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 (She-Eats) and Rachel (Marvellous Mrs P), 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, 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.

Cooking with Kids: Homemade Butter

At the end of September I was lucky enough to spend a day at River Cottage with a gorgeous group of food bloggers and Foodies100. It was a marvellous day and you can read about it all here. But for me one of the highlights was making homemade butter from scratch. It was something I did at school about 25 years ago, but this was quicker and much more fun. So it was one of the first things I wanted to try with the boy when I got home.

It was very easy, fun to do and with an educational element we can all get behind. By chance I’d spied some yellow stickered cream in my local supermarket and at 25p for a big carton, it had “make me into butter” written all over it.

making butter

The recipe is from the River Cottage team, it’s not mine so I won’t even try and claim it as my own. On the day we all picked a variety of herbs, chopped them up and incorporated them into the butter, or you could just salt it like we did at home (it’s hard to get green bits in butter past the rigorous quality control standards of a small child). It’s the kind of recipe you can adapt however you want. Tarragon butter? Garlic butter? Thyme butter? You choose!

Homemade Butter

Make your own creamy homemade butter. It’s so easy and a lovely fun thing to do with the kids.

200ml double cream
Pinch salt, optional

Using an electric whisk, whip the cream until it looks like very stiff scrambled eggs. Keep mixing using a spatula until the mixture separates into butter and buttermilk. Set aside the buttermilk.

Using your cold hands, squeeze the excess buttermilk from the butter. Rinse the butter in iced water, squeeze any further moisture out and pat dry.

Put your homemade butter on a piece of baking parchment and flatten into a rectangle and sprinkle with salt, adding any herbs if you are making a herb butter.

Roll up like a swiss roll and put it in the fridge to chill. It is ready to use however you wish.


You can save the buttermilk and use it in another recipe, maybe in scones or soda bread.

It’s pretty quick to make if you use an electric whisk, you could beat it by hand if you wanted, but it might take forever. The small boy loved helping to whisk the cream, insisted on trying it when it looked (but did not taste) like scrambled eggs and he enjoyed helping to pat it flat, like play-dough but all slippy. 

making butter

It’s a lovely thing to do with kids, I think it’s good to teach them where food comes from and how it is made. Cookery, maths and science go hand in hand. It’s edible education and I think we can all agree that’s a very good thing indeed!

An unforgettable day at River Cottage

I remember watching the first ever series of River Cottage and being really inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Over the years we’ve followed him on TV, watched the move from the original River Cottage to its new base near Axminster and continued to be inspired by the River Cottage way of life. Hardly a week goes by without me making a HFW recipe, and when we went to River Cottage for a meal in 2008 it was beyond a shadow of a doubt THE best foodie experience of my life. It could never be topped. Or could it?

In late September nearly 50 lovely food bloggers made the journey to River Cottage, convening in the car park at 9am, ready for the very bumpy tractor ride down the hill. Since my last visit to River Cottage the original barn/dining room had burnt down and been rebuilt, and a shiny new cookery school building had been added. It was bigger, slicker, but still as beautiful.

river cottage

We were greeted by the team, ushered into a yurt and briefed about our day. We were split into three groups and we could each have a turn having a farm and garden tour, make some bread and butter and have a go at some food styling and photography with the ever lovely Lucy (aka Capture by Lucy). But first, breakfast canapes and coffee, all with a Devonshire view to die for.

river cottage

Jim, the affable assistant gardener took us first round the kitchen garden, and then around to the farm area where the chickens, pigs and polytunnels are kept. The kitchen garden is at the back of the cottage and is beautifully maintained. Jim explained the principles of crop rotation and showed us all the crops and flowers growing there. 

river cottage

The garden was coming to the end of the summer season, and every space is filled with lovely produce and flowers. 

river cottage

After our outdoor tour, we gathered in the cookery school kitchen with Head Chef Gill Mellor, who talked us through making butter from scratch as well as baking a fruity, herby soda bread – all done and dusted in an hour and a half. I was particularly taken with the butter, which we filled with herbs gathered from the kitchen garden. It was messy and fun and I was determined to have another go once I got home.

river cottage
My cheesy, herby, fruity soda bread.

With our bread cooling, we headed to the dining room for a much needed sit down and a bite to eat. When I last visited in 2008 I’d eaten the best meal I could ever imagine, so I had fairly high expectations.

I’m a vegetarian so I was presented with a wonderfully rich, delicious garden ragu, full of amazing herbs and vegetables from the kitchen garden, nestled on top was a wholemeal ravioli with a cheese and spinach rarebit filling and it was incredible (I’m drooling at the memory). On the side were some corn on the cob pieces which had been tossed in garlic and herbs and griddled to perfection. 

river cottage

I didn’t think things could get any better than the plate of food I’d just polished off, but I was wrong. The fennel flower meringue, coffee infused ice cream with salted caramel, honey drizzled roasted foraged damsons with molasses crumble was a triumph and a pudding experience I will never forget and I suspect one which will never be surpassed.

Lunch was also a great opportunity to chat and get to know a few other people. It was also I suspect the most photographed meal in the history of River Cottage!

river cottage

Post lunch we convened for a food photography session with Lucy. I’ve been to one of Lucy’s workshops before and everyone always leaves feeling incredibly inspired and with a few more tips, skills and props in their armoury. This was no exception. Though my photographs during her session we nothing to write home about, I have since taken on board a lot of her suggestions and I’m making some improvements – step one – buy a proper DLSR!

It was by far the highlight of my blogging career so far. Getting the chance to spend a day in such a wonderful place with wonderful people. I learned a huge amount about food and blogging and food blogging. I was a very, very special day. Thank you to Foodies100 and to the team at River Cottage for organising it. Next time I won’t leave it so long before I visit again.

If you’d like to read more about Blog Camp River Cottage, you can find out more on the Foodies100 website.