During my recent weekend in Devon, when I wasn’t butchering various animals as part of my game cookery course (which you can read about here) I also went to stuff my face at the fantastic Riverford Homefarm Restaurant near Taunton. Riverford are the Devon based organic veg box people, who over the years have grown into a massive network of regional farmers and growers that get good quality organic produce all over the UK. I had no idea that they had any restaurants, until I’d started to hear good things filtering through from various foodie friends.
The restaurant itself is literally in the middle of nowhere. The best way to describe it is to think of a rural farm with some modern outbuildings and that is the location of the Riverford restaurant. The building that houses the restaurant is very modern but with strange yet beautiful shapes and angles and is extremely cosy. It was lit with lots of low lighting to make for an intimate atmosphere. The huge dining hall had an open plan kitchen and two long tables which must seat about 100 people between them. It’s a bit like a supperclub in that sense as you sit on the large tables with people you’ve never met before.
The restaurant opens every day for lunch on a £20 per person for 2-courses offer. It’s open only some evenings and costs £26.50 for 3 courses, a veritable bargain! You get no choice over what you eat. They are happy to meet dietary needs but otherwise you get whatever fresh produce is on offer that night. The starters were various ‘tapas’ style plates of food that were brought round in huge portions for us all to share. This included soft home-baked bread (but strangely no butter), salt cod croquettes, leeks with a Romanesque sauce and an absolutely stunning herby tortilla. These were all wholesome, fresh and full of flavour.
Our main courses were also brought to us ‘family style’ and there was more than enough to share round between us all. For us meat eaters the main event was a moist leg of lamb with a spiced marinade. This came with sides of potatas bravas, beans and carrots braised with fennel. Now, carrots are never normally my top choice vegetable but everyone agreed how moreish these were, a revelation! There was far too much food for us to polish off, especially as I’d been eating game all day long at Ashburton cookery school. However we forced down as much as we could manage as everything was so well cooked and a delight to eat. To be honest, we all agreed that we loved the vegetables so much that actually we wouldn’t have even been that bothered if the lamb hadn’t been there. The veg options were strong enough to sing for themselves.
For dessert the convention seemed to be that each table was invited to queue at the kitchen hatch and order from a choice, canteen style. The choice was fairly bog standard English fayre – cheesecake, pavlova, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate pudding, trifle, tiramisu etc. I went for sticky toffee pudding and custard. The portions were reassuringly large and rib sticking and were a satisfyingly naughty end to what was probably quite a healthy meal.
Drinkwise, I took advantage of being in the South West and enjoyed some lovely local ciders. I went for a vintage one that was lightly sparkling and not too dry. It was a good alternative to wine as I had an early start the next day and didn’t want to end up with a massive hangover, and it worked!
Overall the Riverford experience was brilliant. It was good fun to be whisked away to a random farm for dinner and it was a nice change to have vegetables at the forefront. I liked the cosy, supperclub style atmosphere and it seemed to be going down well with other guests too. At £26.50 I cannot believe what good value it was for all the tasty, quality food we were brought. I would certainly recommend it if you find yourself in Devon and fancy something a bit different that is guaranteed to satisfy. I’m still thinking about those carrots…