Sunday, 20 November 2011

Burford Garden Company

The beginning of winter may not seem the most logical time to visit a garden centre. But then again, Liz Hurley's garden centre of choice* isn't your average retailer of hardy perennials, connifers and compost. Burford Garden Company is a purveyor of the very finest plants and other paraphernalia to the Cotswold set. There's much more than gardening goods here; works of art, glamorous gifts, homewares, Christmas decorations and delicatessen delicacies are also on offer. Tucked away next to the rows of kitchen gadgets, premium olive oils and perfectly-packaged boxes of biscuits is my reason for visiting Burford: the café.

With its high glass ceiling and industrial steel touches, the Burford Café is reminiscent of a greenhouse. There's no roughing it among gro-bags of tomatoes, though: smoothly-sanded wooden tables dot the space, which is adorned with works by local artists. A live piano player tinkles away in the background. As you would expect, the classy touch extends to their edible offerings: on my visit, the daily-changing hot lunch options included venison and red wine pie (£10) and a red onion tarte tatin with Cotswold brie (£7.50). Also on offer are a choice of meat and vegetarian soups, served with homemade sourdough bread (£5), salads and sandwiches. Children are well catered for with cute little lunch packs – and a separate café all of their own, the brightly-decorated Little Burford Café, full of fun features for kids. Produce is local, seasonal and Fairtrade as far as possible, prepared under the expert supervision of former Daylesford Organic chef Diarmuid Rogan. Sweet treats promise to be tasty, too: the man in charge of your sugar rush trained at Oxford's Maison Blanc.

Salad plate

Mushroom and tarragon soup

M and I chose to share a hearty-looking salad plate (£6 for your choice from 4 vegetarian salads and a leaf salad, served with bread) and a mushroom and tarragon soup. Salads are serve yourself; the perfect excuse to pile our plate high with bulgur wheat with vegetables and herbs; cucumber, poppy seed and chilli; butternut squah, caramelized onion, goat's cheese and green bean, and marinated courgette and chickpea. All four complemented each other well, their robust, autumnal flavours healthy and fresh but still satisfying. The soup was creamy but with just enough 'body' to make it filling, the hint of tarragon lifting the mushroom taste. Burford's homemade sourdough bread was another winner: perfectly chewy yet light.

There's no denying Burford's a cut above your average garden centre café – but then, Liz Hurley wouldn't sip a glass of water just anywhere, would she. The price tag isn't quite what you'd expect of a chi-chi destination like Burford, though: although I probably wouldn't have spent £10 on a luxury fish pie at lunch time, the salad plate was particularly good value. If you're in the area (whether you're doing some expensive garden restocking/celebrity spotting or not), it's well worth popping into Burford for a bite to eat. I have my usual issue with daily changing menus, but there was just enough choice to mean that all dietary requirements could be catered for without being overwhelmed by options.

Also worth a mention is nearby Aston Pottery, where we later stopped off for a cup of tea. Selling hand-painted ceramics made on site, the pottery also has a sun-trap of a café offering home-made pies, bakes and flans along with jacket potatoes and salads – all served on their own china.

Verdict: 8

Burford Garden Company is near Burford, next to the A40 London Road. The café opens daily from 9am–5.30pm.

*M saw Liz buying orchids and drinking water there. Fact. Favourite garden centre statistic made up by me based on that fact. She was smiling, which would seem to support my theory.

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