River Cottage has now firmly placed itself on my list as one of my favourite places to go – this as a result of the blogger meet up last year, followed by the Gluten-Free baking course I did in the summer. When I was invited along to their Winchester canteen to celebrate the launch of the new River Cottage A to Z recipe book, together with the chance to finally meet Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, how could I refuse?
I love what River Cottage stand for. They have a huge passion for the food that they prepare including how it is sourced and it great to see that these values stretch across all of their canteens and not just at River Cottage HQ. The recipe book, River Cottage A to Z, also carries this through and contains information for more than 330 ingredients together with 350 recipes. Forget the fact that it could be a coffee table book – to me it could be an actual coffee table, it is that huge!
Arriving at the Winchester Canteen, Jane from The Hedgecombers was just behind me so, once we had both checked in, we headed for the bar to grab a drink. I chose a sparkling elderflower drink (thanks to Jane) and then, once Afra from Madmumof7 and Louise from A Strong Coffee had joined us, we were shown to our table. Also joining us were a couple who had won a competition with Riverford Organics. I think the blogger enthusiasm may have just rubbed off on them a bit!
Prior to the start of the meal, Hugh came up to address the room full of diners. He was just like I have always imagined him to be – and how he appears on television – down-to-earth, straightforward and personable. He stood, pint in hand, explaining the book and the fact that the tasting menu that we were about to experience featured many of the foods included in the book. These were, in fact, the ones which were in bold writing on the menu.
About the book, Hugh states ‘Ingredients are at the heart of everything we do at River Cottage. By gathering our all-time favourites together, I hope to inspire you to look at them with fresh eyes and discover new ways of cooking them’.
River Cottage isn’t just Hugh. He has a team of experts who all offer their own culinary experience on subjects that include fishing, foraging, bread-making, preserving and cheese-making and much more. In this volume they profile their best-loved and most-used ingredients. The entries cover vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, meat, fish, fungi, foraged foods, pulses, grains, dairy, oils and vinegars. The River Cottage A to Z is a compendium of all the ingredients the resourceful modern cook might want to use in their kitchen. The book is beautifully illustrated and photographed and I would certainly consider it a cookery bible!
The food was brought out as samples belonging to two people per plate. First up was a small cup of cauliflower and nigella soup. This was thick and creamy so I had to grab a fork to get to the bit at the bottom!
We were then served a delicata and butternut squash, shallot and mushroom tart together with Wash Farm cardoon bruschetta with honey and thyme. I just opted for the tart on this occasion – and it was delicious.
Next up was Pouting fish fingers with herby mayo and lemon cured herring. I hadn’t ever heard of Pouting, let alone eaten it but I would compare it to cod. Being a big fish lover, it was an extremely tasty dish and I really enjoyed it.
Our main course came next which consisted of EPA-braised Hampshire Angus beef cheek with parsnips, rabbit ragu with kohlrabi wedges and Quicke’s cheddar, celeriac and apple salad as well as an extra dish of saffron spelt.
I have to admit that I was not keen on the rabbit. Having never tried it, I tasted a little and, even though it was similar to chicken, it wasn’t for me. I did love the beef cheek though – it was totally melt-in-the-mouth. The kohlrabi wedges I would compare to hard roast potatoes and they were OK. I absolutely loved the salad and the spelt dishes – definitely two of my favourites.
A tasting menu can be decidedly deceptive and you don’t realise how full you are getting but, thankfully, as I have previously mentioned on this blog, my savoury channel was now closed and I opened up my dessert channel! Good job really as this was my favourite course of the day.
We were served an apple and chestnut crumble together with a piece of Rye chocolate cake each and a very tasty bay leaf syllabub. There were also some stewed plums as an added bonus which rounded the dessert off very nicely.
I have to say that, once again, River Cottage excelled themselves. The food was stunning. Beautifully cooked and full of flavour. The staff were friendly and accommodating and the surroundings were gorgeous. I cannot wait until my next visit – wherever and whenever that may be!
River Cottage A to Z is a great tome for any food-lover. So, if you would like to add it to your list you can find more information on the River Cottage website or I’ve included my Amazon Affiliate link below to make it easy to find. Simply click on the image of the book.
Disclosure: Thank you to the wonderful staff at River Cottage for providing me with this lunch. Please note that all words, images and opinions have been formed by the owner of this blog and have not been influenced in any way. Please do not reproduce any of the content or images on this post without prior agreement from Verily Victoria Vocalises.