The Ethicurean isn’t exactly a Somerset secret anymore. The restaurant’s received tons of accolades, Michel Roux Jr made a Summer visit here for Channel 4’s Hidden Restaurants and the guys (self-taught Chefs Matthew and Iain Pennington), have just launched their first pop-up residency - on the rooftop of Oxford’s Street’s John Lewis.
Get ready for some stunning West Country flavours, London! ;)
Anyway, with all that going on, you could say the word is most definitely out… but when the word is all about sustainability, ethically produced food that packs some serious flavour, growing your own and always working hand-in-hand with local suppliers, we say let’s shout it from the rooftops - whether they’re in Somerset, London or anywhere else! ;)
To check it all out, we headed over to Barley Wood Walled Garden in the North Somerset village of Wrington - and yes, it’s as idyllic as it sounds! When we were there, The Ethicurean stole a pretty big piece of our hearts. How could it not, when you get magical Mendip views like these before sitting down to dinner...
This stunning Victorian walled garden was originally built in 1901, for Bristol businessman and philanthropist Henry Herbert Wills and his family. Some village residents can still remember playing here when they were young and when we arrived, we thought we'd make our own memories too by having a sneaky game of Hide and Seek behind the cider barrel out the front! ;)
To be honest, we had no idea what to expect as from the outside the sign, the barrel and the wooden wall (complete with built-in secret door), give little away about the fairytale beauty and inspiration beyond them. We decided to park at the bottom of the grounds (overlooking the round cider barn and artist workshops) and head uphill to the glasshouse restaurant, as it shimmered in the distance in the setting sun.
Walking up through the full-to-bursting flower borders, and the huge expanse of home grown vegetables, was an awesome way to explore on our first visit, as we made our way to the top!
The promise of a 5-course Pescatarian Feast, created with produce from the gardens we were strolling through, felt like it would be our precious prize after the walk - and the Somerset sky was on fire, with shadows dancing from plant to pathway.
Since moving to Somerset, we’ve been trying to learn about, and keep on top of, a pretty large-ish veg patch. Sometimes we’ve managed it, sometimes we’ve failed miserably, but when we saw the amazing space at The Ethicurean, we both just looked at each other with open mouths! Now this is what you call a flipping awesome vegetable garden...
A couple of gardens we’ve visited have left us with a bit of a feeling of hopelessness, to be honest. We're total beginners just having a go... how can we ever aspire to those standards? Well, The Ethicurean felt totally different. Although it's a huge plot, and everything’s clearly beautifully grown and taken care of by awesome gardener Mark Cox, there’s a really relaxed feel as you wander round. It’s as if the garden’s egging you on - encouraging you to get stuck in, get dirt on your face and grow your own mis-shapen carrots or squashes - instead of looking down on you from the top of a pedestal of perfection! ;)
Anyway, we got a real sense of renewed inspiration for our own garden seeing what was being grown here and we ran around like those excited little kids from the village did, back in the day... only we were shouting at each other about what we could try and grow at home next year!
For us, that’s what’s so special about the place. It gives you loads of hope and gets your brain buzzing – as well as being a stupidly romantic place to explore, have a glass of your favourite tipple on the terrace and a beautiful bite to eat inside the laid-back restaurant. It was our 6th wedding anniversary when we visited, so, you know... all those things made our day that little bit better! :)
And with that, let’s step right in to the restored glasshouse for the food and drink of champions (or people celebrating their wedding anniversary ;)).
We're a little bit in love with the relaxed authenticity of the glasshouse. It has a truly special feel and hasn't been restored to within an inch of it's life, so there's character in every original brick, wall-hanging lantern and mismatched table and chair - and when you sit down with a glass of wine and look out at that view... wow! The weight just lifts from your shoulders.
Studying the menu, you know you're in for a treat too! The ethos of using as much 'own-grown' produce as possible from the gardens means it's most definitely seasonal, reflecting the very best of what's available from the beds and plots outside. We're talking food minutes not miles! The guys are always thinking ahead too - fermenting and pickling produce to make sure that whatever the seasons bring, certain vegetables are still the stars of the show, long after the final picking.
Our melt-in-the-mouth trout course featured one of those amazing pickles, kohlrabi... and the combination made us grin at each other like idiots :). It was absolutely delicious. A beautiful plate of food and a cracking way to kick things off.
Next up were fresh garden tomatoes, sweet and succulent, with some creamy ewe's curd and dukkah. The signature pickled cucumber brought everything together with a terrific tang!
And here comes the cod, with agretti, tomatoes and edible flowers from the garden - adding a splash of colour and extra flavour. We both said 'awww mate' to an imaginary Masterchef Gregg a fair few times whilst tucking in to this pretty plate! ;) God that cod was goooood!!
And as if that wasn't enough, the Tandoori Cauliflower with hen's egg, apricot and almond packed a spicy punch before an awesome dessert of Milk Stout Cake, honeycomb, double cream and kefir. A sugary hug on a plate if ever we've had one! It was comforting, warm and genuinely wonderful.
We couldn't leave it there though, so we decided to make it a 6-courser and got stuck right in to the gorgeous selection of West Country cheeses. Well, as The Ethicurean says, it's all about celebrating the 'Ethical West' after all and we certainly did that... with sustainable bells on! ;)
I had the wine pairings too. Graeme was driving, but I was pretty happy judging from this!!
Drinks are something that are taken very seriously at The Ethicurean... and we're very serious about our drinking, so that suited us down to the ground! ;) Inspiration for their 'Spiritous Libations' is definitely taken from their Somerset roots and the 'sense of place' that shines from every part of the restaurant and gardens. One particular cocktail is made up of a local burnt oak cider brandy, with chipotle, vanilla and toffee apple syrup - and embraces the idea of exciting drinks that reflect the area we live in and love.
And let's not forget The Ethicurean team. They're ace - enthusiastic, knowledgable and throughout the night we could see that they're genuinely passionate about what they do and the magical plates of food they create.
We came away with beaming smiles and a whole heap of love for a unique Somerset gem that we'll definitely be back to, as soon as we can.
Our review in three words: err... we did that in the blog title ;) but, here's another nine to add to it: Ethical food and drink, with Somerset heart and soul.
We can't wait for our next visit.
The Ethicurean is open from Tuesday to Sunday. The menu changes twice daily. There's lunch (12pm-2pm Tuesday to Thursday; 12pm to 2.30pm Friday to Saturday and Sunday lunch feasts 12pm-3pm) and five-course full dinner feasts (6.30pm-8.30pm Tuesday to Saturday). These include meat options, Vegetarian and Pestcatarian. It's also open for morning and afternoon coffee, tea and cake. You can buy seasonal veg and flowers from the little wooden hut at the bottom of the hill next to the car park too, when available :)
If you're in London and fancy checking out the pop-up on the rooftop of John Lewis, Oxford Street , the guys will be there until Christmas Eve.