Dressed up to the nines, the Husband and I trucked the children out to the countryside on Friday night to celebrate the Summer Solstice. This was a rare opportunity given nights out in finery are highly unusual nowadays, thanks both to my exhaustion levels and my usual uniform of soup-splattered dungarees, which is pretty much stuck to me with, er, soup.
Wearing THE dress that I have been waiting for 30 years to inherit
Our hosts for the evening were the lovely people of the Ethicurean, winner of the Observer Food Monthly’s ‘Best Ethical Restaurant’ in 2011. Run by four young friends, it is a special little place set within the beautiful surroundings of Barley Wood Walled Garden, a fully-restored and working Victorian walled kitchen garden in Wrington, all nestled in the lush rolling North Somerset hills.
Promising a ‘Solstice Feast’ and a ‘Somerset Cabaret’, the night did not fail to provide a belly-full of food and belly-aching laughs. Better still, our little children were welcomed and cooed-over, which was rather special given that eating-out in the evening in the UK is often seen as a very grown-up affair.
Check it. Jim Parkyn on the gramophones, boooom!
We arrived as the weary sun rested its chin on the horizon, and walked through the apple orchard as gramophone records span out scratchy tunes (of which one happened to be the children’s favourite, ‘Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea’. Thanks Jim!). But this was an unpretentious do. People were here to feast together and celebrate the longest day of the year in a modest and charmingly eccentric fashion.
The chef brothers, Iain and Matthew Pennington – sourcing most of their ingredients from the garden itself – put together beautiful dishes that I imagine hark back to mealtimes before the Inclosure Acts; traditional english countryside fare, seasonal and foraged, and strangely exotic-sounding, which is somewhat ironic as there is nothing un-english about ‘pickled sea ribwort plantain’. And their ‘Solstice Feast’ was true to form.
We were sat at a table with three other couples who were all very lovely and interesting, and the conversation flowed as we picked from the feast’s sharing platters. At first with the sort of trepidation and politesse one expects from a table of British strangers, until my brash Jewish Essex roots took hold and I grabbed at the pork pie. Not before, of course, admiring the beautiful presentation of the plates, each frosted with edible petals and verdant with vegetables and herbs.
Once upon a time, I was a brazen teenage supermarket sausage roll eater, so I was more than happy to indulge my taste buds a trip down memory lane when presented with a gigantic slice of hand-raised pork and lovage pie, and a cabrito goat, maple and sage sausage roll. Both were scrumptious, the pastry fine and flakey, the filling flavoursome and full-bodied. Sadly for me, my three-year old daughter clearly shares my gene for the love of pastry-wrapped meat parcels and ended up eating more than me. The horror that there wasn’t enough piccalilli – which was divine – was soon appeased by a refill of the tart yellow sauce.
Hand-raised pork and lovage pie with piccalilli
The Husband and our one-year old son shared the vegetarian option: a St George mushroom, celeriac and sweet cicely puff pastry and a lovage, potato and westcombe cheddar filo pastry, which I was informed were quite delicious although half of each were dropped on the floor or smeared into The Husband’s clean-on trousers.
The salad of flame roasted peppers, burnt little gem, potato, Dorset Blue Vinny crème fraîche and coriander was crunchy, creamy, earthy and smoky all at once, and went quite nicely with my cocktail of bourbon, Pedro Ximenez and ‘smoke’, thank you very much.
Aside from the meaty pastries, one potato, a bit of pepper and a bite of lettuce, our daughter pretty much ate the whole basket of bread (to feed a table of 8 adults), which she herself smothered with the Maryland summer butter, first with an Alice in Wonderlandish giant knife and then with her finger. And then the bread didn’t even factor in – finger went straight from butter dish to mouth, and back again. I don’t blame her, the malted sourdough, seven seed and dark rye were very, very good.
The final savoury dish, pearled spelt, mushroom and rainbow chard terrine, was nutty and earthy of flavour, and the chard offered the taste of a wet summer’s day. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish it in the leisurely way that normal people eat because I was half-running out the door to take my daughter to the loo.
Pudding was presented to the whole restaurant on a gigantic lump of wood, on which there sat a party of salt caramel and lavender chocolate brownies, and elderflower marshmallows on a sticks. Naturally, each of our children were quite happy to take the toasted, floral-tasting marshmallow from his/her parent and tug at its chewiness with their angel-lipped mouths, whilst their parents begged for a bite. The brownies, damp, deep and rich in chocolate and tingling in saltiness, were wrestled by The Husband and I for they were ours, ALL OURS.
The Barley Wood Mummers
After the feast, we were invited outdoors to sit in the garden. The beautiful, beautiful garden. Looked-after by über-talented Mark Cox, Barley Wood Walled Garden itself is a sight to behold: bushy box hedges lead you around muddy beds lined with heritage and heirloom edibles, fruit trees splay their fruit-filled arms across the clay-red walls, and a backdrop that looks painted-on. Here we sat on higgledy wooden benches, clutching our children and/or drinks, and delighted in the cabaret, which unfurled on the raft-like wonky wooden stage, which floated over the grass as the sun set over the West Country.
Jack Bevan, one quarter of the Ethicurean, looking the part
Billed as “Imagine if the Wurzels ran the Moulin Rouge… with a Somerset backdrop to rival the Minack Theatre”, we were not disappointed. We chuckled at the Barley Wood Mummers, adored at Lori Campbell and Tilly, laughed out loud to the rude ukulele music man, and admired Jim and Leah Parkyn’s beautiful costumes and props. And as the actors bowed, so did we, tucking our babes into the car before heading back into the city with Cheshire cat grins on our faces and the taste of the countryside on our lips.
Amongst the entertainment, the children find a hook to play with. (Lets just say I have a laissez-faire attitude to parenting.)