I hardly dare to breathe the word, but after a day in the warm sunshine in the gardens at Kew, amongst the early promise of snowdrops and crocuses, it’s there, tripping off my lips, irresistibly: spring. But the big draw of the moment is the 250th anniversary celebrations, marked with a tropical plant extravaganza to truly send the winter blues on their way, and who could conceive a better way to round off a timely vernal visit, than with some reassuringly inexpensive Michelin dining, and a look at just one more glasshouse?
With the exception of inconsiderate aeroplanes, Kew is refined haven of hortiarbodenrophilotranquility (I apologise, all the Latin names completely addled my brain) – I’ve heard that even the builders listen to Radio 4. But the spectacle inside the hot houses is an exuberant wonder, with myriad orchids (over 40 different kinds), arches of pitcher plants and huge square boxes decked with all manner of exotic blooms to look like giant birthday presents; a gift, you might feel, from the gardeners to garden, but also from the gardeners to yourself. It is well worth a special trip, especially with more flowers emerging outside all the time.
On the day, post-stroll lunch was enjoyed at The Glasshouse, a few propitious steps from Kew Gardens station. It is places such as this that make you kick yourself when you go and pay £20 for a lazy couple of courses at one of the many soulless holes with soulless sole (sorry, that’s the Latin again) that tarnish London’s restaurant scene. The food is modern French and unpretentious, no fooling around with nitro-foamed back fat and snail-slime granitas here.
Highlights were a wonderful little falafel creation, familiar flavours but wonderfully composed and garnished with suitably floral scaterrings of micro herbs, as well as a faultless sea bass and top-notch chocolate brownie, not forgetting a signature of sorts, the wood pigeon with truffled egg. A haddock ragoût was perhaps a little discombobulated (sorry, last time I promise), but ample recompense was made on all other fronts, with bright service and a really interesting wine list too, notably sporting an unusual Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc that had been maturing like, well, like a fine wine, since 2002, and a scrumptious Quebecoise ice cider with dessert. The cost, dare you ask? £25 for three courses (£20 for two), excluding wine, an absolute snip. I love the recession.
Tropical Extravaganza runs until Sunday 8 March
Royal Botanic Gardens
Tel: 020 8332 5655
14 Station Parade
Tel: 020 8940 6777