Saturday Night Feast at River Cottage HQ
Anna really enjoyed her Cheese-making course at River Cottage HQ a couple of years ago. So much so that I decided to buy her another trip there as a Christmas Present. It was a Christmas present that benefitted me as well as she wouldn’t want to go on her own, so I’d just have to go with her.
Morgan was away on a ski trip with school so we had decided to make a long weekend of it. We set off on Friday morning and stopped off in Chepstow so that I could go for a run along the Coast Path. We then headed to my parents house in South Gloucester for dinner. We spent the night there, had breakfast and then headed off towards Dorset. There was quite a bit of snow about so the countryside looked lovely. Fortunately the roads were clear.
There was only one stretch up over the Blackdown hills that was a little icy. Here huge drifts towered above us on either side. The road itself was OK and we were soon driving into Seaton. We were booked into the new Premier Inn here so we parked up in their car park and headed off for a stroll around Seaton. We had lunch in a little café and strolled along the seafront in the sunshine.
It was cold in the wind up by the mouth of the River Axe but it was a lovely day.
We then checked into the Premier Inn and chilled in our room for a bit. Dinner at River Cottage started at 6:30pm and was only about 8 miles away so there wasn’t too much of a rush. We did think about getting a taxi home afterwards as the dinner included wine. I was then going to walk back up to River Cottage first thing in the morning. We decided against this though as it was a little too far and the route wasn’t great so instead we planned to forego the alcohol and drive back too.
River Cottage HQ
We set off with plenty of time to spare just in case the country lanes to River Cottage HQ were snowy but by now the sunny day had all but melted any snow and the roads were dry. When we got there some people were already waiting in the little hut in the car park. We waited in the car for a while but then joined them in the hut as the tractor arrived. There was a large bowl of punch steaming away on top of a wood-burning stove. We didn’t partake in this but had our names ticked off by one of the River Cottage employees and soon boarded the large trailer for the tractor trip down the hill.
It was a cold, dark winters evening but the lights of River Cottage HQ looked welcoming as we approached.
We got off the trailer with about 16 other people and were directed to what looked like a nice cosy yurt with another larger wood burner glowing in it’s centre. Looks can be deceiving though as it was pretty cold in the yurt, even with our hats and coats on.
We were welcomed by a River Cottage employee who told us a bit about the evening that lay ahead. He told us about River Cottage itself, the farm produce, it’s pigs, sheep and hens, and the kitchen gardens. He gave us a few hints as to what food lay in store for us later and told us how things work. The kitchens would be open all evening and we were not only free to wander into them to take a look around but were encouraged to do so. They wanted us to go in and chat to the chefs, ask questions and see what they were up to.
Without too much delay we were then treated to a selection of canapés to go with the welcome drinks we had been given. There were three of four canapés all made from local, seasonal produce of course. The battered, spiced parsnips were particularly nice.
We then had an opportunity to wander around the farm a bit. It was a little too cold and dark for that really though so Anna showed me the kitchen workshops where she had spent her day on the cheese-making course and we headed into the barn to take up our seats.
Seats at the Banquet Table
As is often the case with more expensive dining experiences, you don’t get a menu to choose from, you just get what you are given! That’s the way it was for our very up-market tasting menu at the Michelin starred Ynyshir Hall, and that’s the way it was tonight. Not only that, but this wasn’t an intimate candle-lit dinner for two either. Instead we were seated on long banquet tables. Two tables, each seating about 30 people.
We were some of the first to take our seats and then sat there with some trepidation about the people who would sit next to us.
There were quite a few large groups who were all seated at the ends of the tables. The tables began to fill up but still there was no one sat to either side of us. Anna and I were opposite each other and for a brief moment our anti-social sides half hoped that maybe the people we were sat next to hadn’t made it. That wasn’t the case of course and soon we had two couples either side of us. Fortunately they turned out to be OK as we made small talk with them.
I was sat with my back to a door and all the while we had been sat there people were streaming in and letting in the freezing cold air. I still had my jumper on and hoped that once everyone was in the door would remain closed and things would warm up. The door did stay closed but there was still a huge draught coming through. Staff in the bar area kept opening another door as well and that let in blasts of cold air too so it never did warm up and my jumper stayed on.
