It was a perfect early April evening to go to The Petersham, the restaurant in the 4-star Petersham Hotel, with its glorious views over the River Thames. Despite the chill in the air the sun had been shining all day and was now slowly fading towards a beautiful sunset, which we’d witness from our dining table at a perfect spot right by a window.
The view is famous. A bit higher up the slope on which the hotel sits, at the top of Richmond Hill, are plaques detailing its heritage. And you can look down on The Petersham Hotel (to the left in the photo below), which was built in 1865.
It’s accessed via Nightingale Lane, which runs between Richmond Hill and Petersham Road; so called because the area was once well-known for its nightingales. The poet Wordsworth wrote of it:
Fame tells of groves – from England far away –
Groves that inspire the Nightingale to trill ….
For I have heard the quire of Richmond hill
Chanting, with indefatigable bill
It’s a view painted by JMW Turner (who had a country retreat in Twickenham, on the other side of the Thames – a house he designed himself; the only one which celebrates his original ambition to be an architect). The view has also been painted by Constable, Reynolds and Gainsborough and other celebrated artists. In more recent years Mick Jagger lived in a large house at the top of the hill, looking over the view, when he was married to Jerry Hall.
Back to April 2019 and the now, Liz – who was treating me to a slightly early birthday dinner – suggested champagne. I have never declined an offer of champagne. I love champagne. Champagne was brought and poured and a basket of delicious bread put before us. I liked that they gave us not just the fashionable bowl of olive oil with a dash of balsamic with the bread, but butter too.
The Petersham offers elegant and sophisticated dining. Attentive and friendly waiters were always there when you needed them. Apart from our fantastic view, the tables were well spaced so we could talk easily and felt fairly private; such a rare privilege these days when tables are tightly packed in so many restaurants.
As well as an à la carte menu, there’s a set menu costing £24.50 for 2 courses and £28.50 for 3 courses from Sunday – Thursday. It’s available Friday and Saturday too, but slightly more expensive. The food is described as ‘modern British’ and influenced by Head Chef Jean-Didier Gouges’ native Mauritius, his classical French training, and working at places like Nobu.
My choice of starter was ‘British Asparagus – egg, mint and pea salad with truffle hollandaise’.
It was really gorgeous, every element perfectly cooked. The asparagus a pleasing al dente; the egg yolk fabulously runny; a fragrant hollandaise and delicious sweet salad.
Liz chose ‘Heritage Tomato Salad – mozzarella, poached rhubarb, lemon cress, red pepper dressing’. Because she can’t eat peppers she asked them to give her a different dressing, which they happily did. It was a pretty and colourful plate of food and apparently delicious too.
There was a choice of 3 mains: meat, fish and vegetable. I chose ‘Seared Sea Bass – with garlic purée, braised fennel, saffron potato and lobster oil’.
My initial thought was it looked attractive but rather a small helping; in fact, by the end I realised there was more than I’d judged and it was enough for me. Most importantly it was – like my starter – perfectly cooked. The fish had a wonderful crispy and well-seasoned skin that I happily ate; the fish flesh was moist and delicious. Sea bass is a favourite fish and this was excellent.
Liz chose ‘Pan Fried Cornfed Chicken Breast – pommes Anna, peas, asparagus, celeriac purée, cauliflower’. It looked good and Liz said it tasted good.
We decided against dessert, although there were three nice-sounding temptations on the menu. Liz ordered mint tea and I asked for an espresso. Chocolate truffles came too.
It was a lovely evening (many thanks to my friend!) and felt even more like a special treat because of the wonderful location and gorgeous view as well as excellent food.