Sunday, 14 September 2008

Quite possibly the best lunch in Devon: Riverford Organics

Hello again. Sorry I went a bit quiet for a week or so. We went on holiday and I didn't get round to doing a final post before we left. We were in Devon for a week, staying in a dinky little cottage on the edge of Dartmoor, and we loved it. We loved the moors, we loved the burnt reds and the subdued greens, we loved the tors and vales, the ponies and the sheep (especially the two getting amorous in the middle of the road) and we loved the quiet. We want to move there directly, although as the University of Widdecome in the Moor has yet to feature in the Russell Group, we may have to wait a few years. Highlights are in the photos at the bottom.

Foodie-wise we ate some very fine local produce, including the inevitable (but very welcome!) cream teas and pasties, and also some mead, some ciders and beers, and some very good and creamy cheeses. The Scientist had some good meaty pub fare as well, but the best foodie experience by a Devon country mile was at the Field Kitchen at Riverford Organics.

My Riverford meal (green beans and roast potatoes are hiding under the salad leaves)

Riverford has become pretty well known in recent years as one of the biggest veg-box companies in England. Its farm is on the eastern edge of Dartmoor, not far from Totnes, and you can go and see them there and eat at their Field Kitchen. They don't call it a restaurant - you all eat together and you eat whatever's on the menu that day - but it's just for visitors, and the food is absolutely top quality. For various planning reasons you can't just go to eat - you have to do a tour of the farm as well, but that actually made the whole experience as it opened our eyes to their philosophy of farming and supplying food. Beforehand I had been a little wary of them as they are now such large-scale suppliers. They work in co-operation with other farms over the country, but our 'local' one is at Nene, near Peterborough, which doesn't exactly count as local in my book. On our way round the guided tour though (you can do a self-guided one too, and I think it shows something about the farm's commitment to accountability to its customers that they do a new recording for the self-guided tour every few weeks), we warmed to the wider ethic considerably. For starters, they are perfectly open about the fact that they would rather the boxes travelled as short a distance as possible, and they're working with more farms to decrease the food miles. They also grow a really wide variety of crops, to keep the boxes diverse, and just to try out new possibilities. And they really seem committed to farming sustainably and organically, using crop rotations and really well informed methods. Our guide, Darren, really knew his stuff, and enthused us all. It doesn't exactly harm the whole business that the farm is set in the most beautiful countryside, and also that they let us loose in the cherry tomato greenhouse and the raspberry field :) Even The Scientist liked the fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes, and he's a tomato hater.

Roasties, salad, beans (still hiding) and the tasty tasty carrots

After our tour of the farm we were taken back to the Field Kitchen for lunch. There were about 20 people eating that day, on three big tables. The food is served on big platters which you share out between you; apparently some people find this a little odd, but we're not so far from undergraduate college life that this seemed out of the ordinary to us! The kitchen is part of the dining area so you can see the food being prepared which is fun. It was all fairly simple but superlatively cooked. The meat-eaters had chicken in sauce, and the veggies got garlic, mushroom and squash roasted parcels, which I would have called a vegetable wellington, accompanied by mixed beans and pulses. I don't like pastry, but the filling was so tender and tasty that I didn't feel I missed out at all. We all had roasted potatoes, cumin-roasted baby carrots, a beetroot gratin, some citrusy oiled French beans, and a leafy, roasted cherry tomato, radish and goat's cheese salad. Each dish was robustly flavoured and perfectly done. My favourite was the carrots though a lot of people were raving about the beetroot, which was slices of vegetable mixed with cream and seasonings (it came out a few minutes after the other veggies and so missed being photographed). We also got home-made bread fresh from the oven, and you could order a variety of drinks separately. The Scientist was extremely happy as our table consisted of four veggies, two children and only three meat eaters for the same amount of food as everyone else. We both ate well that day.

Squash parcels and beans

There were a range of dessert options after the sumptuous main course feast. I had a slice of brownie which I actually found a bit dry, but I was too full to eat it anyway. The Scientist doused it in custard (home-made, of course) and dispatched it without any complaints. He had picked a pear and almond tart which I have to say was quite a lot nicer than my choice. I also regretted not trying the pavlova, which looked amazing. A cup of tea rounded the whole meal off, after which we slowly rolled ourselves off to the car and a quick stop in the farm's shop.

My brownie - a bit on the dry side, but custard was on hand to liven it up...

The whole meal was £15 per head (drinks and coffees on top) which seems really quite reasonable for the amount of food and its amazing quality. We were sitting next to a family of veggies who said they'd been three times before at different times of year, and that it was always amazing. Riverford also runs cooking days there, which I would love to do, and themed meals, and Field Kitchens are also planned at some of the partner farms in the future. They've also just launched a cookbook, of which more later....

So, to sum up: if you're ever anywhere nearby, stop off. You need to book in advance, but it will be the best meal you've eaten in ages. No question. Below are some more pictures from our hols, which fortunately gave us some opportunities to walk off our giant Riverford lunch!

1 comment:

Johanna said...

sounds like a great trip and I want to visit that farm now - if only there were more places serving food like that around I would be happy to tour the farm first while on holidays