The Venue – River Cottage
We’d be pretty surprised if you haven’t heard of River Cottage; founder Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall found his way into many households living rooms via his television programme, when he brought his seasonal and ethical food ethos to the masses way back in 1999 would you believe! Originally having a HQ in Dorset, it then moved to its current location near Axminster, where the farmhouse and farmland has been featured on many a TV programme.
During this time, River Cottage kitchens and deli’s have popped up in various spots too, including the nearest town to HQ – Axminster, with 7 canteens, kitchens or delis currently spread across the country.
The famous farm location has now become a full time events site, with Hugh living elsewhere nearby and splitting his time between East Devon and Bristol.
River Cottage HQ has evolved over the years and now has a cookery school, holds dining events in the 18th century Thresher Barn (some of which are hosted by Hugh himself), has accommodation in the newly refurbished 17th century longhouse, they are licenced for weddings and also hold their seasonal fairs and festivals. It’s a hive of food activity, always with seasonal and ethical produce at its heart.
So why were we visiting? We were delighted to be invited along to experience a Mid Winter Feast over the ‘Twixmas’ period; a chance to have someone else cook for a change, escape the house and where children were very welcome, and on a reduced price too!
Part of the joy of visiting HQ, and due to the fact it is in a little valley surrounded by 65 acres, is that every visit includes a complimentary tractor ride! The ‘tractor shelter’ even has a wood fired oven in to keep you warm whilst you wait. So in we climbed, with anticipation building of a scrumptious lunch on a pretty chilly wintry day.
Did you know that River Cottage now has accommodation? The famous 17th century longhouse was refurbished and repurposed in 2019 and now has 3 rooms available under B&B basis with shared facilities, or you could go all out and hire the whole property for a countryside foodie getaway. It is also part of the wedding package if you get married onsite! With a style of minimalist country chic, views out to the veg patch, cosy fireplace in the sitting room and a gorgeous aga in the kitchen, it’s been refurbished beautifully and sympathetically.
Once down on HQ soil, you head to the Yurt where a fire bowl is ready and waiting to warm you up, along with an equally hospitable welcome and a local cider brandy or apple juice, to awaken your tastebuds.
You have a little bit of time to wander around the farm, whilst they wait for everyone to arrive. A peek through the windows at the accommodation (although we were shown around for the blog, as per my pics above), see what’s growing in the veg garden, say hello to the chickens and pigs and also nosey in the cookery school.
The thresher barn, where communal dining takes place is a sight to behold; simple yet perfect. Two long tables laid up with fresh garden pickings, fairy lights strung across the a-frame ceiling, natural wreaths and herbs adorning the walls. A table plan lets everyone know where they are to be seated, amongst their communal dining buddies.
One of the chefs came out and talked us through the menu, whilst the fresh homemade bread and butter was passed around; they even advised us all we were welcome to pop into the kitchen and see them at work (not all at the same time, mind!)
- Starter: Pan seared pollock with squash, herb oil and crispy shallots.
- Main: Park farm beef two ways, parsnips, roast potatoes and cabbage.
- Dessert: Almond cake, cocoa and ginger sorbet and pears
The food was INCREDIBLE. Just utterly delicious – every morsel packed full of flavour, every texture the best version of itself. Silky, delicious sauces, tender fish, earthy veg, moreish meat, devilishly divine dessert…and when you think you have eaten enough, they bring out tea, coffee and petit fours to tip you just over the edge…in a good way of course!
A fellow couple of diners who we got chatting to and who had been before, said it was “roast dinner with knobs on”. I couldn’t agree more. Of course the menu changes constantly depending on what’s available and in season, (and they can cater for most dietary requirements if you let them know in advance); even though the main was like a roast dinner on this occasion, which you may think you could go anywhere for, the accompanying compressed beef was rich, unctuous and as good as any top restaurant could make – River Cottage is about the whole experience as well as high quality, ethically and locally sourced or grown produce. We loved it all, and our son really enjoyed himself too and he loves his fish, meats, and puds too of course!
Service was really seamless, with staff being really attentive when required, and getting food out in an organised fashion.
Yes families are welcome, but practically it is dependant on age of course as these things are sometimes and how good the kids are at sitting through a long meal.
With a tractor ride down to the farm and back up at the end (thank goodness after eating all that!!), little legs won’t need to walk anywhere strenuous. We were made to feel very welcome as a family.
There are no children’s meal options per se, as they eat the same as everyone else, but that’s great for young taste buds to enjoy high quality, delicious ‘adult’ food amongst everyone else. To be honest, our son (aged 9) hasn’t eaten off a kids menu for a long time as what tends to be on those sorts of menus is not what we’d normally eat at home as we’re fairly adventurous.
I didn’t see any kids activities during dining (colouring etc.) but we always take out playing cards and top trumps with us wherever we go – perfect for keeping young hands and minds occupied in between courses, it’s worked wonders for the last few years for us.
Occasionally our son would get up from the table and go and have a wander in the courtyard to stretch his legs. It would be good to have some colouring fun for kids (although perhaps considered a waste of paper) but I think a map of where the food is from would be good to educate whilst occupying them – just a thought.
I noticed they hold hands-on cookery courses for kids during half-term which could be really interesting, if you have kids aged 7 – 12 years.
We had a really scrumptious and relaxing time. I hope to visit again very soon – it’s the perfect venue for a date, kids free lunch, family outing and even a perfect opportunity to get the wider family together for some seriously good nosh!
Further dining events at River Cottage can be found here.
River Cottage HQ, Trinity Hill Road, Axminster, EX13 8TB.
Our meal was gifted to us by River Cottage; we have given our honest opinion and the blog has not been seen by them prior to publishing. All views are our own.