One of London’s best museum restaurants, The Garden Café has introduced a new small plates menu.
Affixed to The Garden Museum – Britain’s only museum dedicated to the art, history and design of gardens – the restaurant has been subject to much acclaim since opening last year. Within the museum’s glass and beaten-bronze pavilion, natural light floods the dining room framed by two new gardens curated by award-winning designers. The warm, open space is bolstered further by casual, unobtrusive service and a general ambience typical of adored neighbourhood restaurants. Outside, the restaurant’s terrace is set within the grounds of the deconsecrated St-Mary’s-at-Lambeth church, overlooking the former churchyard, Lambeth Bridge and the Thames.
As for the food served, chefs Harry Kaufman and George Ryle’s (having gained experience split between restaurants such as St. JOHN Bread & Wine, Lyles, Padella and Primeur) daily changing menu champions fresh, seasonal ingredients. Substance over style is a clear focus here, with many dishes featuring no more than three key ingredients, simply presented on modest white plates – a la St. JOHN.
Designed to be enjoyed on the restaurant’s garden terrace (weather permitting), the new small plates menu is served during evening service on Tuesdays and Fridays, acting as a prelude to dinner, or as a lighter option ideally enjoyed while exploring the restaurant’s constantly evolving wine list. As is the case with the restaurant’s a la carte lunch and dinner menus, the small plates menu changes daily, depending on availability of produce.
On the new offering’s launch night, the menu featured a selection of seasonally-driven dishes alongside five wines available by the glass. A glass of Tillingham Pet Nat rose (£6) acts as an essential aperitif. A biodynamic wine from Sussex, Tillingham Pet Nat Rose features a blend of unfermented pinot noir, pinot meunier, schonburger and chardonnay grapes. Exhibiting both vinosity and drinkability, the wine has soft bubbles and a deep pink colour, vaunting profound red fruit aromas and a refreshing mouthfeel with notes of lychee and peach. To follow; thin, vivid green leeks (possibly Varna) were heavily charred – not unlike Catalan Calçots, barbecued and wrapped in newspaper to steam – served with chunky romesco sauce (£5).
An example of transcendent comfort food, The Garden Café’s fried cheese sandwich (£4) was simple yet remarkably insalubrious. Slices of golden bread snuggled molten cheese, portioned into four squares each decorated with a petal of lightly-pickled onion. ‘Cuttlefish, tomatoes and aioli’ (£8) was the only comparative disappointment, as well as the most expensive dish on the menu. Alone, the vibrant tomatoes and silky aioli were fine, yet thick ribbons of cuttlefish were texturally unpleasant, delivering very little flavour to compensate.
A holy trinity of rolled pig’s head, clams and chilli was far superior (£6). Fatty slivers of pig’s head acted as a mattress for plump, brackish clams – smattered with just enough chilli to slice through the pork’s fattiness without overpowering the shellfish. A glorious marriage of the land and sea. Quail that had been hewn into quarters and deep fried, however, provided the meal’s undisputed highlight (£6.50). Cloaked with heavy breadcrumbs – not unlike desecrated cornflakes, as occasionally favoured in America – clinging to the well-cooked meat, finished with a pinch of dried chilli and served over a cloud of white bean puree: even better when matched with a glass of MA Arndorfer’s Austrian Strasser Weinberge.
Innovative but unfussy, The Garden Café’s new small plates menu demands to be enjoyed while making the most of the sunshine within this urban oasis on the edge of central London.
Header photo: Louis Fernando
The Garden Café can be found at Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, London, SE1 7LB.