In August 1729, the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole entertained Queen Caroline and the Royal Princes and Princesses to the most sumptuous banquet he had ever given at his home in Chelsea. According to a report in The London Journal a big purpose-built kitchen, ‘with 20 places for fires’ had been erected in the stable yard and ‘fruit for the desserts collected from all quarters of the town.’
The meal however, was served in Sir Robert’s greenhouse.
At this period owning a ‘Green House’ was an expression of superior taste and it was not surprising that Sir Robert wanted to show off his new, ornate and elegant structure to the plant-loving Royals - and if you think of it, it does make sense to have some at least, of the constituents of a your meal literally within your grasp.
A restaurant which has embraced this concept nowadays is De Kas in Amsterdam. It came about when Gert Jan Hageman, a chef who, tired of being a professional chef and who had developed a keen interest in organic gardening, bought two ex-municipal glasshouses in the Frankendael Park suburb, had them restored. He built a state of the art kitchen between them and added a glassed-in dining area. In doing so he created one of the most atmospheric restaurants one could imagine.
Although set back from the road it is easy to spot, especially at night when the brightly lit interior sparkles through the glass like a welcoming beacon. As you enter you pass the growing vegetables and salads which will later feature in your meal and once settled inside you can look out through the glass walls to the gardens beyond.
It is important to book but once there, you have the whole evening to enjoy - there is no sense of ‘hurry up, others are waiting for your table.’ There is one fixed menu although you are asked at the outset of any allergies or dislikes. The young, enthusiastic staff all speak good English (and probably other languages too) and you have the warm feeling of being truly cared for.
You choose your wine and are offered 3 starters. Ours were:-
Goats cheese with oven roasted aubergine with point pepper salsa and parsley oil.
Seared Langoustine with green salad leaves “de Kas” and lemon.
White asparagus with butter sauce boiled free range egg and garden flowers.
They were all fresh, tasty and well presented. Our main course was
Roasted strip loin with oven roasted tomato, green garlic and potato en gravy.
This was succulent and perfectly cooked. Next came a selection of Farmers cheeses from Oostzann
These were followed by a superb dessert consisting of
A soup of rhubarb, red wine en blood orange with vanilla sherbet, pistachio/orange cracker, vanilla cake and syllabub.
Every mouthful was delicious and with the piano playing softly and the hubbub of contented diners laughing and enjoying themselves this was a meal to remember. The kitchen is visible from the dining room and there is even a chef’s table within the kitchen at which, if you book, you can sample dishes offered directly by Meindert Heijer the head chef and his brigade.
The greenhouse and surrounding garden supplies Mediterranean vegetables, herbs and edible flower but Gert Jan Hageman also owns a field a few kilometres away in Beemster where he grows other seasonal vegetables which are harvested at dawn. It is here that he is to be found working daily. All other produce is sourced locally.
Now in England we have a new hotel, London Syon Park which is also practising glasshouse gastronomy. Chef Lee Streeton has teamed up with Robert Stoutzker of London Edible Gardens to create vegetable and herb gardens to supply both the hotel’s main restaurant The Capability and also the new purpose-built Gastronomic Greenhouse which has been erected in the grounds.
Robert is passionate about ‘edible landscape’ and has with much effort, established a large and flourishing vegetable garden at the back of the hotel. He has also created a large and attractive herb garden in a courtyard within the hotel, the produce of which he envisages being used for cocktails and tisanes as well as in the restaurant cuisine.
Lee has incorporated all these fresh tasty elements into his own very successful version of classic British cuisine.
The meal we ate began with Robert’s Edible Garden summer salad for me and Spider Crab salad with quails eggs and mayonnaise for Dennis. We were both delighted with the presentation and the taste of our starters. I then opted for Pan fried scallops with minted peas broad beans and Deli Farm coppa ( air dried ham) and Dennis chose Fillet of Pollack with Miller prawns and samphire. We tend to eat more fish than meat but there was an impressive selection for the carnivore which included Aberdeenshire surloin, grouse, rabbit and the intriguing- sounding Hay baked Cornish mixed lamb with pan haggerty and green sauce.
For pudding we were seduced by the scrumptious Lavender chocolate mousse with apricots which we shared. By this point we had eaten too well to avail ourselves of that traditionally British, but seldom-seen course, The Savory, which offered Welsh rabbit, Buck rabbit and Scotch woodcock.
Although we had not been able to eat in the Gastronomic Greenhouse ( it is available only for private parties of up to twelve) we visited it with Robert. It is in fact a Hartley Botanic Glasshouse in which we saw and tasted several varieties of tomato which were growing around the attractive seating area. To come over here from the hotel on a moonlit night for a dinner party with friends must be incredibly romantic. The five star hotel is supremely comfortable, the service impeccable and to sample Lee’s first rate cuisine in such original surroundings as this greenhouse surrounding would be an unforgettable treat.
As a bonus, guests from the hotel have access to the adjacent grounds of the Duke of Northumberland’s beautiful Syon House where they can stroll in the gardens and even visit the huge Great Conservatory. This magnificent construction probably resembles more closely the Green House in which the Royal Family dined in 1792, but London Syon Hotel’s Gastronomic Glasshouse and Lee Streeton’s delicious food, effectively brings the concept into the twenty first century.
De Kas: www.restaurantdekas.nl
London Syon Park: www.londonsyonpark.com
London Edible Gardens: www.londonediblegardens.com