We were there for a lunch and wine tasting event. Arriving early – something rather unusual for me – I went on exploring the nurseries of plants and flowers, unusually colourful for being early autumn. From every corner, I could hear the muffled noises coming from the tea house, serving light lunches and teas to people looking for a corner of peace and beauty in what is the London countryside; and the bustling cafe – a restaurant really – in full Saturday service swing, alive with the sound of plates and coutlery. For a good while, I got lost in thought among the outdoor patches, hiding behind tall flowers and vase trees, admiring the casually messy yet so elegant compositions of species and colours. Measured wilderness – almost impossible to reach when one tries so hard. Effortless beauty.
I could have spent hours in the shop nestled in one of the nurseries, browsing eclectic pieces of furniture mingled and morphed with elegant flatware and stoneware, shabby chic gardening tools, and fine cotton textiles. They all have been carefully picked in markets and artisan shops all over the world, creating unusual, well-thought pairings and contrasts. I saw myself falling in love with a set of white ceramic plates and bowls, and with the cupboard hosting them. One day, I thought.
I came back from my explorations right in time for lunch. The theme of the tasting was Friuli Venezia Giulia, the region of Italy bordering Slovenia on the furthest North East side. Wine was going to be from the region, with food paired accordingly. Welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine, we sat and nibbled on Parmesan crisps and grissini hugged by a generous slice of San Daniele prosciutto. I was slowly warming up to the crowd, trying to come out of my bubble of shyness, and getting to know the people around us. I was immediately fascinated by the story of the Scottish man of Iranian origins sitting in front of me. Predictably, we ended up talking about the food culture in our respective countries for the whole length of the meal.
The first course arrived promptly: fresh ‘paglia and fieno’ (literally, hay and straws, the green given by the presence of spinach in the pasta dough) with mushrooms and zucchini flowers, a delicate start washed down by a fresh, crisp white Tocai Friulano. Braised rabbit followed, served on creamy polenta alongside sweet roasted heirloom carrots. Paired with a pale pink pinot grigio, this dish brought the meal to a whole different level. Cheese closed the lunch rather than dessert, in order to present the last red wine in the list of tastings. On the platter, moreish sweet muscat grapes and milky wet walnuts helped alternate the saltiness of a delicious ubriaco cheese, which I kept reaching for the ever last morsel.
More wine? Why not. Coffee? Sure. Lost in conversation, we stood up not earlier than 5pm. Light and sated, and with dusk fast approaching, we headed back to Richmond through the meadows, and along the Thames. The path was now silent. A fine autumn night upon us.