A colleauge who spends a fair amount of time in Devon came back from a relaxing week away from work raving about how amazing Riverford Farm is. No sooner had he told me about this remote jewel than I had sent Cowie the link and she had booked us in. Efficiency is one of Cowie's (many) strong points!
We tootled down to stay with Cowie's parents in Somerset on Friday night and then set off bright and early with a classic Somerset breakfast inside us. Poached eggs and plenty of bacon for me and some porridge for Cowie. I was wary that owing to Riverford Farm's planning regulations they force you to go on a yomp before you are even allowed in the field kitchen as they call it!
The weather couldn't have been more pleasant. The weak winter sun streamed through my passenger window thawing the harsh West Country frost by the time we had got out of third gear. A mixture of Classic FM, Radio 5 Live and Gemini FM gave us our soundscape as Cowie wizzed past anything that was dawdling along - whichever one had the least bad reception!
We arrived at the pristine farm at noon - giving us an hour to tackle the route march. We called in at the field kitchen and were greeted by the most charming people who welcomed and congratulated us on coming such a long way and getting there first! Unheard of for us. Unless there is food involved!
They handed over a map and very sleek MP3 player with a build in speaker. The numbers on the map correlated with the tracks on the MP3 player. Extraordinary! A bit like an audio guide in an art gallery... but far more fun and home-made.
We took Bella and Hector with us on our lap of the fields and they absolutely loved it. Cowie had checked earlier in the week that it was OK and they replied saying that they love having dogs to visit! Such nice people! We kept them both under a tight lead until we got to an empty pasture field where we set them loose! Two happier dogs you are unlikely to see.
The audio guide was brilliant. Even though the fields are pretty barren in early February Guy's friendly voice encourages you to look closely at what is going on. Rhubarb sprouting in one of the fields was great to see.
As was a bat box that is helping to keep the insect levels down in an eco fridnly way. I remember watching Oz Clark and James May potter around Nappa Valley - they visited a special vineyard that planted special plants that encouraged butterflies and birds which in turn kept their vines healthy and meant they didn't have to use chemicals. Very clever stuff. Well done the bats.
It was quite fun being the only ones out on the walk because we caught up with Guy recording February's new audio guide. We didn't want to get in his way or distract him so didn't get too close - but it was really fun to hear his live commentary as we went round. Apparently they feed all the children at the local school with Riverford Farm food - lucky kids! And they struggle to do it on £1.60.
we ended our trail by walking through a badger set surrounded by ash trees and then descended onto the field kitchen for a well earned lunch. Cowie and the dogs looked completely at home.
Now for the reason we came here. The food. Set in a newly built, barrel roofed building you are greeted with the apetite wheting smell of charred chicken. Fabulous. And the sight of an open kitchen full of eager young cooks busily preparing a fantastic spread. We sat on the table nearest the kitchen and immediately started chatting to our table mates. From the moment we said hello we never stopped chatting until the last drop of coffee had been slurped our coats were buttoned up. More charming, chatty people you will struggle to find anywhere. We talked about everything. From recent trips to River Cottage HQ, Istanbul, El Bulli, and the Fat Duck.... to the incredible success of Riverford Farm and the world of food, the West Country and Grand Designs! That's the joy of school dining room tables. Everyone just mucks in together.
We were treated to the widest spread of vegetables I've ever seen:
Sweet and sour leeks
Sweet baked carrots with feta and nuts
Baked beetroot with yoghurt and honey
Tender stem brocoli
Safron mashed potato
And then the icing on the cake - charred Moroccan chiken with chorizo and beans. Stunning. Smokey, juicy, succulent. And what a treat to have such incredibly fresh, tasty veggies. Apparently Jane, the maestro in the kitchen is bringing a book out in June. I'm going to pre-order it and cook everything in it. The style is very similar to other River Cafe alumnae such as Jamie and Hugh - allowing flavours to speak for themselves.
My plum crumble was spectacular too. Sharp. Sweet. Crumbly. And adorned by perfectly creamy custard. Bliss. The vibe in the field kitchen was idyllic. Young and old. Families. Friends. Everyone having a great time eating gorgeous food. Cowie loved her firey ginger beer and I devoured my Luscombe cider. Great stuff!
It turned out the chap on our table was the head bean counter of Riverford Farm. Apparently they are sending out 33,000 veg boxes a week from the Devon depot alone. Around 50,000 around the entire country. That's a lot of organic veg. He pointed out that whilst veg boxes have a reputation for being expensive they are actually substantially cheaper than shopping at Waitrose, Tesco or Sainsbury when it comes to organic food. And whilst everyone is putting their prices up significantly Riverford have announced that they are only going to raise their prices by 5% this year. Far less than the supermarkets. They can afford to do so because they are their own suppliers! Riverford has gone from turning over £5million pounds a year several years ago to seven times that last year. Spectacular. I hope they continue to grow and flourish and drag the rest of the country kickking and screaming into the eco-foodie vision for the country that the likes of Guy, Hugh and Jamie are mapping out. I just hope the oncoming recession doesn't bugger things up!
We reluctantly left quite swiftly in order to get back for the rugby but also poppped in to their farm shop too. What a great place. They even had vast vats of Ecover products that you use to refil containers you've brought from home. Their veg wasn't bad either!
We drove back to Somerset with the wind at our back and the sun warming our faces - delighted with life. Happy to have experienced the perfect Saturday lunch.
Loads of hits are coming in on this post from a Riverford Farm forum and I can't get into it to see the context and it's really frustrating! If you have found this post via that forum I would love to hear from you by commenting below.