Garden Museum Cafe, Lambeth, Restaurant Review: A Foodie Heaven With Green Fingers


THEambeth does not sing with opportunities for lunch. Sorry if you live there, but you probably already know that. At the bottom of the river, there is Brunswick House, an ever so happy afternoon. There are a few pubs and cafes, but that’s about it. The Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be a great foodie.

Enter, surprisingly, the Garden Museum. I suspect this is one of those places that a lot of people see on the ads page of Free time and vaguely imagine visiting but never quite get out of it. A museum… gardens? I would include myself in this camp if it weren’t for the fact that my first job in journalism was as the gardening editor – assistant gardening editor, sorry – for one of this newspaper’s fiercest rivals. The Garden Museum was more on my radar than it probably was for other Londoners in their twenties who don’t know what a tree is. I don’t know much about gardens yet, but the gardeners are a wonderful bunch. You cannot be a gardener without patience and a certain fatalism – sometimes the plants die, sometimes it rains, sometimes the rain is good – which are beautiful traits in anyone.

The renovated café is now a beautiful airy space built around the interior courtyard of the museum

(Garden Museum)

Over the past decade the museum has been renovated and the refurbished café has been open since summer 2017. It is now a beautiful airy space built around the inner courtyard of the museum, with tables inside and out. outside. They asked me to come for lunch earlier in the summer. It was a surprising invitation, so long after it opened, but maybe a sign that they think more people should know what they’re doing.

You can see why. Most museums outsource restoration operations to a third party; here, senior management, led by director Christopher Woodward, took care of it. This approach could easily have gone wrong, but here that obviously means attention to detail and a pride that the cafe is part of the museum as a whole: grown-up and understated class. As soon as you walk in, you feel the confident hum of a room run by people who know what they are doing.

The head chef is George Ryle, of Padella et Primeur. If you were trying to create a monstrously popular and laid back British lunch spot, you couldn’t really find better resumes. It’s open for lunch daily and dinner on Tuesdays and Fridays, with a menu that changes daily, but never stray too far from the simple.

You will find more complex cuisine elsewhere, but this is not to its detriment

(Garden Museum)

When I went we started with asparagus and crab. No shit there. Big stalks of sordid green asparagus were stacked sideways like logs, next to a pond of brown butter sauce, swimming with umami. The crab meat was expertly seasoned and gently reheated with chili flakes. For the main course, there was a piece of golden brown seared hake on one side, with garlic and capers to cut the fish and green beans for health and vitality. The other main course was more autumnal, despite the date: a rare brooding feather blade, sliced ​​into thick slices and served with long, wide roasted onions that glowed dark brown, silver and purple. Some puddings: a very bitter chocolate mousse with a sour cream; a firm sponge cake in a shiny pastry cream. You will find more complex cuisine elsewhere – everywhere indeed – but I have no complaints.

Something else struck me about the Garden Museum Cafe, which I hadn’t noticed in a long time. The tables were almost all for two people, and everyone was talking to each other. You know, the conversation: looking at each other, asking questions, listening to the answers, laughing. They weren’t taking pictures, they weren’t staring into space, they weren’t on the phone or looking questioningly at other guests. Well I guess I was. But the others looked at each other, ate, happy to meet again. Granted, that was in the days after the lockdown, so maybe they were just happy they weren’t home, but it’s also true that the Garden Museum Cafe is a place to call for conversation. . Simple food; bright clean room; plants everywhere. Gardeners deserve a great place to have lunch, and they have one. In Lambeth, of all places.

Garden Museum Cafe, 5 Lambeth Palace Rd, London SE1 7LB | 020 3640 9322 | gardenmuseum.org.uk/cafe


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