Cambo Gardens, Kingsbarns, St Andrews

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Where Garden meets Cup and Plate – a café in harmony with nature


Nessie wasn’t feeling great. She seemed pleased to get out of the car, stretch her legs and wander with us down the track to the café at Cambo Gardens. While she dawdled along, we discussed the vexed question of whether the tea plant, Camelia sinensis, can be classified as a herb or not. We were grateful to find an outdoor tap and dog bowl waiting for us and Nessie seemed somewhat cheered.

Sitting in the flagstone courtyard of Cambo stables, Ann and I felt surrounded by the natural world. Head chef Gillian Veal joined us in the sunshine and shared her passion for bringing Cambo’s wonderful kitchen produce straight to people’s plate.

“It’s all about the vegetables. We grow all our own vegetables here and that’s really inspiring for me – I see it as a collaboration between me and the garden.” She brought us cups of mint tea (clearly a herb!) picked fresh from the garden served in natural undyed teabags. “I love the way they look” said the artist-turned-chef as we watched the mint leaves gently colouring the water in the glass cup.

Colour and texture are everywhere on the menu — from edible flowers, to fresh herbs and multi-coloured salad leaves. Every Thursday, Peter, one of the gardeners, takes the kitchen staff out beyond the garden walls to forage for ingredients that will enhance Gillian’s inspired menu.

“He’s an amazing forager – he just knows the spots where things grow.” Gillian says that the garden gives her inspiration to take things to the next level. “I have an instinct for what will work – we’ve started making cordials and we’re going to start making an ice cream using herbs from the garden (Nessie looks up at this point, extremely interested).

“When Kerry asked me if I would come and run the café, I originally only agreed to run it for a month to help out with the snowdrop season.” Four years later and Gillian has just signed a further five-year contract to run the cafe with a menu that changes daily but centres on a choice of soups, tortillas, filled focaccias, a range of mezze salads and homemade flatbreads and treats.

As Ann and I wandered back up the drive toward the car with a much-cheered Nessie we continued our discussion on the herby-ness or not of tea. Please let us know what you think.