Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
The Chelsea Physic Garden is having a snowdrop moment. Today I walked up and down the paths admiring the snowdrops, listening to the birdsong and the rumbling of Chelsea traffic, and feeling quietly joyous that January, a wretched month that seemed to go on forever, is finally over.
This weekend is the last chance for snowdrop lovers to see the displays (they end on Sunday) and also to eat at the café which isn’t remotely French – its sensational Italian cakes are cooked by Brazilians, apparently – but does the best gruyère tart I’ve ever tasted (and a wonderfully comforting-looking salmon en croûte). The café attracts weatherbeaten garden lovers of all ages and glamorous fur-hatted members of the troisième âge who look as though they’ve come straight from Montecarlo and have never set foot in a Primark. It serves mulled wine at £3.50 a pop which is just what you need on a bitingly cold winter’s day.
The cafe is co-owned by the exotically named Limpet Barron (she’s the female half) and David Hughes and goes by the whimsical name of Tangerine Dream Café. Limpet trained in fashion (she puts together the stunning flowers) before a six year stint at the River Café; David owes his cooking talent to his mother and a great aunt, and is the grandson of a senior meat porter at Smithfield (the carnivorous French would surely approve of that).
It costs almost a tenner to get in to the CPG but it’s worth it to see the snowdrops – some have been replanted in moss balls and hung from the trees on wires (pointless and rather lovely, see right) – and to taste the gruyère tart (pictured above) which I’m convinced can only have been made by a French person.
On Monday the café closes until ‘the season’, as it’s known, begins on April 1. I’m told that in summer the outdoor tables are one of the loveliest spots to dine out on and that picnics are allowed on the lawns. Now that Chelsea has been taken over by the French, the Americans, the Italians and the Russians, this is perhaps one of the last islands of English eccentricity left in SW3.
The Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 (entrance on Swan Walk); 020 7352 5646; http://www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk