Food Review: The Secret Garden in London
Jimmy Garcia’s reign over the pop-up-dining world reminds me of the same ethos running the world of haute couture. Fresh. Unpredictable. Quality. A new idea blossoms every season with fierce temperamentality. Since February 2011, Jimmy has been all of that. This summer, the pop up king brings the quaint British countryside to the London metropolis with an indoor picnic, fresh botanical cocktails and edible gardens. Up until the 31st August, a rich and picturesque English restaurant called The Secret Garden is hidden inside the city of London.
With the first month of The Secret Garden sold out completely, I had to go for it. Nestled above Clapham North pub in the busy metropolis is a magical world. Past the modest wooden door are vines stretching up the stairs, through a courtyard, and into modern cosy woodland designed by Firecracker Works.
We chose their showpiece, the ‘deluxe picnic’, which is a special set for two made up of eight elements found typically at a picnic – but made gourmet and gorgeous. We started off with what we thought was the most peculiar taster: fried whitebait with squidink aioli. It was an impeccable ode to the classic French fries and tomato sauce. The crab and chicken skin sandwiches were light with a sharp freshness, much like a crisp morning by the sea.
Jimmy’s choice of meats teases you out of your comfort zone. He also tends to pair them with sweetness, like yin and yang, be it caramelised vegetables or fruits. In perhaps an allusion to the simple bread and spread, I was delighted by chicken liver and foie gras parfait and onion confit to go with toasted brioche. I’ve personally always been a sucker for cute, bite-size sliders, so to be treated with pork, orange and earl grey ones, they certainly tasted as colourful as they sound!
In keeping with tradition, the set also included smoked salmon Scotch eggs, which was something I had actually never tried before. The fullness of the hard-boiled egg was counterbalanced by the light smoked salmon wrapped around it.
My personal favourite however was the mini chateaubriand, parmentier potatoes and herb butter. It was such a hearty dish. The thing I loved most about it was how every element brought to the dish a different texture, flavour and colour. The sweetness of the tomatoes was a delightful surprise. After polishing off the picnic table, we finished with the pea and mint mousse sundae – what a wonderful way to eat my greens!
Lastly, I couldn’t get over the fact that the meal came out on a mini foldable, wooden picnic table!
The deluxe picnic had both satiated and whetted our appetite, so of course the only solution was to order the dessert hamper for two, which included incredibly well-made hazelnut chocolate donuts and cheesecakes with edible flowers. I thought the hibiscus and pineapple punch was a clever addition to the hamper that balanced out the baked goods. However, what really takes the cake is the prosecco and elderflower jelly shot with raspberry coulis. These are certainly elegant dessert options for adults that won’t melt in the sun.
Instead of the usual overly sweet and rich go-to’s like mud cakes and ice cream that have come to define ‘dessert’, Jimmy treated us with his take on typical elements and really expanded a palette of contrasting flavours. From the insanely rich peppermint milk chocolates to the refreshing fruit punch, there is a flavour for every tastebud. Jimmy has designed the meals to reflect the underlying nature of a picnic – a collection of varied elements all brought together by friends and family. The most telling sign of such an achievement is that over two hours flew by because we were having so much fun with the majority of our conversations revolving around the food we were having.
The concept of The Secret Garden was pervasive throughout the entire experience. From the enchanted ‘al-fresco’ of the restaurant hidden behind a humble wooden door, to the word-of-mouth nature of its well-deserved publicity and popularity. And from the sourcing of fresh produce from the countryside to the avant-garde take on the traditional English Summer picnic. All in all, it was such a welcoming experience, thanks to the good food and great service. Jimmy Garcia’s The Secret Garden is truly London’s best worst-kept secret.
For more information visit: http://jimmyspopup.com/the-secret-garden
Review by Chloe Keung.