I have been to John Lewis in Oxford Street more times than I can remember. The haberdashery department it is my happy place to go to whenever I have time to kill and I can often be found offering advice to customers on the best way to navigate around the annoyingly blocked off short cuts to the escalators. So imagine my surprise when I discovered there is a WHOLE floor I knew nothing about, not just that, but contains a charming garden with views of London to die for.
The Garden Society is JL’s rooftop restaurant space, set out very attractively with a handful of artfully decorated summerhouses, a tiny ‘pub’ and a wicker-trimmed planters filled with seasonal plants and flowers. The cafe and bar is a cosy snug, with an open-style kitchen where you can see the chefs at work. Every six months the store brings in new visiting chefs to create an ever-changing culinary environment. Until Christmas the space is hosting the under-the-radar-fabulous, west country restaurant The Ethicurean, which specializes in locally produced, ethically sourced, seasonal and sustainable ingredients.
Chefs Matthew and Iain Pennington have brought a short menu of their signature dishes for the duration (they are in residence until Christmas Eve) including Welsh Rabbit with cider and cheddar, which comes with an assortment of add-ons such as sauerkraut and caraway or star anise confit duck, and sticky London toffee cake.
I popped in to meet the brothers and have a cup of tea in one of the fabulous summer houses (you can book these, this is something you MUST do, they are a brilliant idea) with our regular craft and food contributor Julia Little, who had tipped me off about the concept.
How’s it going? I asked a cheery Iain. ‘It’s absolutely knackering but really great!’ he said.
For anyone who doesn’t know the Ethicurean, what are you all about? “We started by sourcing raw ingredients from farmers markets, taking them home and cooking ready to eat meals and selling them back at the same farmers markets, as a ‘closed loop’ way of keeping ingredients as local as possible. Then the (near) Bristol restaurant (set in a glasshouse in a Victorian walled garden) came up where we could grow all our own vegetables – so it was perfect.”
His brother agrees “It was the next logical step. And we get to walk among the stuff we’re growing every day, we’re essentially foraging the garden, seeing what’s good. Even when the lettuce have bolted, we’ll ferment the stalks into something tasty, so nothing’s wasted.”
Are they using the garden produce up here I ask Matthew? “No, we can’t use those products up here, it’s too far from source and the restaurant needs it all, so we are using London local ingredients, with help from Farm Drop, who do essentially farmers market product but delivered to small restaurants.”
The pop up is open from 12.00pm for lunch, until the store closes. The two classics to look out for, say’s Iain, are the Welsh Rarebit and the London Stout pudding.
What’s the best thing about being here? “It does actually feel like a garden on the roof.” say Iain, “It’s been a nice introduction to London for me, I never thought I’d want to live in the city but I feel like I’ve changed my views. We walk through Regent’s Park to work, it’s beautiful and I didn’t expect it to be so many green spaces.”
If you are Christmas shopping in Oxford Street, then get yourselves up to the roof and try out the food, it really is excellent. If you can organise yourselves, book a summer house because they are a wonderful place to have a quick cup of tea or a proper lunch/ supper.
It might not even be that busy, because for reason’s known unto only itself, John Lewis makes it quite hard to find the roof garden, signage is extremely poor. You need to go via the lift to the fifth floor, then up another flight of stairs to the roof, and down a wiggling corridor. But persevere, especially if it’s a sunny day, because the views and the surroundings are wonderful. Did I mention they also sell a hot Negroni?