The Petersham is a fading hotel on Richmond Hill. I went to a bar mitzvah there in 1986, which gives you a good idea of how fashionable it is. I grew up near Petersham. I always thought it smelled of eternal summer, but it was the late 1970s.
The Petersham is also a new restaurant in Covent Garden, a sequel to Petersham Nurseries, the garden centre café by the Thames, in Petersham, that won a Michelin star in 2011. So, the name is either a deranged lack of imagination or a monument to Petersham. I hope it is a monument. It deserves it.
Now there is another Petersham restaurant, in Covent Garden, in a square off Floral Street which used to be interesting but now looks like a Lego city of the future built on the ashes of Charles Dickens. This square is half-pretty Georgian and half-generic brickwork — that is, Lego. The rookeries of London used to be a haven for typhoid and alcoholism. Now they shine. You could, if you wished, eat your dinner off the stones with a napkin.
There are two restaurants on the site, under the same ownership: to the right is La Goccia (Italian, small plates), and, to the left, the Petersham. Tables and chairs are scattered outside, among bring green bushes of the kind that fairies, if they could afford to live in Covent Garden, would inhabit. Blonde women sit at the tables investigating iPhones and salad; they are only slightly bigger than my theoretical fairies hounded out by gentrification. Inside, I find a large bright space with enormous chandeliers, exploding artworks that recall Chagall and vast mauve banks of flowers. It is very beautiful in a feminine way, but my companion begins to sneeze. There is always a price.
The prettiness extends to the food. It is a prettiness party, the only downside of which is that the diner is probably not as pretty as the decoration, the food or the staff. I eat a delicate asparagus and parmesan risotto with more scent than almost any I have had. It is utterly gorgeous, if you don’t mind eating food that is prettier than you are, and I don’t. I welcome it.
My friend eats a garden salad; it is, she says, exquisitely fresh. Then we have chicken with Mayan Golds — it’s pretentious to name the potato, but I let it go; it’s a homage to carbohydrates, maybe even an unconscious apology to the less pretty customer — mushrooms and garlic, and hake with asparagus, peas and broad beans. It is spa food, yes, for women dependent on mirrors, but it is spa food of the very best quality.
Petersham may be expensive (the chicken was £28, the hake £26). It may be a restaurant specifically for lovely middle-aged women who like their surroundings to be as exquisite as they are. It looks like an interior design catalogue covered in flowers, or Laura Ashley’s personal mausoleum. It may be in a now-ruined part of Covent Garden, and it is in no way iconoclastic. But it would be churlish not to say that this, if you value pretty places, people, and the ability of salad to endow a kind of ecstasy in the diner, a very good restaurant indeed.