When the Boglione family announced they were opening a spin-off of Richmond’s Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden, it seemed to invite disaster. After all, wasn’t the joy of the original the bucolic vision it offered, the sense of being transported, briefly, from the smog and filth of London — and yet being able to get back to that same smog in less than 40 minutes? Besides which, how were they going to fit a cafe-bar, shop, florist and restaurant in cheek-by-jowl Covent Garden?
But then Francesco and Gael Boglione are not your average proprietors. The story of how they came to acquire their first restaurant in 2004, and win a Michelin star for it in 2011, is restaurant lore. They’re perhaps the most successful accidental restaurateurs on earth, given they only bought Petersham Nurseries because they owned the house next door and didn’t want anyone coming in and ruining the view. At any rate, they prospered and now have opened up in a part of Covent Garden called, appropriately enough, Floral Court. And it’s the flowers that you see first: foxgloves and ferns, and wrought iron tables full of people in pashminas and those pastel shirts you see in Tuscan beach towns.
Everything on the menu is seasonal, often from the Bogliones’ son’s farm; radishes are heritage, there are spring peas, new shoots and broad beans. The cooking has the accent of an Italian nonna, albeit one adroit with edible flowers. The starters are elegant but homely: a venison tartar is subtly constructed — thin flecks of game picked out with Zisola almonds and cacoa. It’s a delight. As is the artichoke alla Romana, which appears arranged like the ruins of The Forum — the warm artichoke given happy distinction by the wild sorrel and the slight brininess of the Nocellara olives.
Main courses are less assured. The broad bean and Mayan gold potato masala with fragrant Ermes rice, coconut and Zisola almonds suffers from too cloying a sauce and too few potatoes. The lobster and gurnard in the fish stew was toothsome, although the squid that accompanied it was a touch tough; the whole thing benefitted from the addition of a little salt.
Bottles on the all-Italian wine list start around the £30 mark and reach into the hundreds. But there are excellent wines by the glass, the finest of which was a Castello di Gabiano Gavius at only £6.50. Special mention from the dessert menu goes to the honey tart, which had just the right degree of eggy richness.
The decor is much like the food — well put together and summery, with modern art, stripped wood floors and furniture similar to that in the courtyard. This is a restaurant with style and confidence; the Bogliones have done it again. Three-course dinner for two around £175, including wine and service.
Published in Issue 2 of National Geographic Traveller Food.