The botanical trend in food and drink is here to stay and summer is the best time to munch and imbibe petals, leaves and seeds.
My eyes were opened to such possibilities by a visit to the beautiful Maddocks Farm in mid-Devon. Jan Billington posts out her organic edible flowers in packages that are festooned with stamps (her husband is a philatelic auctioneer and these are his spares). As we went around her beds munching nasturtiums and day lilies, Jan showed me how – once you avoid the toxic – the world of plants is a magnificent palette for flavour, texture and beauty.
One of Jan’s customers is Lottie Muir, the Cocktail Gardener and Midnight Apothecary, based at the rooftop garden of the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe in London. Her events in this offbeat venue started as a seedling pop-up and then grew up, up and away like a hollyhock, not least after Time Out made her ‘Pick of the Night’.
Lottie makes syrups and booze infusions using all kinds of flowers and uses them as garnishes for botanical cocktails such as a Honeysuckle Sour, made with her own honeysuckle syrup. Running every Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, her botanical cocktail sessions are brilliantly accompanied by a Greek grill by a outfit called I Should Be Souvlaki.
On the other side of London, Kew Gardens is the official home of botanicals and right now has a weekend botanical Gin and Tonics Bar in the hothouse of the sensual Secluded Garden – part of its Plantasia summer festival. The bar serves all kinds of botanical drinks – alcoholic and non-alcoholic – and is run by The Gin Garden, who do botanical events around London. They're hosting a Herbal and Honey Gin Bar event on May 28/29 at the Chelsea Physic Garden, which is is yet another excuse to escape to this tucked-away haven. Whilst interested in flowers, I first started coming to the Physic Garden to eat at the garden’s exceptional Tangerine Dream café.
City life is much improved by hunting out such garden-related venues. They are literally ‘cool places’, shaded by verdant leaves. You go past a thriving small veg plot to get to Gardener’s Cottage in Leith, Edinburgh, where I recently had a truly wonderful meal. They use botanicals as part of their intelligent and well-cooked dishes, for example following the tradition of using sweet cicely to sweeten and flavour a soup made with rhubarb. Carefully-foraged and sourced ingredients give the skilful cooking here a vivid freshness. A delightful place – and good all year round, not just summer.