An Urban Oasis Graces Lambeth, The Garden Cafe

2nd February 2018

In the world of cookie-cutter museum restaurants dominated by the likes of catering giants like Searcys, it was a refreshing surprise to stroll into the amicable The Garden Café at the newly redeveloped Garden Museum in Lambeth. Dow Jones Architects have done a stupendous job in their £7.5m Garden Museum expansion project with the café standing out in particular. Housed inside a gleaming glass and beaten bronze pavilion, they make plenty of use of natural lighting by having floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides of the restaurant and overlooking two well-tended gardens.

The food itself is no less impressive than the design of the restaurant coming from star chefs to look out for in the form of Harry Kaufman, who has worked at Lyle’s and St John Bread & Wine and George Ryle with previous experiences at Padella and Primeur.

The modern London menu has daily seasonal variations in keeping with the surroundings of the restaurant. Their style is not to overcomplicate dishes with too many ingredients but finding the unusual pairings that allow the dishes to blossom. Dishes like parsley root soup have the words comfort food written all over it. I am not normally a soup person myself, but this version had a mouthwatering tangy flavour which contrasted well with the briny flavours from the smoked eel.

Burrata had the kind of chilled creamy goodness you would expect but with flavours accentuated with a sprinkle of chilli. The cime di rapa (which is turnip tops in English) that accompanied the dish was however slightly too fibrous and chewy to my guest's liking.

More heartwarming dishes were presented for the main courses. Textural variation in their dishes is a key consideration here; take their potato dumplings, the softness of the spheres are contrasted brilliantly with the crunch of the accompanying January king cabbage. Also, the sweetness that comes from the cabbage along with a hint of paprika made sure this was never going to be a dull dish.

Lamb leg was firm, pink and not overcooked and came with pleasing romesco sauce and healthy doses of calcots.

For desserts, my eyes were drawn to the damson and lemon genoise. It isn't a dessert I've seen anywhere else in recent times; it had a curiously compact spongy texture. The tartness and sweetness from the fruits really shone through and made it easy to finish before I had the chance to offer it to my guest for sharing. My guest enjoyed a delicately moist apple, date and ginger cake, which wasn't overly sweet and just the perfect portion size for those who wanted to leave with a sweet taste in their mouth.

Opening times are curiously different to your standard restaurants at the moment. They open on most lunchtimes, but only on Friday nights; so plan ahead and do visit them soon.
For more information on The Garden Cafe, see here.
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