A day out: Petersham Nurseries



Maidenhair ferns, squash, yellow dirt floor and tattie mats lining the ceiling.

You know I seldom leave the comforting bosom of London N16, especially not at weekends when there is so much pottering about to be done, between park and market, coffee shop and pub, garden and kitchen. But a couple of weekends ago, I went all the way to Richmond which, though it is still technically London I suppose, is a completely different city altogether. The bustle and noise of the Kingsland Road gives way to leafy lanes, church spires and artful interior design shops, selling the scrubbed-up-and-pressed version of Dalston’s many vintage emporia.

I was going to meet my friends Fi and Rebecca at Petersham Nurseries for lunch. I’d been here before, years ago, when Skye Gyngell was in charge of the kitchen, didn’t manage to get there in the Greg Malouf era, and hadn’t yet tried Lucy Boyd’s food. Lucy is the daughter of the late Rose Gray of the River Café and began her career at Petersham Nurseries as the head gardener before becoming culinary director too, so her plot-to-plate credentials are impeccable. Today, with Damian Clisby as head chef, the food is as pretty as it is delicious.


My starter of scallops, watermelon radish, sea purslane and Amalfi lemon zest.


My main course of loin of venison, white salsify, kale and sparkling crab apple jelly.


Amalfi lemon and mascarpone ice cream.


Raggy dahlias from the garden decorate the tables.

It was like eating in the middle of the poshest village fête ever, as rain pattered down on the roof, vines twirled above our heads and a fierce little robin hopped about on the yellow dirt floor. We ate and drank and talked, before wandering around admiring the breathlessly tasteful bibelots in the greenhouses and the end of the dahlias in the garden.


They wander the tearoom at night. Especially the one on the right.


Artfully distressed paint and white-glazed ceramics, very much part of the aesthetic.


I can never resist a chandelier.


A galvanised tin bath, dressed for best.


Angels’ wings.


Possibly my first and last selfie, among the hyacinth bulbs.


A perfect gift for your housekeeper.


In the greenhouse, we found a stack of our friend Mark Diacono’s books.


Dahlias light up a zinc-topped table.


Gardens are so poignant at this time of year – the last dahlias, verbena bonariensis and cosmos defiantly cling on, before the autumn leaves take over the show.


Sitting on the platform at Richmond Station, a bag of pelargoniums on my lap.

Petersham Nurseries
Church Lane
Off Petersham Road
Surrey TW10 7AG

020 8940 5230info@petershamnurseries.com

A Sweet Consolation Prize


Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Albert Camus


A bowl of Bramleys from our tree.

Summer left like a well-mannered guest, slipping away quietly, without fuss. There are fewer dinners in the garden, sitting around into the night over the end of the cheese, picking at soft fruit and polishing off the last of the rosé. Washing takes longer to dry on the line. We reacquaint ourselves with the sock drawer after weeks of neglect. And then suddenly the greengrocers’ shelves are filled with figs, damsons, cobnuts and ruby-skinned pears.

Hello, autumn. We’ve been expecting you.

If I plunged my hand into a bag of favourite autumnal words, pulled out five, arranged them into an order and then created a recipe from that, this is what would happen.

Browned butter caramel apple cake


A slice of cake for breakfast.

I made this cake with the apples from our small, espaliered Bramley, which this year is doing everything in its power to make me love its twiggy self. It is so heavy with fruit it will keep us in pies, cakes, jellies and chutneys all winter.

Don’t be put off by the longish list of ingredients. You probably have most of them hanging about anyway.


Browned butter caramel apple cake. I think I love you.

For the cake:
250g unsalted butter, cubed, plus a little more for greasing the tin
200g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100g light muscovado sugar
100g caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cognac, cider brandy or calvados (optional but good, obviously)
About 3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks, about 300g prepared weight

For the caramel sauce:
120g unsalted butter
120g light muscovado sugar
60ml whole milk
Good pinch of flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Lightly butter a 22cm springform cake tin, line the bottom and sides with baking parchment and lightly butter the parchment.

Warm the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium heat (a stainless steel pan is better than a dark-bottomed one as it’s easier to see how brown the butter is getting). The butter is ready when it’s a rich shade of hazelnut brown and it smells nutty and delicious. Pour it into a bowl to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, almonds, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

When the butter is cool, tip it into the bowl of a stand mixer with the sugars and beat until creamy and light, about 5 minutes. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the eggs, pausing from time to time to make sure everything’s well incorporated. Beat in the vanilla and booze, if you’re adding it. On a low speed, beat in the flour mixture being careful not to overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and scatted the apple pieces evenly over the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Place the tin on a wire rack while you make the caramel sauce.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Whisk in the sugar, milk and salt. Keep stirring vigorously until everything blends into a smooth, silky sauce and simmer until thickened slightly. Pour half of the sauce over the cake, making sure it’s evenly distributed, and leave it for 10 minutes until it’s fully absorbed into the cake.

Remove the cake from the tin, peel off the parchment and put the cake on a plate. Pour over the remaining sauce and let it trickle down the sides. Leave the cake to cool completely then serve in fat slices with generous spoonfuls of crème fraiche, greek yoghurt, clotted cream or vanilla ice cream.