Tag Archives: River Cottage HQ

My Four Favourite Foodie Experiences of 2016

When I look back over 2016 there are very low points and very high points. Inevitably for a greedy person like me, many of my highlights involve exceptionally good plates of food, very good gin and some very special bottles of wine. I’ve picked out four of my favourite foodie experiences of 2016 for no other reason than to remember them makes me smile.

This year I turned 40 and as a very special birthday present my husband booked us into The Midland Hotel in Manchester. He treated me to an exquisite meal at The French. The French is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a couple of years and our amazing 9 course taster menu did not disappoint.

Foodie Experiences - The French The Midland Hotel Manchester

One of my favourite courses was the “salad” which was a beautiful (in every sense) plate of potato, ramson caper, black garlic & chestnut. The meal, the night, the weekend, it was all perfect. We’re looking forward to winning the lottery and going again some day.

In November a giddy gang of food bloggers descended on River Cottage HQ for a River Cottage style evening of fine dining. It was fresh, seasonal, local, beautifully cooked and expertly presented. River Cottage is by far (by far, even including the other amazing places I’ve dined this year) my favourite place to eat. If you can go, you really should.

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

Every plate was a delight, the prettiest was my starter of ravioli with celeriac purée, wild mushrooms and sage. This was a deceptively filling dish, perfectly autumnal and as pretty as a picture.

The next day we couldn’t resist swinging by the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster for a spot of lunch before heading home. We were not disappointed. I ordered a couple of small plates – a casual lunch of soup and a simple but incredibly memorable plate of roast celeriac, cauliflower and pickled ewes cheese with salsa verde.

River Cottage Canteen

Every mouthful was perfectly balanced. I can’t believe I only paid £6 for something which somewhere swisher would charge four times that at least. Amazing food at incredibly accessible prices – a rare thing indeed.

Back home in Manchester, I’ve eaten in a hundred different restaurants. Whenever I’m in town in need of a quick bite I almost always end up in the same place eating the same thing. It’s a favourite haunt of my North West blogger chums, it’s Wagamama.

Wagamama Spinningfields

Every time I visit I order a steaming bowl of yasai itame. It’s a big fragrant bowl of rice noodles in a spicy green coconut and lemongrass soup with tofu and vegetables, stir-fried beansprouts, red and spring onions, bok choi, peppers, mushrooms and chillies, garnished with coriander and lime.

It’s fresh, hearty, delicious and it feels healthy. I usually team it with one of their fresh juices so by the time I leave I’ve had about 800 of my five a day. It’s probably lucky I live a 45 minute bus journey away or I’d turn into a bowl of yasai itame.

I’ve spent a little bit of time scrolling through my Instagram feed and looking at some of the amazing dishes I’ve eaten this year. I’ve eaten in some really wonderful and memorable places, but these are probably four of my favourite plates, all for different reasons. All have stuck with me and have my mouth watering again just thinking about them.

Where I’ll eat and what I’ll eat in 2017 is yet to be seen, but in terms of good food, 2016 will be a hard one to beat. What were your most memorable dishes of 2016?

My Four Favourite Foodie Experiences of 2016

Lunch at the River Cottage Canteen, Axminster

River Cottage HQ on the Devon-Dorset border is a fantastic place to visit and dine. I went there recently with some friends (you can read about that here), but it is a bit of an occasion venue and not so much for every day. But we couldn’t pass up the chance to pop to the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster for a spot of lunch while we were down Devonshire way and experience a more casual River Cottage dining experience. 

River Cottage Canteen

The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster is a large cafe and deli. When we arrived on a drizzly Wednesday lunchtime it was pretty quiet, but it did get much busier whilst we were there. The canteen itself is closely aligned to the principles of River Cottage and everything on the menu is farmed, foraged, caught or grown locally.

We sat by the window in a cosy corner, we ordered drinks whilst we checked out the menu. The menu is written from scratch each day. The chefs come up with new dishes depending on what is available and what is good at that time of the year. The menu is split into small plates (around the £6 mark) and large plates (priced around £15). We opted for two small plates each and a portion of chips to share between us.

River Cottage Canteen

Whilst our lunch was being prepared we had a good look around the canteen and deli. There is good sized deli counter with a decent selection of local cheese and homemade pies and pasties. While we were there lots of locals came in for a sandwich or pie to take away for their lunch.

There was also a good selection of jam, chutney and other jarred goods, as well as biscuits and other goodies. By the open kitchen there was a display of River Cottage gift boxes, hampers and other products which would make great Christmas presents, they were well priced too and I thought they were good value.

River Cottage Canteen

We took the opportunity to chat to the River Cottage Canteen chefs who were very lovely and seemed remarkably unfazed by having three giddy food bloggers interrupting their day.

River Cottage Canteen

I opted for butternut squash soup with canteen bread (£5.50). I almost always order soup these days if I know it’s going to be fresh and not from a tin. This was a big hearty bowl of thick soup, perfectly seasoned and served with a big slice of good bread. I couldn’t fault it. I know it’s “just” soup and lots of people would think it a boring thing to choose, but for lunch on a cold November day, it was exactly the right choice to make.

River Cottage Canteen

My second small plate was roast celeriac, cauliflower and pickled ewes cheese with salsa verde (£6). The night before I’d had an incredible celeriac dish at River Cottage HQ, so I ordered this with a head full of high expectations. It may look like a casually thrown together plate of vegetables, but the celeriac was beautifully tender, roasted so the sweet celeriac was shown off to the fullest. The pickled ewes cheese was a new one for me, I was expecting a more vinegary, pickled onion taste, but what I got was a cheese with a hit of astringency which balanced the sweet celeriac. A seemingly simple dish which was so well put together it sang on the plate.

