The Potager Garden & Café
This idyllic Constantine café serves up delicious, organic veggie food, fresh juices and gluten-free cakes - you can't help but feel good here.
Since we ventured out to Constantine for lunch the other day, I’ve been telling everyone who’ll listen about the bucolic, foodie idyll that is The Potager Garden & Café. I nearly titled this post ‘the prettiest café in Cornwall’ but I haven’t actually been to them all and I’d hate to be accused of spreading fake news. That said, if there’s a more charming and atmospheric place to grab a bite this side of the Tamar, I’ve yet to discover it! It’s the sort of place where time seems to run differently and if it hadn’t been for the school run, we’d have stayed all day.
Like the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan but on a much smaller scale, Potager was discovered, by gardener Dan Thomas and architect Peter Skerrett, wild and forgotten in 1999. It was love at first sight; they bought the former nursery and gradually and sensitively transformed it, using the overgrown specimens to form the shape of the garden. What emerged is a ridiculously pretty, organic garden that seems to enchant everyone who stumbles upon it — like Mark Harris, who rented a studio at Potager in 2006 and ended up taking the reins from Dan and Peter, alongside his partner Saffa. The café’s chef, Awen arrived as a volunteer gardener ten years ago, when he was in the middle of his photography MA at Falmouth and also fell under Potager’s spell.
A refreshingly uncommercial enterprise, the garden is free to enter (although small donations are encouraged) and it is maintained by a dedicated gang of green-fingered volunteers, who arrive en masse each Friday. Beautiful but also productive, ‘potager’ refers to a French style of gardening that mixes ornamental and edible plants, some of which take starring roles on the café’s delicious vegetarian menu.
The café itself is housed in a stylish converted greenhouse, filled with light and strung with bunting. Awen serves up a small but very thoughtful selection of organic vegan and vegetarian dishes, fresh juices and homemade cakes (with plenty of gluten-free options). It’s wholesome, feel-good food that doesn’t compromise an inch on taste.
We chose a super coconut-y curry, with purple sprouting broccoli, celeriac, swede, parsnip, sambal and buckwheat flatbread – one of the tastiest veggie curries I’ve tried and a mezze plate with three dips – a chunky tapenade, humus, and a delicious roasted beetroot number – with salad and moreish, seedy sourdough bread. We were offered beans on toast for my little boy – definitely the healthiest version of this British classic he’s had. I thought he’d turn his nose up at it but hat’s off to Awen, he happily scoffed the lot.
Homemade cakes, whipped up by fellow Potager chef Tanya, include a delectable dark chocolate orange cake, Portuguese caramelised almond tart with clotted cream and the ever-popular elderflower and almond cake (much admired by The Telegraph when they stopped by).
As well as the main café, there are seating areas outside, where you can sit under the trees or lounge in hammocks and there are also tables in the garden’s working greenhouse. These are both great options for those with children, as they can roam free without disturbing other diners too much.
We sat in the greenhouse at a little glass table beside a giant agave and I felt like Mabel, in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, taking tea in the conservatory – but that’s probably just me! The team uses the greenhouse for propagation as well as growing salads, squash, beans and sweet potatoes and the garden volunteers were having their lunch at a long table beside us when we visited. There’s a ping pong table in here too, should all those veggies bring out your competitive spirit.
Adding to the arty vibe are the Potager studios that are home to furniture makers, painters and jewellers, with the odd bit of work on show around the place. And of course, like every good Cornish café, the waiting staff have incredible hidden talents too, like Amy Isles Freeman, who makes brightly painted, wood-turned bowls, which were my brilliant bonus find of the day (see them on her Instagram page here).
Good for: There are more public gardens in the local area than you can shake a whittled stick at but this one offers something different. Obviously, it’s perfect for vegans and vegetarians but also, people with children or those looking for peaceful and pretty spot for breakfast, lunch or tea.
Not for: I’m struggling here – I mean what’s not to like? But I suppose carnivores aren’t catered for, so if you’re on a strict cave-man diet, Potager’s probably not for you (still worth dropping in for tea and cake though).
££: Lunches are just south of £10 and cakes and brownies start from £2.75. So it’s a treat but by no means prohibitively pricey.
Potager Garden and Greenhouse Café, Highcross, Constantine, Falmouth, TR11 5RF. Tel: 01326 341258. Potagergarden.org