Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

All Rosy in the Garden

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

All Rosy in the Garden

Article excerpt

Byline: Fay Maschler

RESTAURANTS OF THE WEEK [bar] HE "curse" of Michelin -- can it be lifted? In February this year Skye Gyngell, on leaving her job as head chef of Petersham Nurseries Cafe, was widely reported as saying that the Michelin star bestowed in 2011 had brought in clients -- far too many of them -- with expectations that the dirt floor and rickety tables of a greenhouse were unable to bear. The award, she said, went from being an accolade to a curse.

At the time it occurred to me that she might just have been fed up. Eight years is quite a long time to spend in one cooking job, however fragrant the surroundings.

Also, it could have been that the prices for dishes -- some main courses hovering at around [pounds sterling]30 -- gave customers unsustainable high hopes. A friend's account of what she was charged for elderflower cordial for herself and her children put me off ever visiting.

During Gyngell's tenure at Petersham the Australian/Lebanese chef Greg Malouf did a few stints in the kitchen. Now that very same owner of Malouf's Mezza (a restaurant consultancy), author of several handsome cookery books and, until last month, chef/patron of MoMo in Melbourne, is working full-time, although a more precise definition would be offering lunches from Tuesday to Sunday and a once-amonth evening supper club.

Last Wednesday lunchtime, on my visit to the fabled nurseries -- which you should approach on foot or by bike or balloon, as arriving in anything as polluting as a car is discouraged -- we drove because it was miles away from our starting point. It was a day of April showers but with enough sunshine and blue sky to get the best of both worlds: we could smell and feel the plants drinking in precious rain but once inside the glazed dining area shaded with rattan blinds it was warm enough to dispense with coats.

Working in what you might describe as a virtuous environment seems to bring out the inner nanny in the waiting staff -- I've noticed the same at the Chelsea Physic Garden Cafe. I found myself apologising for having driven, stressing that I had parked miles away and walked through lots of puddles, paying scrupulous attention to the many admonishing notices -- don't put anything in the lav, keep your child on a lead, that sort of thing -- and generally minding my Ps and Qs even more than usual.

Mismatched wooden tables do wobble and there is nowhere to put your bag except on the earth but the vines and monster ferns plus blowsy tulips gracing the tables quickly work their magic. It is impossible to generalise about our fellow lunchers. Sensiblyshoed women accompanied by their dogs were offset by a chap whose lilac jumper matched his hair. Somehow none of them looked as if the Michelin Guide was their bedtime reading. Mick Jagger, cited as a regular in the Skye Gyngell "curse" drama, failed to show. …

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