Looking for an interesting new restaurant to write about is a bit like searching for treasure on a beach with a metal detector. You can hunt with the pack, assuming they must know something or they wouldn't all be looking in the same place, or you can strike out on your own. Ploughing your own furrow is riskier – you might end up with nothing – but the potential rewards are greater. Just occasionally, in some distant spot far off the beaten track, you strike gold.
I had this sensation the moment I walked into Café Ginkgo in Hammersmith. If any restaurant can claim to have captured the Zeitgeist of the summer of 2009, this is it. First of all, it's in a garden centre and gardening is to this decade what clubbing was to the 1990s. Nothing new about restaurants in garden centres, you might say, having already discovered IoS food writer Skye Gyngell's Petersham Nurseries in nearby Richmond, but Café Ginkgo is a more informal affair. It is essentially a self-service cafeteria, with nothing on the menu priced above £6.95. The two-course set lunch at Petersham is £22.50, whereas the equivalent meal at Café Ginkgo will cost you about a tenner. In that respect, too, it's very much of the moment. This is a new restaurant unlikely to be put out of business by the crunch.
Another Zeitgeist signifier is the sheer number of beautiful, thirtysomething women, all of them accompanied by babies. I don't know whether it's due to the proximity of Ravenscourt Park or the clean, kiddie-friendly environment, but Café Ginkgo has clearly become ground zero for west London's burgeoning population of yummy mummies. Indeed, at 8.30am, just after "drop-off" at Ravenscourt Park Preparatory School, you can't get a table, so popular is the café with local mums, all dressed to the nines in designer sportswear. I popped in for breakfast after my first visit and it looked like the set of some wickedly funny new sitcom.
When I had lunch there I was accompanied by only one child – my four-year-old son Ludo – but my wife came along, too. The food isn't actually cooked on the premises, but supplied by Alistair-Hugo, an Acton-based catering company, and then heated up if required. Luckily, this doesn't mean it lacks in freshness. Breakfast (bagels, ham-and-cheese croissants, pains au chocolat) is delivered at 7.30am every day, while lunch (a selection of salads, pastas and quiches) arrives at 10.30am.
The food is presented behind a glass counter and the most mouthwatering things on view are the salads. I opt for a slice of ham, spinach, mushroom and cheddar quiche accompanied by a salad of golden beetroot, plum tomato and onion and another of broad beans and radish (a snip at £6.50), while my wife, who is a vegetarian, goes for the three-salad option, adding a third salad of runner beans, sun-blushed tomatoes and artichoke for a total of £5.95. Ludo turns up his nose at the "children's special" – sausages and mashed potato – and instead opts for muesli and Greek yoghurt at £3.50.
All three salads are good, combining a riot of vibrant colours with wonderfully fresh, summer flavours, and my quiche, which the manager pops into the microwave, is moist and light. Even better are the puddings and pastries that follow. Ludo makes short work of his pain au chocolat, while Caroline and I devour a chocolate tart accompanied by raspberries and sour cream that is pleasingly reminiscent of the famous "chocolate nemesis" at the River Café.
But perhaps the best thing about Café Ginkgo is the space. The main dining-room looks like the interior of a Norwegian log cabin, with plain wooden surfaces and simple wooden furniture. The front is made up largely of glass and the back opens on to the garden centre, giving the restaurant a wonderfully airy, al fresco feel. For somewhere so achingly trendy, it's refreshingly down-to-earth and unpretentious. If Café Ginkgo has captured the Zeitgeist, it is by default rather than by design – which is just the way it should be. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
Café Ginkgo, Ravenscourt Avenue, Hammersmith, London W6, tel: 020 8563 7112. Mon-Fri, 7.30am-5.30pm; Sat, 9am-6pm; Sun, 9am-5pm. Around £20 for two
Second helpings: Green and pleasant cafés
Kenwood House, London NW3, tel: 020 8341 5384
After a walk on Hampstead Heath, this beautifully located café with a smashing garden fits the bill for a hearty organic breakfast, light lunch or tea and a bun
Boston Tea Party
75 Park Street, Bristol, tel: 0117 929 8601
Great to see a thriving coffee chain not owned by a faceless multinational. Comfy sofas and huge paintings make for a friendly destination, offering the best tea and coffee in Bristol; nice garden too
Bill's Produce Store
56 Cliffe High Street, Lewes, tel: 01273 476 918
This hugely busy but relaxed café has become a local institution, especially popular for affable breakfasting
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2009'Reuse content