Monday, 11 March 2019

An evening out at River Cottage HQ

We wait in the car as the rain pours down outside.

There's a shelter opposite and a few people in there are enjoying a hot drink. We put the windscreen wipers on and we see steam coming from the cups.

We make a dash for it and squeeze into the shed as more people arrive. The hot drink is mulled apple juice and it's very fine indeed.

Our names are ticked off by a lady with a clipboard, and then the tractor and covered trailer arrives and we're squashed inside it next to complete strangers and they're all animated in their excitement.

River Cottage celebrates its 20th birthday this month. We've seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's baby from the very beginning and watched it grow. Mr Grigg is in one of the early episodes of the television series, captaining the peasants' cricket team against the toffs.

It's become part of what West Dorset (and East Devon more recently) is known for. Most people here this evening are from away and are staying locally in hotels, guest houses and B&Bs. We must be the only locals.

Both my children have sampled its delights and thanks to a Build and Bake course taken by Mr Grigg, we now have a clay oven out in the garden called Jabba the Pizza Hut. It's even made from clay from a local field. And now I've finally made it here, too.

And we're all set for a superb evening.

Down the hill in the trailer we go and there's lots of babbling and chatter from the twenty-five or so people on board. At the bottom, we're ushered into a large yurt with a log fire in the middle and enjoy elderlflower champagne and some rather spiffing canapes. There's farmhouse rarebit, cauliflower hummus on rye cracker and then, down in the barn, purple sprouting broccoli with blood orange hollandaise sauce.

By now we've been joined by the second trailer load and the place is buzzing. We're sitting next to complete strangers again, whose names we have memorised from the seating plan.

This is a place that excels in cooking beautiful dishes using local produce. And, for us, the Dorset theme continues with a tall glass of smooth Black Cow Vodka and tonic for me while Mr Grigg enjoys a nice G&T, with Conker Gin with our canapes.

More dishes arrive and I struggle to write down the ingredients that were rattled off earlier. I'm writing the old fashioned way, shorthand in my notebook, while the young chap next to me is tapping it all into his phone. By the end of the evening, we compare notes and this is an approximation of what comes next:

Air dried beef, rendered down pork dripping with onion, house pickles, radish salad.

Baked celeriac puree, pear, crispy kale, pumpkin seeds, preserved lemons, sage, tamari and olive oil and goats cheese with rosemary.

Beetroot, soft-boiled egg, anchovy and garlic. tamari and balsamic vinegar, parsley, chives and chervil.

Leg of lamb, chargrilled and finished in butter, in a red wine sauce with cubes of haggis made from the offal, parsnip puree, whole red onion and a salad of red Russian kale, pickled brine and garlic and spicy dressing.

Fennel and bay pannacotta with blood orange, raw rhubarb and gingernut crumble.

Then there is coffee or tea with sweets. I'm so stuffed by this stage I don't eat them and I've lost the will to write down what they are.

This is all washed down by an excellent selection of reasonably-priced wine.

With two really warm and interesting couples either side of us, both of whom are staying locally, the evening passes by really quickly. By the end of it, they're not complete strangers at all.

The food, ambience, service and ethos has been fantastic.

So thank you, River Cottage and Mr Grigg, for a wonderful evening. It was everything I hoped for, and more.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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