Please welcome a very good friend of mine and Anth’s – Angharad Brewer Gillham. She might not be fat, 40 or a vegetarian, but she knows a good veggie restaurant when she visits one, even if it is a tad lacking on vegan food. OK, over to our intrepid correspondent …
Gentle reader, I have a confession to make: I am not actually a vegetarian. But even a hardened omnivore can appreciate a vegetarian meal occasionally, and I think that those of us who eat meat should probably eat less of it, so I try to eat vegetarian meals as often as possible. This is a resolve that usually falls over when I’m out to eat, because there don’t tend to be a lot of vegetarian options on restaurant menus. So I was interested to discover The Garden Café, which is in the Garden Museum, right next to Lambeth Palace. It serves only vegetarian meals. Disappointed carnivores will have to turn around and go and find a Pret on the other side of the river.
I and my parents are not disappointed carnivores, so we ordered lunch instead. The Garden Café serves a smaller weekend menu, with just three choices of main meal: when we turned up, these were a carrot soup with crème fraiche and chilli garnish, a butternut squash and feta tart, and red peppers stuffed with bulgur wheat, Gruyère and olives. The peppers and tarts were accompanied by a trio of salads, one plain green, one coleslaw, and one chickpeas, feta, and several different varieties of tomato with a lemony dressing. The soup came with fresh bread.
I had the stuffed peppers; my parents both went for the tarts. The stuffed pepper was delicious, tender and vivid, and the stuffing was perfect, fluffy and full of flavour. The green salad was crisp and fresh and the chickpea salad excellent, sharp, peppery and lemony. I can’t stand coleslaw, so didn’t touch mine, but my parents reviewed it highly. Similarly, the butternut and feta tarts came in for high praise.
The Garden Café offers more options in terms of dessert, probably because it mostly sells people coffee and cake. There’s a nice selection of the usual sweet things – brownies and frangipane featured when we were there – but also a couple of cakes with more interesting flavours. We chose a slice of courgette, lime and ginger cake. It was delicious: imagine a carrot cake, with all the moistness and lightness of a really well-made carrot cake, but with a less obtrusive vegetable flavour lending depth to the mild spice of lime and ginger. I nearly went in and asked for the recipe.
The whole cost about £10 a head; I’d allow £13 if you wanted cake with your lunch, just to be on the safe side. This is still good value for a tasty, freshly-cooked meal in central London, and it’s in a gorgeous setting; you can sit inside the museum, which is a former chapel, de-consecrated, re-purposed, and full of light, but if it’s a nice day you’re much better off outside in the lovely garden. If there’s one criticism I’d make, it’s that this is not a guaranteed meal for vegans, which is a curious choice when you’re a small veggies-only restaurant. The website says that their recipes are often vegan, and that they change daily depending on seasonal produce and what’s coming out of the vegetable garden. This is laudable, but if I were a vegan turning up to the Garden Café on spec only to discover that everything contains animal products – including two out of three salads – I would be seriously annoyed. (And hungry.)
That said, this is a pretty restaurant that serves tasty vegetarian food for reasonable prices in central London. It’s got a lot going for it, and we’ll definitely be going back. Maybe this time I’ll remember to ask for the courgette cake recipe.
The Garden Café
Lambeth Palace Rd
London SE1 7LB
Tel: 020 7401 8865