River Cottage Canteen

The chips? I’d like to say I managed to get some nice photos of the chips, but they were thoroughly snaffled before I got my camera out. My only regret was not ordering two portions. The chips were crispy on the outside and fluffy potatoey potato on the inside. Often chips just taste of the fat they were fried in, or of nothing much really. The River Cottage Canteen chips were how chips should be.

River Cottage Canteen

My bill came to a little under £20 for a two course lunch, drinks and a portion of chips. Because I’d had lunch at the River Cottage Canteen I got 10% off at the deli counter, so I did buy quite a lot of lovely things to bring home.

I loved the River Cottage Canteen. I know that it’s the kind of place we will pop into for lunch next time we’re in Devon. It’s casual dining with River Cottage flair, doing its bit to show off fantastic local produce. If you’re down that way, it is well worth a visit. I am so glad we stopped off to try it out for ourselves.

River Cottage Canteen & Deli, Trinity Square, Axminster, Devon, EX13 5AN 

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

I’ve been a huge fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall since the first series of River Cottage in 1997. I’ve fully bought into his snout-to-tail grow-your-own ethos and I love his enthusiasm for good food, be it farmed, foraged or from the high street. This month I had the good fortune to make my third pilgrimage to River Cottage HQ, near Axminster on the Devon-Dorset border.

The River Cottage dining experiences are not a budget affair, though they do represent good value for money, especially if you’re a bit of a foodie.

My first visit to River Cottage HQ was in 2008, it was a gloriously boozy meal, where strangers became friends, bonding over their shared love of Hugh and everything he stands for. It was a wonderful summers evening, we toured the garden, snaffled a few pea pods straight from the plant, ate canapés in the yurt and had the best meal I’ve ever eaten. Ever. 

This November I visited River Cottage HQ with my friends Claire (Good Egg Foodie) and Rachel (Vintage Folly), we were there to experience a River Cottage HQ Dining Event for ourselves. 

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

As a River Cottage veteran (I must be now, surely?) I knew the drill. I knew the tractor would meet us at the top and bump us down the hill to the farm, I knew we’d need sensible shoes and that glamming up too much might result in muddy sequins by the end of the night. I knew the drinks would be local and well chosen, I knew the food would have been grown, born or raised on the farm, and if not foraged or farmed nearby. I knew it would be excellent, and it was.

However, we messed up and arrived late. The gathering darkness brought with it a storm and we missed the tractor. We had to make our way down the muddy hillside track on foot; but we were warmly greeted, given a hot cuppa and a little canapé to nibble on. Once we’d thawed out we explored River Cottage HQ as much as we could in the dark and the wet. Thankfully I have two warm summer visits worth of memories, but the roaring fire in the cottage was enough to brighten the darkest and coldest winter night.

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

Before long we were summoned for dinner, I’m a vegetarian so I enjoyed a slightly different menu to my friends, but I wager it was just as good as theirs. The canapés were plentiful, imaginative and delicious. We began with whipped goats cheese with thin slithers of beetroot in cider vinegar with fennel fronds, little cheese on toast bites with piccalilli; blue cheese, mushroom and leek croquettes with date and green tomato dip and several slices of excellent treacle and seed bread.

Another canapé, and for my money one of the highlights of my meal, was the merguez spiced romanesco cauliflower with silky smooth cauliflower purée. An unassuming dish which packed in so much flavour, it was a real joy.

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

My first course (though after all those canapés, it felt like my fourth course already) was ravioli with celeriac purée, wild mushrooms and sage. This was a deceptively filling plate, perfectly autumnal and as pretty as a picture. There was perhaps a touch too much oil for my liking, but it didn’t detract from the dish.

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

My veggie main course was a crispy parsnip and potato rosti with a poached egg, carrot purée and a chunk of charred savoy cabbage. Every single aspect of this course was perfectly cooked and delicious, but I did feel it needed something to pull it together into a dish, rather than the sum of its parts. My poached egg was a double-yolker though, so I can’t complain really.

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

At my last meal at River Cottage HQ I had been utterly wowed by the pudding, so I had high hopes and I’m pleased to say they weren’t dashed. Dessert was a celebration of all things apple – an apple crisp, apple purée, a chunky apple crumble with a topping made from treacle and rye flour; but the showstopper on the plate was the honeycomb (or Hokey-Pokey if you’re Cornish) crème brûlée. That crème brûlée will live a long, long time in my memory. It was perfect and the honeycomb topping lent a deliciously different note to the crunchy topping.

Foodie Experiences: Dining at River Cottage HQ

Dinner was followed by coffee and petits fours; the hurried purchasing of a couple of Christmas gifts from the shop and a bumpy tractor ride up the hill to the car park. 

It was as close to a perfect foodie evening as you can imagine. The meal was virtually faultless, so good I want to book in again next year with my husband. For River Cottage fans and devotees, lovers of good food, or people who are just Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall curious, a dining experience at River Cottage HQ is a very special way to spend an evening and would make for a rather excellent Christmas present.

For more information about a River Cottage HQ Dining Experience, visit their website.

 

We were invited guests of River Cottage HQ and Foodies100, all images and opinions are our own.