Last January, after three years in the smoggy rat race, and desperate for a lungful of clean country air, I decided I needed to get in on the community allotment game. Heading to the nearest chained-off mecca of green, I was armed with nothing but a few packets of cucumber seeds, a rusty trowel and sheer bravado.
But nobody ever tells you how hard this game is. Just £45 would secure my little piece of earth for a year, but as the dumb young ingénue on the patch, I’d be damned if I could make anything grow. Tweedy snickering followed my every exhaustive move. After the year was up, I was done.
I may not always love the city rat race, but at least I understand the rules. So where was I going to go to get a bit of rural rollicking and a breath of fresh air? As it so happens, I went to the pub.
The Jolly Gardeners is in Putney, close enough to make an evening there very doable. It is also just far enough away to make this Bill & Ben wonderland entirely plausible. Down a little residential lane, Lacy Road, there is none of the irrepressible London traffic, but it is still only five minutes walk from Putney station. The first thing you see when you walk under the fairy-lit awning is the multi-coloured potting sheds, each with a table in it. They are also heated; so even though it is a bitterly cold February day when I visited, I could still enjoy the outdoors. It really is as if you have walked into another (magical) world.
They have a wide selection of beers available, including a couple of my Belgian favourites. It is a Thursday night when I visit, and the place is full of young Londoners on the run from the Big Smoke. Yet curiously, it doesn’t feel packed out and there are plenty of seats available. My friend and I can’t resist the wholesome British menu, which harks back to school dinners with a delicious grown up twist. There are fish and chips, with sustainably caught hake, bangers and mash, with beer mustard mash, and a selection of sandwiches whose descriptions make my mouth water.
I start with mushrooms on toast, Paris brown, flat Oyster mushrooms, to be exact, drizzled over with Stilton cream. Each bite makes you hungry for more and tastes of my allotment dreams, earthy and fresh. Unfortunately, I have to share with my friend, whose salt and pepper squid is tasty but relatively lightweight in comparison. Our main courses are the stars of the show. I have the fishcakes, which are just the right amounts of crispy and moist. My friend has the cottage pie. Now this deserves special mention. It reminds me of Enid Blyton books and growing up in Devon. And those are two of the biggest compliments I could pay to a pub dinner. It is actually superb. Fresh tasting desserts, with fruity themes, round the evening off and we stumble out the place, feeling fat, rejuvenated and very jolly, ready to take on the city maze. Definitely worth a visit or three, the Jolly Gardeners knows exactly what tired, stressed-out Londoners need and lays it on elegantly.