Monday, 13 June 2011

Riverford Field Kitchen - Devon

Ahhhhhh Devon. *gulps in a huge lungful of air* beautiful verdant lush Devon. Land of cream, custard, cider and the beast of Exmoor. (Not necessarily in that order). I loves it, at least I do now. I’d never been there until just a few weeks back. Being from Essex, which, geography fans is the complete opposite side of the country, almost the entire South West of the UK was a complete mystery to me, just names on a map. But now, I’m gradually filling in the blanks and *wise knowing look* I can say things like, ‘Devon knows how they make it so creamy’, with the most complete and utmost conviction.

I was recently given the opportunity to get my arse to Devon, for a look around the farm of vegetable box purveyors, Riverford Organic (Which, I might add, was incredibly impressive if you like swaying fields of beautiful organic vegetables, rolling countryside and the heady strident whiff of farmyard animal shit). But what I want to talk about is their restaurant, or ‘Field Kitchen’, which is slap bang in the middle of the farm and, for the most part uses the organic produce that is grown in the surrounding fields. It won an Observer Food Monthly award in 2010 for Best Ethical Restaurant. I’ve quite fancied a visit for some time.

‘E’ and I arrived in Devon separately from the other invited bloggers and hacks making their way over from London, who were scheduled to arrive much later that evening. So when we were offered dinner at the Field Kitchen while we waited, it wasn’t too taxing a decision to accept.

The restaurant itself is a surprisingly modern stand-alone building, with something of a Scandinavian look about it. It’s nestled in a natural bowl in the surrounding landscape. ‘E’ and I made our way down the steps, through a herb garden to the entrance, intrigued by what we would find inside.

The Field Kitchen turned out to be a large, high ceilinged room with an open plan kitchen at one end, and communal tables and benches throughout. Interestingly, for us, as we run The Montpelier Basement supper club along the same lines, you sit at a table with strangers and the food is served on shared platters which are then passed around the table by your fellow diners. It was interesting to experience this from the ‘punters’ view for a change. It works well and encourages strangers to chat and interact with each other.

The menu itself, written up on a chalkboard, is set – apart from desserts (More about that later).
On the night we visited, the menu read as follows…

Antipasti to share
Hot smoked salmon, dill, beetroot and roasted buckwheat
Potatoes in a bag with wet garlic and thyme
Broad beans, lentils, spring onions and mint
Spring greens and red pepper sauce
Spinach gratin
And a vegetarian option of Tomato and courgette parcel

I don’t know about you, but that reads like a cracking menu – perhaps it could do with a bit more meat, but for £26.50 a person….Hello.

‘E’ and I took our places at our bench and almost instantly fell into conversation with the two lovely women who were sitting immediately next to us. We waved and introduced ourselves to the rest of the table. It turns out, a surprising number of the table were veggies, ‘more meat for me’ thought I.

The food started to appear from the kitchen thick and fast, antipasti of homemade bread, sliced meats, crab bakes, shrimp & potato blini, cheese panzarotte and a selection of dips, olives and pickled mushrooms. The crab bakes in particular were bloody delicious.

I immediately sensed competiveness with a couple of the guests further down the table; they were a bit ‘grabby’ and seemed intent on ‘getting their fair share’. Which in one sense was kind of ridiculous as there was so much food…but I also kind of understand. I readily admit to having something of a voracious wolf like glint in my eye where it comes to eating, perhaps they realised this. Perhaps they eyed my predatory ‘eating build’, my just a second too long hungry glances at the arriving platters or perhaps my custom made- over-sized cutlery that I often produce from under the table when I’m competing for grub. They were right to fear me. I’d eat it all; mine, theirs, yours and I’d wash it down with their booze…any booze in fact, given half the chance. But for now I affected shocked and polite indignation for the benefit of my fellow guests at the grabby couple’s amateur posturing, whilst muttering meaningless platitudes such as ‘Anyone want the last one of these?’ as the aforementioned item was already halfway into my gob.

More and more food arrived; all of it piled high, most of it obviously grown in the surrounding fields, beautifully presented in a nice rustic fashion and all of it bloody good. There was more than enough to go around, even with a stomach on legs like me seated one side of the table, and an almost equally scary consumer of food in the shape of ‘E’ seated on the other side.

Finally, when even we, ‘Team Guts’ were declining the last few bits and pieces and shifting uncomfortably in our seats trying to balance the extra weight, the waiter arrived to usher each table one at a time over to the kitchen counter where a whole selection of desserts were assembled to select from. Trifles, tarts and puddings. Custard or cream. It was all here, present and correct.

