The Jolly Gardeners is in a bit of an odd location for a destination restaurant, see we’re not talking about the one in Putney here, but the one in Earlsfield.
This is situated on the rather dead bit of Garrett Lane between the Wandle and the Tesco Metro about three quarters of a mile further down. It’s closest neighbours are an industrial estate and a van hire place, the only other sign of life in the vicinity is the Thai Grocer which is almost directly opposite. Is it worth making the effort? Well I for one think it is.
The Gardeners was for many years an rather bland pub, notable as the only one in the immediate vicinity that appeared to have any pretensions at all to be anything more than a ‘boozer.’ It was mainly noted for it’s annual ‘Jollyfest’ an all afternoon and early evening party featuring live acoustic bands held usually during the August bank holiday. Late last year the pub was acquired by 2010 Masterchef winner Dhruv Baker who has since set about transforming it into what he hopes will be one of south west London’s leading gastro pubs.
Myself and the delightful dining companion (DDC) had long thought about eating at the Gardeners, truth be told it is a stone’s throw from our house and is one of the select group of about 3 pubs which taken together form our locals. So one recent Friday in anticipation of her birthday we found ourselves for the first time actually in the dining room rather than the bar. The dining room itself is well appointed and comfortable if not particularly showy. It’s nice but doesn’t have the wow factor of top flight west end restaurant like a Gordon Ramsay or Marcus Wareing, but then again does it need to.
On the night we visited though the dining room was fully booked, it didn’t feel cramped or crowded, but more pleasantly buzzy. Apart from us, the other diners were a mixed bag of couples, small groups of friends and one large party celebrating a golden wedding anniversary. The menu and wine list were both short but again well thought out, with the menu containing a good mix of fish, flesh, fowl and vegetarian, the wine list complementing this well. As it was a Friday and nearly the DDC’s birthday we decided to treat ourselves and go for a full three courses.
For starters I had the goat’s cheese special, whilst the DDC had the chicken liver parfait. The waiter had told me how pretty the goat’s cheese would be, and I have to admit I’d scoffed slightly, when it arrived however it looked like some Halloween decoration that had snuck off the set of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas,’ a mixture of whites, purples and orange. It tasted as good as it looked which was no mean feat. The DDC’s chicken liver she described as excellent, served with slabs of crusty toast and chutney, it looked like a feast in itself.
For wine we had chosen a tempranillo from the middle reaches of the list. This turned out to be a good choice, going well both with the starters and the more meaty main courses as they arrived. For my main I’d gone with the crispy pork belly, served with the carrot and cardamom puree, curly kale and chumichurri. These I’d thought would be rather an odd combination, but it worked really well. The pork belly was crisp where it needed to be, and the puree was delicious, let the best soup you could think of in a slightly more solid form. The DDC opted for the braised lamb breast served with artichokes and oyster mushrooms, which again looked and I’m assured tasted delicious.
By this time our appetites had contracted slightly from when we first arrived, and rather than go for a desert each we decided to split some cheeses. There was a selection of about 5 from which you could choose three, or more if you were willing to pay a supplement. These were served with crackers, grapes and fruit bread, and also in our case a glass of port. We went for a deliciously creamy Dolcelatte, a harder but still tasty Fontina and a Robiola, I think mainly as it was called Robiola. This was pronounced the smelliest cheese of all, but I have to admit to rather liking it.
The bill when it came was a surprise in that it was rather less than I’d thought it was going to be. £109 for two courses each, a bottle of wine, an additional drink and a shared course of cheese. As a note we hadn’t ordered any side dishes, and to be honest and they’ll probably hate me saying this given the proportions of the courses I don’t think you need to. I have to say I think that this is probably about the best meal I’ve had in the local area, and I was impressed by both the quality of the food and the courtesy of the staff.
For me the Gardeners is a great place for the slightly lower key celebrations in life, you know birthdays and anniversaries without a zero in them, for catching up with friends, for a good night out. Having waited a year to experience it for the first time, I’m hoping we don’t have to wait another 12 months before going back.