Thursday 17 September 2009

Idyllic River Cottage Veggie Patch

The finale of our trip was lunch at River Cottage HQ. We’ve been to River Cottage for a fantastic day of mushroom foraging in the past as well as to their Autumn festival. So we were keen to introduce Rad of squirrel and hare fame to the delights of Hugh’s rural utopia.

We were given a fascinating tour of the kitchen garden by a charming Chris Evans lookalike who had lots of ingenious suggestions such as:

Seed gutters

Grown your seedlings, cress and other micro herbs in guttering. It seems to work brilliantly and is a piece of cake to do.

Stem of thistle

Try braising the stems of thistles which apparently are delicious.


Tyre containers

Use tyres to create unusual containers that are ideal for growing things like potatoes in. The black rubber absorbs the sunshine and therefore keeps the soil warm. Also when it come to harvesting you can just remove a layer of tyres to get to the next level.

Tomato bags

Try growing your tomatoes and potatoes in inside out plastic compost bags. It’s a great way of recycling, otherwise wasteful plastic bags.


Red stems

Rainbow chard looked stunning.

Red stuff

As did the deep red, and slightly seductive, stems of this plant.

The best advice was about how to plan your kitchen garden / allotment. All too often we get a bit overexcited and dive in withouth thinking. We plant rows and rows of potatoes and acres of tomatoes both of which you can buy in the shops. It’s much better to find some interesting varieties of vegetables you love and can’t find in the shops or are expensive, or need to be eaten as soon as they are harvested and concentrate on them. Things like asparagus, raspberries, sweet-corn, squashes and artichokes spring to mind. It’s also well worth developing a strong herb garden and think about planting flowers such as nasturtium which not only taste great in salads but also attract the bugs and therefore save your prize vegetables from getting nailed.

Our tour finished with a casual lunch for 50 in their converted barn. Canapes of rabbit in a light jelly and smoked mackerel pate on a slice of cucumber were deliciously simple and comforting.

Rabit on toast

Mackerel pate

And don’t tell Hugh, but we may have nibbled on some of his prize peas as well…

Pea pod 2

Our main course of uber-local lamb cooked two ways was pretty special too. The shoulder was slow cooked for about a year and half with enough Middle-Eastern spices to deplete a well stocked souk.

Lamb 2 ways

Whilst the leg was flash roasted and served beautifully pink. Some slow cooked tomatoes helped to marry the two styles of lamb together, like a squirt of ketchup does with BBQ’d meat…

Cake and cream

A slice of cake with fresh English fruit and stiff nutty cream brought our magical meal and adventure around the South West to a memorable close and sent us home wishing we could stay forever at River Cottage.

This is part of our trip around the South West.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Camel Vineyard Day Trip

Throughout our trip to the South West we saw fliers for Camel Valley vineyard. So on one of the less sunny days we embarked on the forlorn drive over Bodmin Moor and over to the Camel Valley, which is only a short hop from Padstow and the gastronomic wonders of Rick Stein and perhaps more interestingly, Margots.

Camel valley

The Camel Valley Vineyard has become increasingly well known and respected for their sparkling white and rose wines as well as for their fresh and not quite ripe whites. Given that these are just the sorts of wines Cowie loves to guzzle it made for an entertaining trip.

We picnicked by the Camel River before our tour, nestling in amongst the nettles and undergrowth next to a charming bridge with nothing but the trickle of water to distract us from our cured meats and salad. If it had been a bit warmer you could have convinced me I was in the Dordogne.

We were given a tour by Sam who is the son of Bob Lindo who owns the vineyard. They planted their first 8,000 vines 20 years ago and have been vanguards of the English wine movement ever since. They grown a mixture of grapes which seem not only tolerant of chilly English conditions but actually well suited. Given that the vineyard is not enormous, their main concern is one of volume. Their wine, apparently, tastes the same from year to year, but the grape yield tends to vary significantly depending broadly on how warm the summer is.


Because the climate isn’t warm enough for the grapes to ripen fully (much like Champagne) the wine tends to express the tart flavours of the English countryside such as elderflower, gooseberry, raspberry and a whole bunch of other limey-green, refreshing flavours.

Pink sparkler

We sipped our glasses of award winning wines on the balcony overlooking their vineyards and down the valley to Padstow. The Bacchus was like drinking a green fruit sorbet whilst the pink sparkler was beautifully rosey on the eye and better than any of the usual supermarket contenders from Champagne. We’ll be looking out for their wines in the future and can recommend a visit to anyone with an interest in seeing the embryonic first steps of English wine into the mainstream.

If your looking for other things to do on wet or gloomy days when your exploring Devon and Cornwall places then we’ve been recommended other excursions such as Sharpham Vineyards, Ticklemore cheese and a trip to the Helford Oyster beds isn’t a bad shout either.

This is part of a series about our trip around the South West.