Knowing that the head chef, Jane Baxter had previously worked at the River Café, and spying their infamous Chocolate Nemesis amongst the puddings on offer, (The recipe for this in the River Café cookbook is notorious, as it doesn’t work), I had to go for that, as I’d never seen it done properly. It was bloody superb, but so rich it almost send me spiralling into a staggering mumbling food delirium.

At this point, our taxi arrived to whisk us away and not a moment too soon. I was stuffed silly, and not a little drunk.
Myself and ‘E’ had a cracking time. It was a lovely evening with some fine company, a lot of booze and some excellent food. And at that price, it’s a complete bargain.

Amazingly, it didn’t end there.
The next day, after our scheduled tour of the Riverford Organic farm with our fellow bloggers and some professional hacks, hosted by the surprisingly affable owner, Guy Watson, we were ushered back to the Field Kitchen for lunch.
The other tables were full already with paying customers and once again, the lunch we had was exactly the same as what they ate.
Happily, this time the menu contained some meat;

Roast and confit duck with turnips
New potatoes cooked in a bag with wet garlic and thyme
Roast asparagus, rocket, pistachio and orange
Spinach gratin
Spring greens, red pepper dressing
Broad beans, lentils and spring onions

Another cracking menu, and this time, as it was lunch – an even more bargainous (and rather strangely priced) £19.90

Exactly the same format as the previous evening, shared benches, huge platters of beautiful organic rustic food. Absolutely belting.

The ‘school dinner queue’ format for puddings was also the same. Once again I engaged my sly and cunning brain to help me make a selection. Knowing that the head chef, Jane, who as well as working at the River Cafe had also worked at The Carved Angel in Dartmouth, which used to be famed for their sticky toffee puddings, that’s what I went for. Jackpot! Quite possibly the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever eaten, and I like to think that I’ve eaten a hell of a lot to compare against.

So, there you have it. Dinner and lunch at the same restaurant, and absolutely cracking both times.
Both ‘E’ and I really enjoyed it. The communal seating and shared platter format adds a great deal to the experience. The prices are ridiculously cheap when you consider the quality of the produce and how much of it you actually get to eat (Even if you’re competing with people like me). The food is plentiful, seasonal and really quite lovely. If you’re in the area, the Field Kitchen is something of a must visit.

I don’t think I’ve ever written about a free meal on the blog before. I’ve been offered a few, but have rarely accepted them, mainly because it’s hard to write about something you’ve been given for free – your objectivity is called into question if extra care, attention and dishes are lavished upon you, making the experience you may have had entirely unlike the meal an average punter would stump up for. Therefore, I thought long and hard before writing these meals up, but at the end of the day, it was quite obvious that the dinner and subsequent lunch we had was exactly the same as the paying diners. The communal nature of the field kitchen experience ensured this. So, in this case, I don’t really have problem writing about it.

Riverford Field Kitchen
TQ11 0JU

Telephone: 01803 762074

‘E’ has a copy of the rather superb new Riverfood Farm cookbook ‘Everday and Sunday’
, which has been signed by both Guy Watson and head chef, Jane Baxter, to give away on her blog.


sarah at secret housewife said...

We have been gatting a Riverford veg box for years now and they are brilliant as a company. Interesting to read your review. I would love to go there to eat - just wish it wasn't so far away! I feel a motherly tenderness for Riverford so am very glad you had such a nice time with such yummy food!

Sharmila said...

I've been a Riverford customer for around 4 years now, and I am still as happy with their offering now as I was when I first started ordering from them. On top of our fruit and veg box, we always get their plain yoghurt and eggs - both of which are really fabulous.

I would love to eat at The Field Kitchen! Heard so many good things.

Dan said...

Sarah - They must be doing something right if you feel a motherly tenderness towards them!

Sharmila - Another happy customer. Personally, I've never tried their veg box, but I was impressed with what I saw on the farm visit. The Field Kitchen is cracking.

Food Urchin said...

If I saw a guy with your predatory ‘eating build' then I might have second thoughts about trying to poach more food..............actually that's a lie, I'd stab you in the head with a fork to more than my fair share.

Great read Dan ; )

Dan said...

Food Urchin - Ooooh violent. I likes it. *Makes a mental note to wear a stabproof eating helmet if there's ever any chance of competing for food with the urchin*