wine: The aforementioned Lara is married to Giovanni Mazzei of the Tuscan wine dynasty Mazzei, which counts Fonterutoli Castle among its jewels. The entrepreneurial couple recently launched Petersham Cellar, a wine importing company specializing in hard-to-find Italian drops.
The all-Italian wine list features a few big hitters, and the wine flight gives you a liquid tour of the country, stretching from Umbria and Tuscany in central Italy to Sicily in the south.
Levente, our Romanian-Hungarian sommelier, has proven to be a trusted tour guide, imparting pearls of wisdom with every installment. Among the flagship wines of the evening were the Watermelon Sof rosé from Antinori from Tuscany and the Bramito Chardonnay peach from Umbria.
The surprise of the evening was an orange wine from Sicily made from Catarratto by Nino Barraco. Sour and flint with hints of honeysuckle and white flowers, it was surprisingly easy to swallow and paired perfectly with cacio e pepe.
What better to do: The only slightly off-beat food-wine pairing of the evening was the glass of Lustau Pedro Ximénez which was served to us with our decadent chocolate mouse dessert with olive oil ice cream and honeycomb, which s’ has proven to be a deliciously sweet partner for the intensely rich pud.
Last word: The Petersham Covent Garden has much to recommend, offering dining in both beautiful surroundings and exemplary Italian cuisine cooked to a high standard. There is nothing flashy about the dishes, but each one is deliciously presented. Attention to detail is everything and it pays off. For tasty seasonal dishes and exciting Italian wines, it’s hard to beat.
Petersham Covent Garden, 27 King Street, London WC2E 9DS; Phone: +44 (0) 20 7305 7676