This isn’t just dinner somewhere off the beaten track (and it is off the beaten track!). Friday Night Supper at River Cottage is an experience.
From the top of the hill we jumped in to the tractor trailer with our fellow diners and meandered down to River Cottage HQ and that familiar farmhouse, nestled in the valley. The head chef Gelf reminded us later that the 100 acre of organic farm (“that we call home”) we were sat within is neatly split by the Devon/Dorset border. Which is enough information to know, when everything you see is coated in winter darkness, that you are somewhere beautiful.
Greeted by one of the (almost) River Cottage originals in a very toasty yurt, perched on hay bales, we supped on apple brandy and apple juice from Hugh’s very own apple trees before we began feasting. It was a slow food sort of affair in all of the ways. Your courses are spread over hours (luckily because you couldn’t fit it in otherwise) and the food itself is lovingly, and slowly grown too.
Thus the attraction of River Cottage. Everything you eat has a reputable food story. Whether grown in the polytunnel or walled garden, or reared on the rolling hill side – every element has been cared for and consciously considered. They look after local producers too, with the unbleached organic flour that shapes their (12 year old!) sourdough coming from a local mill and the dairy goods from a farm a few hills over.
And if it is the River Cottage story you are a particular fan of, and not just simply good food, then you won’t leave disappointed. You can get a cheeky snoop round the farmhouse and take your pose in front of the familiar fireplace that forms the backdrop for Hugh’s kitchen stories and wander around the garden.
There’s an open door policy for the kitchen as well as the farmhouse. The chefs form their creations behind the wooden doors at the end of the barn you eat in and you can “feel free to pop in and say hello.” Helping you capture the complete journey of your food from the ground to the plate.
With the menu changing according, somewhat obviously, to the seasons you can’t predict much of what you will experience food wise- it’s a no-menu, given what the land provides kind of style. And you can’t beat that. As Gelf says, “There’s a difference between fresh food and fresh food. Ours is fresh- what you are eating came out of the ground 6 hours ago.”
Images by Rachel Lees