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  • Susan Low

What’s cooking: RHS Wisley Supper Clubs

This summer, RHS Wisley in Surrey is running a series of botanically themed after-hours supper clubs. Part garden tour, part feast, they link creative cooking with the spectacular surrounds of this 240-acre horticultural haven.

The 28 June event, ‘summer in the Pinetum’, had a coniferous theme. (Previous events celebrated cherry blossom, spring herbs, and ‘all about roses’.) An hour-long guided walk led by a resident horticulturalist took us through the spectacular scenery of the Pinetum and neighbouring Howard’s Field, which houses the National Collection of heathers.


Some of the conifers are unmissable, in both senses of the word. Towering above the canopy is a 40m sibling of the giant redwoods I’d seen in California (though not yet quite as behemoth-sized), planted in 1904 and still nowhere near fully grown. These trees can live for up to 2,000 years, and in California they can grow to 90m in height.


Redwoods have been in the news recently because a recent study by the Royal Society journal Open Science found that the trees are flourishing in the UK. And there are lots of them: scientists estimate there are half a million redwoods in this country – the majority of them the giant redwoods. “By comparison, there are 80,000 in their native range in the forests of California,” according to the BBC. Talk about hiding in plain sight…

I salute the Company of Cooks chefs who created the conifer-inspired menu that put pine to such creative use – pine nuts, of course, but pine-smoked trout and a pine needle-smoked pine nut tart. Strewn with herbs, bright-orange marigold petals and blue borage flowers, and scattered with bee pollen, the dishes were a visual treat too.


An idea I’m definitely going to steal: the mushroom ‘scallops’ (pictured top) – king oyster mushroom stems that had been scored and seared and had a texture reminiscent of scallops, but with far more umami action going on.


For dessert, the pine nut pie reminded me of a dessert I’d had ages ago when I was on a wine trip to the Douro Valley in Portugal – fittingly enough, in a town called Pinhão (‘pine nut’ in Portuguese). I’ve never forgotten its sweetly resinous taste and have always regretted not getting the recipe (especially when there’s any chilled tawny port around). This dish brought it right back.


Request: if anyone has a recipe for Portuguese-style pine nut tart, please get in touch. I’ve scoured the internet and have come up empty-handed.


The five-course menu, finishing with in the hot-pink pine nut and pomegranate marshmallows pictured above as petits fours, is served in the plush Terrace restaurant, so banish any preconceptions you might harbour about eating in a garden centre. The quality of the cooking is on a par with many of the best in London, and you’d struggle to find anything of this standard for miles – and it’s served in the arcadian splendour of Wisley at its summertime peak.


Two more Supper Clubs are planned for later this summer and autumn. There is still time to get tickets for ‘palm trees and piña coladas’, which will include a tour of the Exotic Garden, on Friday 30 August.


On Friday 27 September, RHS Wisley’s ‘sustainable autumn harvest’ supper club, will include visits to the World Food Garden, Orchard, Vineyard and Fruit Garden and centre around the theme of sustainable food production.

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