With well-chosen fresh food and captivating surroundings, our reviews finds it no surprise the Garden Cafe at Lambeth’s Garden Museum is garnering plaudits
Review by Martin Stickley
Just over Lambeth bridge, on the South side of the Thames and adjacent to Lambeth Palace sits one of the capital’s lesser known museums; the London Garden Museum. You may have walked past it without noticing as it is located within the Victorian reconstruction of the Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth which, following deconsecration in 1972, was saved from demolition by Rosemary Nicholson. It was the first museum in the world dedicated to the history of gardening and also the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638), the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history.
In 2017 the Garden Museum underwent an extensive refurbishment and this included the launch of its on-site restaurant; the Garden Cafe. Headed up by chefs Harry Kaufman and George Ryle the café has not only gained critical acclaim for its seasonal menus and creative cookery but also for the immersive nature of its contemporary surroundings. The ethos at Garden Cafe is to serve fresh and seasonal food, with a focus on simple, quality ingredients often from our own shores. This summer saw the introduction of a new seasonal small plate menu designed to be enjoyed on the restaurant’s leafy garden terrace which overlooks the 1930s neoclassical Lambeth Bridge and the former churchyard, which has been transformed by renowned gardener Christopher Bradley-Hole into a beautiful leafy enclave, perfect for enjoying the afternoon sun. The summer menu featured fresh, tasty dishes such as grilled leeks with romesco, deep fried quail with artichoke puree and Octopus, tomatoes and aioli and now that summer has started to wane, the emphasis on seasonality remains with the food often changing daily, depending on availability of produce. Last week’s menu was the epitome of autumnal delights with dishes like gnudi with pumpkin, sage and chestnuts, rump of beef and partridge with celeriac, bacon and quince. The food is all accompanied by a constantly evolving wine list which in the past has included some of the best wines that British vineyards have to offer like the rather effervescent Tillingham Pet Nat Rose from Sussex and the deliciously complex Davenport Diamond Fields Pinot Noir from Kent.
Dining at Garden Cafe feels personal and is an experience which is unrivalled in larger urban eateries; the restaurant is intimate yet bright and airy, and whilst there is a common trend for open kitchens, the one found at Garden Cafe draws you in and ensures you can see the effort that the small kitchen team put into delivering (what certainly feels like) a completely bespoke dining experience. The building is fantastically well designed; the renovated museum structure is now a resplendent combination of pristine glass and beaten-bronze with the restaurant interior overlooking the serene tranquillity of the Sackler Garden – an extension designed by Lambeth garden-designer Dan Pearson which feels much like a tiny slice of rainforest in South London.
Of course, it helps that the Cafe’s surroundings are as beautiful and delicate as they are at the Garden Museum but this just dovetails nicely with the creativity of the chefs. Garden Cafe recently won the Leading Culture Destinations “Best Restaurant award” with the restaurant being singled out by the judges for the seasonal menu; “carefully curated on a daily basis with its focus on fresh ingredients, celebrating seasonal British cuisine.” Dining at Garden left me appreciating the passion and talent of its talented chefs and it shows how successful a restaurant can be when it has the winning combination of carefully chosen food and captivating surroundings. The Cafe serves lunch from 12pm – 3pm daily (12pm – 2pm on Saturdays – outside these times tea, coffee and fresh pastries are available) with dinner served on Tuesday and Friday evenings from 6pm.
Enquiries: The Garden Café, Garden Museum, 5 Lambeth Palace Road, Lambeth, London SE1 7LB / 0207 4018865 / https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/cafe/