Garden center dining and other odd, but charming, culinary locations

It used to be novel ingredients. Now it’s a novel location that can really clinch an establishment’s success. And why not? I am not usually one for fads, trends, anything that seems oh-so-fashionable one minute and then unbearably passé the next. But I have always adored eating in slightly eccentric, atypical locations. It adds so much to a meal. Food which might be good can be transformed into something fantastic by the unusual setting.

The latest trend to hit the chilly aisles of Britain is dining at garden centers. Spoiling your garden with flowers and your friends with lunch has suddenly become big business. It sounds terribly pretentious, I know. But it combines two incredibly relaxing activities; browsing greenery and sipping a glass of wine with lunch. Other unbeatable locations include parks, beaches, museums and trains. Anywhere which inspires the imagination, either with beautiful architecture, natural scenery or the interest piqued by people watching, makes a great spot for lunch. This is most likely something to do with the fact that our absorption in the tiny details of our surroundings makes us slow down, appreciate our food and just ‘be’ for a while. This is quite the opposite of many cafés and other eating establishments, where the aim seems to be to get the customer in and out as quickly as possible surrounded by the clamor of hundreds of screaming children and topped off by astronomical prices.

What parks, museums and trains have in common is that they are relatively uncrowded (unless you’ve picked the Tate Gallery on a bank holiday weekend). Glancing around what is supposedly one of London’s most glamorous dining spots the other week, I was reminded immediately of a zoo. Surely this is not the aim. Whatever happened to tranquility? This kind of classy, yet casual, peace and quiet abounds in places like Italy and France. Perhaps what I am really lamenting then is a lack of sunshine, or the lack of a Mediterranean attitude. But whatever the reason, I am a big fan of eating in unusual places. (I did go through a stage once of eating large amounts of chocolate in bed, simply for the reason that I could. It wasn’t great for the sheets though.) A great restaurant experience is unbeatable, and I wouldn’t forsake my favorite spots for the world. But if there’s one trend that looks set to continue it’s the chaos of modern city life: something I don’t want to tarnish my lunch with just yet.

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