Sunday 13 September 2009

King's Arms in Strete, Devon

And so to a pub called the King’s Arms in a village, next to Slapton Sands, called Strete. Meandering along this stretch of coast is like leafing through my lever arch file from my pre-GCSE geography lessons. Spits, spurs, tombolas and stacks whizzed past. I’d never really thought about these features as being anything more than just diagrams! And now I see what all the fuss is about. The scenery was breathtaking.

Our BnB, proudly displaying its Silver Award like a goodie twoshoes school boy wears his prefect badge, was a delight. It was hard to believe that our room was actually the loft on top of a garage. The view, overlooking this sensational stretch of coast, was awesome. Cows sloped past our balcony as if they had been told to frame our view.

View from room

We dashed down to the headland to soak in the remnants of the day’s sunshine and found ourselves lost for words by the beauty that surrounded us. We nestled down in the sheep grazed grass overlooking the twinkling bay and opened a bottle of chilled white wine, hit play on itunes and felt all the stresses of the world dissolve. Cheesy as it sounds, it was one of life’s perfect moments.

Saunton sands

Wine music view 2

Cowie smiling

We floated along to the King’s Arms in a blissful trance that didn’t disappear for the whole meal. The site of Diana Henry’s book on the side was a subtle indication that we were in for a memorable meal.

Gastro pub cookbook

Cowie’s fish soup was deep, textured and gutsy. As masculine as the Gurnard’s Head version had been feminine. It was the first of many confirmations that the King’s Head has a wizzard's touch with fish.

Fish soup

My herring roe looked horrific. Like small grey calves tounges or ash coloured giant snails. They’d not only fallen out of the ugly tree but clattered into every branch and twig on the way down. And then been snotted on. However, they were as ugly as they were delicious. They swam around in garlic, parsley and lemon butter which oozed out of my lightly charred toast. Dare I say they are they best thing I’ve eaten this year?

Herring Roe

Cowie’s skate with brown caper butter was everything that Sam’s wasn’t. It was perfectly cooked allowing Cowie to tease strands of flesh of like a child dissecting a cheese straw. The butter had been treated perfectly by a kitchen that could knock this dish out in its sleep.

Skate with caper butter

My lemon sole in a lime butter was quite unusual. The skin was gently charred and the flesh was perfectly moist. The sauce balanced the acidity of the lime with a touch of syrupy sweetness. I had worried the cooked lime may have become bitter, as it often does, but it had been handled by a pro and added late in the cooking.

Lemon sole with lime

We swooned throughout and left on the same cloud that carried us in singing the praises of such a first rate pub. It deserves all the praise it gets. Just don’t listen to a word of the drivel that the gaunt lady next to us was spewing about the lighting and the décor. When the food’s this good it’s worth travelling a long way for.

Kings Arms in Strete

On our walk home we stumbled across the Laughing Monk which was alive with gregarious diners. If you’re in Strete for two days, it might be worth checking out.

Laughing Monk

This is part of a series about our trip around the South West.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Riverford Farm, Kitley, Nr. Plymouth, Devon

 Riverford Farm Kitley

My tummy was grumbling. I was in a bad mood. (The two are rarely unlinked). The rain was saturating the whole of Devon with the view to the North giving me nightmares that the Baskerville’s psychopathic guard dog might attack us. As we zoomed past Plymouth, on our way to Salcombe from Fowey, I secretly prayed for a decent lunch. Moments later, out of the dismal gloom, emerged an outpost of Riverford Organcs. Look no further than this for proof of the existence of a greater being.

We’ve been to the Riverford Organics HQ before now and had a quite brilliant day out. The food was all fresh, organic, vibrant and very memorable. It was an experience that opened my mind to the amazing things you can do with vegetables. It made me realize that they needn’t be an afterthought. If you can get your hands on their cookery book, you won't go far wrong either.

Walking into their garden centre-esque shed we were bowled over that such an unassuming façade could be home to such a gourmet wonderland. They’ve got a butcher, cheesemonger, deli, bakery, café and an array of interesting wines on top of the produce that is sourced from their farm.

Overwhelmed by choice, I pointed at a stuffed pepper and a frittata to keep my increasingly noisy stomach quiet. The pepper was sweet and smoky and filled with a very mild lamb korma mixed through with rice and raisins. It was utterly delicious and has now found its way onto my “will cook for dinner” short-list.

Lamb korma stuff pepper

The frittata wasn’t such an enormous success. In contrast with the stuffed pepper, it was very bland. Some aggressive seasoning helped. I shouldn’t have asked for it cold… but then again I have an aversion to micro-waved egg dishes! I should have chosen something more manly, such as one of their incredible pork pies, scotch eggs or something on a slice of toasted sourdough. Or maybe even their Devon rarebit that's made with cider instead of beer.


Next time we’re in the area we’re going to build a pit stop here into our plan. I’m already dreaming of tucking into one of their fully loaded breakfasts whilst reading all the papers and then picking up some top notch provisions to add some fun to our campsite cooking.

They say their aim is “to create a vibrant, informative, hassle-free, fresh local food emporium” and they’ve certainly managed that! If only every town had one.

Riverford Farm Shop - Kitley

This is part of a series about our trip around the South West.


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