‘He who plants a garden plants happiness.’ He (or she) who goes to the Duchy Nursery café will reap almost incapacitating happiness, nay delirium, albeit of the calm, inner sort. Short of describing it as John Lewis on acid (all those colour-co-ordinated towels…), it blows shabby chic out of the water simply because it is the real thing.
Annabel Elliot, Camilla’s sister, decked out the interior and has done a right royal job. Walls are decorated with pressed flower displays sourced from a private collector in Italy, chairs are recycled form 111 Coca-Cola bottles (that’s 111 for each chair), high ceilings are embraced in the clutches of chunky wooden beams and if that weren’t enough *pants* Restormel Castle is visible through the arched wooden window frames, home of the erstwhile Black Prince. Oh and a covetable little adolescent tabby cat is curled up in a duvet in a wooden tub at the back of the shop. *sighs*
I am distracted. The real reason I was there was on the back of a very kind invite from general manager, Angie Coombs, to sample the lunchtime fare. Mother and I were both, understandably, excited. First thoughts: it’s a clever menu (bedecked in appropriate green ‘Cornish Blue’ stripes). There are very few places where you can order anything from a pasty for £3.50, a cheese soufflé for £4.95 to a full on beef and Duchy ale casserole (£8.95) or chicken breast wrapped in Parma ham with mozzarella and pesto (£9.95). I am delighted. And so are the customers who ranged from locals to tourists, families to couples (one of whom came and ordered a lunch of ice cream and hot chocolate, yes, it’s that sort of place).
I will let you in on a secret. Mother and I had already been here for her birthday and had the soufflé, all I can say is that there are fewer lunchtime snacks that tick the box so adeptly. Light, gooey, tasty, healthy (bit of salad on the side) and filling. Today we opted for the casserole (mother) and the chicken breast for me. The conclusion? Mother, who is a fabulous cook (all those years cooking on the farm) exclaimed that: “I haven’t eaten out better anywhere else.” Sounds complicated but her message is simple. The chicken was just a little on the rich side with the pesto, mozzarella and the ragout (the Italians would have been horrified at such a jumble) but delicious nonetheless.
Desserts? Of course. I went for Eton mess, a veritable high-rise of creamy, fruity goodness with real blackcurrant sauce and chunks of strawberries; far too much for any self-respecting female but I devoured it all. Mum went for the apple crumble with autumn fruits and custard, again a man-sized portion which she didn’t quite finish but comforting and stuffed full of fresh fruit purée.
The place is buzzing. Angie explains that customers can be anyone from gardening clubs, to anniversary parties and pre-wedding suppers, but a sign that it’s doing really well is that, in Angie’s words: “It’s a hub for locals.” She goes on: “It’s probably the only public face of The Duchy. He [HRH Prince Charles] is very involved, I have to report directly to him.” And it’s easy to see why he has relied on Angie and her team. She ran Taste of the West for five years and has been working at the nursery for three.
Angie outlines the original concept:”Prince Charles had a romantic idea that it would be a woodland building that fitted amongst the wood and the trees.” In essence, an organic addition to the stunning Duchy land in and around Lostwithiel. And it works, simply because it feels like it has always been here, hiding among the trees.
The Duchy of Cornwall Nursery Café opened on 30 June and was formally opened by Charles and Camilla on 12 July. The café is open Mondays through to Sundays, 9 – 4:30pm and is available for private bookings for groups up to 50. For more information go to www.duchyofcornwallnursery.co.uk.