As a lover of all things seasonal, homegrown and foraged, The Ethicurean restaurant and Barley Wood walled garden has been on my ‘must visit list’ for a while, so I couldn’t believe my luck when a card popped into my letterbox last week from my gorgeous friend Emma and her husband Mike, inviting me to lunch there with them for my birthday treat. For those who haven’t heard about it, The Ethicurean restaurant is set in the Barley Wood Walled Garden, a stone’s throw from Bristol. The building itself is a converted glasshouse overlooking the plot, where almost all the fruit and vegetables they serve are grown, with a 180 degree view of the stunning Wrington Vale and Mendip Hills beyond.
We met a little early so we could spend a while wandering through the gardens before lunch. At the bottom is a lovely apple orchard, which was all frilly with perfect pink and white blossoms – I sampled a glass of delicious pressed apple juice with my lunch. There are also a few very lucky artists who rent studios and open them to the public, so I had a nice long chat to potter Karen Edwards, mostly about her clay garden sculptures and my own pottery experience at West Dean. Then we climbed up the brick path through arches of trained fruit frees to the Victorian kitchen garden, which has been lovingly planted with all sorts of old English vegetable varieties.
The interior of The Ethicurean restaurant is as lovely as the gardens outside – there’s no mistaking the ethos of the place from the decor. All around big jars of intriguing herbal oils and syrups line the windows, creating a natural stained glass effect as the sunlight streams through. I loved the natural elements to the decoration too, like table legs made from bark-clad tree trunks, and pine cones and vintage marmalade pots full of pheasant feathers decorating the tables. Although we’d booked to sit inside we couldn’t miss out on the amazing sunshine and the lovely staff quickly found us a spot outside in the sunshine. This was the view from our table… wowee!
The menu is an education in itself, and we found it almost impossible to choose as we wanted to taste all of the ingredients, many of which we’d never tried (or even known were edible!) before. Emma and I settled for sharing two of the tempting salads followed by a quince pudding (presented so beautifully it was almost a shame to dig into them) and had our tastebuds tingled by smoky goat bacon, ground elder, ribwort plantain and anise sherbet. We had to ask for the menu back to identify all the elements and flavours on our plates!
Trying out a place you’ve wanted to go for ages can so often end in disappointment, but The Ethicurean was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. The setting, decor, presentation and inventiveness of sibling chefs Matthew and Iain Pennington combine to create a magic that’s so simple in its approach but so exciting in its execution. If you’re in Somerset you just have to try this place!
[Photographs all Bethan John for Decorator’s Notebook]