STOCKING up on winter-flowering pansies and violas, we thought we’d take a detour past the scented candles and country casual clothing to check out the garden centre’s restaurant.
It’s located deep inside the sprawling centre (formerly, but probably forever known, as Peter Barratts) and always looks busy whenever I’ve dropped in for a quick coffee, lunchtimes in particular, with the regulars brandishing their loyalty cards at the till.
It’s even busier (and noisier) now they’ve opened a soft play area, but thankfully the good-natured squealing dissipates by the time you get seated.
The Garden Restaurant, as it is known, was buzzing when we dropped in one Sunday lunchtime.
It offers far more than just cakes and scones, with a good selection of home-cooked meals such as beef and ale stew with dumplings and bubble and squeak, made by their on-site chefs.
Part of the Garden Centre Group, it is supporting British Food Fortnight (which runs until October 2) with dishes incorporating produce from British farmers and producers. These include British free-range chicken pie, and British cheddar cheese, potato and leek flan, plus traditional baked sponge plum pud. And you can recreate the dishes at home with free recipe leaflets available.
The British Food Fortnight dishes are available until Wednesday of next week, when they will be replaced by other British seasonal faves.
We queued for our food, which is served up canteen style, with big joints of meat and catering-style containers of pie, roasties and veg on display. Most of it attractively presented, although the thick skin forming on top of the custard was not the most appetising of sights.
We took our seats while staff cooked the other half’s fish, and plated up our dishes, so they would all arrive together.
The restaurant is a simple, country kitchen-style, light and bright, with a homely feel to the furnishings. It’s a vast space, though, with vaulted ceiling, and can get very noisy.
Large windows overlook the cultivated gardens full of shrubbery and pot plants aplenty.
I opted for their British Food Fortnight dish of free-range chicken, mushroom and thyme pie with roasties (my first choice of parsley boiled potatoes were all out), sliced carrots and white cabbage, £7.65.
The pie was excellent, very tasty, with a thick topping of shortcrust pastry, which was both light and golden, with pastry leaves adornment. The filling, chunks of chicken thigh and breast in well-seasoned stock, spilled out on to the plate. The carrots were sweet and flavoursome, cooked in a wok with sugar, parsley and butter, we were told. The cabbage was crisp with a mild peppery flavour.
Whilst the pie was piping hot, the veg was a little on the cool side. It was a hearty dish, though, almost too filling.