Dine Among The Tombstones At This Lambeth Restaurant
To the left and right of our table, a foot away from our feet, are tombstones.
Deconsecrated, they make up part of the floor at the Garden Museum's new cafe, embedded in the outside terrace and the indoor polished concrete.
In other hands, or maybe in a different London neighbourhood, this would have been trumpeted across the museum website and press releases. In recent weeks Londonist's been contacted about: a fish and chip shop themed around a retro fish and chip shop; Valentine's Day burgers (the salsa's red, for passion); commemorative doughnuts to honour International Women's Day. Just imagine what they could do with the genuinely USP of gravestone-strewn, ex-cemetery dining.
And if the vestiges of the past are compelling enough, there are a lot of glossy, present-day hooks attached to this restaurant. Dow Jones Architects are responsible for all that sleek glass and beaten bronze in the Garden's Museum's 2017 redevelopment, and chefs Harry Kaufman and George Ryle are ex- Lyle's and Padella respectively.
So it's a challenge here to be serving up food more impressive than its pedigree, more interesting than its surroundings — but the Garden Cafe manages it, casually, in the space of a short, A5 menu.
The bread and butter gives you that particular pure, warm feeling specific to really good carbs (these ones courtesy of Bermondsey's Snapery Bakery). We get through a double portion mopping up the chilli-flecked, tomatoey oil on our puntarelle starter, and the brown butter pooling under the scallops and monk's beard.
And mains both trigger the same leave-no-drop-behind urgency. Sea bass comes crispy-skinned and salted with bottarga. A red wine and treviso risotto's silkily thick, with a slightly bitter, tannin-y flavour behind the upfront hit of richness. Looks like nothing much on the plate, tastes extraordinary. That's true of our sherry Baba and blood orange dessert, and the poached pear with hazelnut ice cream — both of them sound unassuming on paper and look it on plate, but are simple, memorable classics. It's a bit of everyday magic the Garden Cafe are plating up here, rather than the Michelin-courting sort.
We leave with some truly weak photos of reddish-brown murk and dimly-lit squares of fish that don't remotely do justice to the vibrancy of the dishes. But maybe that's fitting: the Garden Cafe seems far less interested in filling your Instagram feed than just... you know, feeding you.
And god, are they good at the latter.
The Garden Cafe, 5 Lambeth Palace Road, SE1 7LB.
The Garden Cafe is open for lunch from 12pm-3pm daily (12pm-2pm on Saturday) and for dinner on Tuesday and Friday from 6pm.
Last Updated 12 March 2018