It’s been a glorious sunny weekend and if the weather yesterday was perfect for the Royal Wedding in Windsor, where Harry and Meghan tied the knot, it turned out to be the perfect day for a visit to Kew Gardens to see the recently reopened Temperate House.
My friend Elsa took the London Overground train from Hackney to Richmond and I suggested we meet at Kew Gardens (the stop before Richmond) and go in to see the Temperate House, which reopened only last week after 5 years of major restoration. It is the most magnificent building and the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world, housing 1,500 species of plants from temperate regions around the world, including some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants.
It occurred to me earlier in the day that maybe going so soon after the reopening, and on a sunny Saturday, was a mistake. It was bound to be horrendously crowded. But here’s where the ‘royal wedding’ card played a good hand. It seemed that lots of people were at home watching the ‘big day’ on TV; there were many street parties in full flow; and Kew Gardens was remarkably quiet and calm.
I’ve been going to Kew for so long I can remember when it only cost one old penny, put in a turnstile at the gate, to get in. Yes, that’s showing my age! Now it costs £16 for adult entry, which is why I buy an annual season ticket for £69 so that I can go in at any time and take someone in with me. Anyway, you’ll understand that I’ve a long history with the Temperate House and so it was exciting to see it in such a wonderful restored state. I have to say, with all the new planting, it looked a little bare, but I look forward to seeing how well all the plants grow and how long it takes for the glasshouse to feel like entering a jungle again!
We emerged around 6.30pm and took a 65 bus to Richmond. We decided to head down to the river for a drink before eating. Most of the bars and the riverside were heaving with crowds but walking on, I was delighted to find Tide Tables Café open; I’ve only ever thought of it as a daytime place for coffee or a light lunch. It has simply one of the best locations in Richmond, housed in the archways under Richmond Bridge with a large open space outside looking across the Thames.
They sold vegan wine by the glass at £5.50 for 175ml, with a simple choice of red, white or rosé. We both chose cool rosé and they gave us a small pot of olives to go with it. It was a lovely place to sit and relax on a summer’s evening.
Around 8.00 we decided to move on and find somewhere to eat. Nearby, on Hill Rise, leading up to Richmond Hill, I knew of Richmond Café, which is a Thai restaurant. I’d never tried it but my son had told me it’s good, so we decided to give it a try.
The café is a very simple place – more reminiscent of an old style ‘caff’ than restaurant. But it was busy; it has a good reputation. We thought it was getting a bit too cold to take an outside table now the night was drawing in so opted for a table down in the basement. Though not as nice as the ground floor, it soon filled up and was fine, but there’s a clear advantage in booking in advance if you can.
At all times the service was friendly and efficient. A menu was brought; a drinks order taken, including glasses of tap water. Elsa ordered a glass of red Merlot; I ordered white Côtes de Gascogne.
We decided to share a starter and order two main courses (to share) with some plain steamed Thai rice. For our starter we chose Som Tum – Thai style green papaya salad with peanuts, green beans and tomatoes (£6.50).
It was a good size to share as a starter. Som Tum is a spicy Thai salad made with shredded unripe papaya. It’s a Thai staple that has been called one of the best salads in the world. It was wonderfully fresh tasting; nicely crispy with a good chilli edge to it, and I really loved it.
We ordered one fish main: Plate Ta Kri – deep fried sea bass fillet in light batter with chilli, lemongrass and lime leaves (£13.95).
This was really delicious. There were two sea bass fillets so we had plenty each. The batter really was light; the fish moist and tasty; and the accompanying vegetables were cooked through but retained a nice bite.
Our other main was a chicken stir-fry dish with cashews and mushrooms. This was good too.
It was a good meal; a nice friendly place for a simple Thai meal in casual surroundings. And an ideal choice following on from the rest of our day. Our bill came to just over £36 for the two of us, including wine, so it was very reasonable too.