An English Country garden


Liz Hands discovers a hidden rural gem, not too far from the city

“If we can make a chicken pie here, then let’s make it,” says Mark Robinson, the new owner of the hidden gem that is Bradley Gardens café. “It’s too easy for people to buy it in and just serve it up. We have a local meat supplier and an artisan baker for our bread, but everything else is homemade, in-house.”

SH0B9063It’s part of Mark’s philosophy to create a venue in the Victorian glasshouse café at Bradley Gardens, which sits behind Victorian brick walls down a little lane between Crawcrook and Wylam and has the feel of, say, Daylesford Organics in Gloucestershire or Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey.

Mark, along with his fellow directors at Bridgewater Interiors, took on the site as they were looking for a place to showcase their interior design work. Fast forward a few months, open the painted door hung with an unassuming “welcome to my garden” sign, and you feel like you’ve headed back to a more genteel time. There’s something about Bradley Gardens that is quintessentially English. It’s the most gloriously sunny day of the year so far, bees are buzzing among the flower-filled borders and there’s the chink of teacups on saucers. No wonder the café is so busy. While the venue has previously been little known outside its immediate surrounds, it is fast becoming the go-to out-of-town spot for city dwellers who want to escape to the country without travelling too far.

Bradley Gardens used to be the vegetable garden supplying the grand hall next door. So it’s fitting that the new owners are growing as much as possible for the café themselves, and there are plans for a kitchen garden.

SH0B9153Mark originally trained as a chef and now he’s back in the kitchen and serving front-of-house. While it’s hard these days to find a restaurant or café where everything served up is homemade, that’s just what he is aiming to do, while the meat is sourced from North Acomb Farm.

As for fruit, vegetables and herbs, a lot is already grown in the garden and a kitchen garden is being created where new chef Barry Foster, due to arrive on July 1, will develop his field-to-fork menu. Barry will already be known to diners at Eslington Villa in Low Fell, and Horton Grange, Ponteland.

SH0B9072Bradley Gardens is also hosting supper clubs, having already drafted in Masterchef winner Gareth Kyle for a two-day event, where 100 diners were served up pigs cheek with sweet potato and fennel, pickled garden vegetables and courgette and goats cheese fritters. Wine aficionados Carruthers and Kent will also be holding wine tasting events here.

“It’s about keeping it very local and very fresh,” says Mark. “As well as supper clubs with different local chefs, and our own, we’ll be doing cookery demonstrations. We’re also going to be bringing out our own in-house food range. So if you have a pate or a chutney here, you’ll be able to buy a jar to take home.”

The home-grown produce, particularly the soft fruits, is in evidence in the menu of patisserie chef Ellie Armstrong. “She’s very seasonal,” says Mark. “She’ll use what is available here, so we’ll pick the apples, the damsons or the blackcurrants for her creations.”

At the moment, raspberries are in favour, with sweet treats including lemon and raspberry tarts and raspberry and white chocolate meringues.

For Mark, with his flair for design, the food’s good looks are as important as the taste. “It’s about both the look and the taste,” he says. “We’ve got edible flowers in the garden so we have them on our salad plates.”

Pretty and tasty. That just about sums up Bradley Gardens.

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