I don’t usually feel the cold too badly either so I guess it was good that I was sat by the draught, but if I was cold then everyone else must be freezing too. Indeed they were as the blankets that adorned the walls were soon being removed and draped around peoples shoulders. I of course refused to stoop to those levels and neither did Anna but it was pretty cold in the dining barn.
Saturday Night Feast
Once were were all settled and drinks had been ordered, the chef came out to tell us what to expect from our 4 course meal. The online bumpf when ordering this experience said:
The Saturday Night Feast at River Cottage HQ is a truly magical event and a fantastic opportunity to bring a group of friends and family together to celebrate. Join us for a sumptuous communal dinner in our 18th century threshing barn and share and delight in the very best local, seasonal and sustainable produce.
You’ll be treated to a four-course menu of fantastic local and seasonal produce, planned on the day to showcase the freshest and the best. You’ll also share a bottle of wine between two.
After dinner you’ll unwind with coffee and petits fours (if you still have room), before being driven back up the hill by our tractor and trailer.
The chef introduced the menu and told us about their philosophy, the food’s provenance and how the dishes had been prepared. This was interspersed with wine recommendations to accompany each course as well. I can’t remember all of this and wish I’d recorded it but there would be a:
- A starter of pork belly with celeriac, hazelnuts and pears.
- A second fish course of locally caught Pollack, Hake and Flounder smoked that morning served with Jerusalem artichoke puree, leeks and egg.
- A main course of lamb with Moroccan spices, mint and lemon yoghurt, spicy cauliflower and cabbage.
- A dessert of almond cake with ginger ice-cream and fennel brittle.
Before any of that though we had a few more canapés. I’ve lost track of what was what but the beetroot ones were nice! There had been a sour dough baking course on this weekend as well so we were also treated to some sourdough bread with River Cottage butter and also some with a pork dripping and pickles. It was all very tasty but now I was getting hungry and was ready for the dinner proper.
The first starter was brought out and we were soon all tucking in. It was a really nice atmosphere and we were soon chatting away to the people either side of us. The people to my right knew our little part of Wales to a certain extent as they go to see the Rally around here quite a bit. I was therefore chatting about West Wales in between mouthfuls of the delicious food.
The pears that came with the starter were amazing.
The fish course was really nice too. We should eat Jerusalem artichokes more often!
The wine was flowing freely for most people but Anna and I were on soft drinks only. That didn’t dull the evening in any way though. The only thing that did was the fact that it was so cold in the barn. We we OK and I didn’t have to resort to putting my coat on as many people did but a few heaters wouldn’t have gone amiss. Luckily Anna had her heated insoles in her shoes otherwise she would have been quite uncomfortable.
The spicy cauliflower that came with the lamb was delicious too. In fact everything was, but those were some of the highlights.
By now most people were quite full. A bonus for me as it meant that I got to polish off the rest of the cabbage before the dessert arrived.
The almond cake and ice-cream was amazing. I just love the flavour of fennel and I’m sure there was some cardamon in there somewhere too. Mmm Mmm.
It was a shame that it had to come to an end really. By now Anna was quite full – a bonus for me as it meant I got to finish off the last bit of her ice cream. It didn’t quite end there though as next there was coffee and some petit fours. These were in the form of raison macarons and the chocolate truffles. There were quite a few of these left over once they had been handed out as well, so I had a few more later once we went up to pay for our drinks.
We didn’t hang around for too long afterwards as it was very cold and now quite late. We said our goodbyes, wrapped up warm, paid for our drinks and took the bottle of wine that we hadn’t drunk and headed back up the hill on the tractor.
It had been a great evening and we vowed to return one day in the summer when it wouldn’t be so cold and we could explore the surroundings.
Rounding out the Weekend
Back at the Premier Inn we settled down for a good nights sleep. We had a lazy morning and an all you can eat breakfast at Premier Inn before heading back towards my parents house. We stopped off for some retail therapy at the Mall and then prepared ourselves for the onslaught of a Cole Family Sunday dinner. There was only a small contigent of the Cole Family there today but that was still 13 people for dinner.
After another night at my parents house we headed off to South Wales once more for another Coast Path run and then headed home (via Burger King in Builth Wells).
A nice weekend away and I hope Anna enjoyed her Christmas present as much as I did!