We were driving down to Wiltshire on Friday, minus the children, with an hour or three to spare. We were hungry. “Is there anywhere that we could stop about an hour from here,” asked my husband optimistically somewhere between Worcester and Gloucester trundling down the M5.
I scoured the map. We didn’t really want to drive in to Bristol as we were heading south-east of there, to explore the Somerset/Wiltshire borders. And then I remembered I’d been wanting to try The Ethicurean for a while. But where was it? Not quite in Bristol.
A Google search and phone call later we were booked in to this ethical, hyper-local, sustainable restaurant that sits in a walled garden south of Bristol. I say restaurant, but The Ethicurean is really a ramshackle greenhouse and shed, stuck to one corner of the Barley Wood Walled Garden. If that makes it sound scruffy, then you shouldn’t go. But if you love the romantic notion of sitting in the orangery of the very garden that the produce on your plate was grown in, and to hell with a bit of damp on the walls, or the wonky mis-matched tables and chairs, then this is the place for you.
As a gardener, an interiors addict and a greedy appetite for food, I was in heaven! Looking out, sipping cider from apples grown in the orchard, you could imagine Peter Rabbit might pop up at any moment and steal an organic carrot.
But, romance aside, the aims of this place are in credible. Virtually all of the food comes from the garden or is foraged locally, so menus are created each day according to what’s on offer. I was worried that we were visiting at possibly the worst time of the year – the winter season over, nothing would be growing for spring yet, apart from the earliest wild garlic and maybe some nettles and rhubarb.
I needn’t have been. They pickle and preserve what they can, so the beetroot starter with strained goats cheese was divine. They also make their own cider from the apples and even their own vermouth to go in the Negronis. Our other starter – cider and cheddar Welsh rarebit – did not disappoint. The cider and cheese had been cooked and turned in to a thick fondue, then spread on the doorstep slab of home-baked bread and grilled into submission. A sharp salad of winter leaves and pickled carrot in place of tomatoes, cut through the rich rarebit to clean the palette.
Our mains were even better – considering the chefs were cooking in a shed the size of, well, a shed, this was a miracle. My pork belly was pressed to squeeze out some of the fat and served with chipotle crackling, more beetroot, pickled apple slices and deep, forest green kale. The husband’s bavette was succulent and stylishly presented. We may have been in a garden but there was no heavy-handed presentation, the finesse of the food and it’s delectable flavours were matched by the delicate presentation.
Pudding? Sticky toffee apple pudding! It could have had more sauce – as the husband pointed out, it isn’t hard to whip up – but it was moist and treacly without being stodgy or heavy. All in all, we were bowled over.
The only thing we couldn’t understand on this sunny, blustery spring Friday lunchtime, was why it wasn’t packed out? People of Bristol, what are you doing?! Perhaps you’re already too spoiled for choice by great, ethical, locally-sourced eateries…