Muddy eats: The Ethicurean, Wrington
Just look at the colours (and textures) on that plate. No filters or tricks with the camera, the food really looked like that, moments before I snaffled it up at my recent birthday lunch at the award-winning restaurant The Ethicurean up at the Barley Wood Walled Garden in Wrington, North Somerset.
The Ethicurean serves up an innovative, vegetable-focused menu that’s earned it masses of accolades, including a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand, in the former glasshouse of a restored Victorian kitchen garden. The menu might be rather fine dining but the atmosphere is extremely relaxed; dogs are welcome to sit under the tables while their owners eat, at least at lunch time.
The brains behind The Ethicurean are self-taught chefs and brothers Matthew and Iain Pennington, Mexican-born Paula Zarate and ‘writer, hunter and mixologist’ Jack Adair-Bevan, who work alongside Mark and Linda Cox from the Barley Wood Kitchen Garden. The restaurant’s founded on what they call a ‘sense of place’, by which they mean the idea of a connection with the land, its history and the people who grow food on it. So much of the food is grown within the Walled Garden itself or ethically produced, hunted or foraged in the surrounding area.
There’s nothing much to see from the road (it’s a walled garden, innit?), just a sign for the Barley Wood Walled Garden with the words ‘The Ethicurean’ in unobtrusive lettering above.
You can walk through the arch under the sign to get to the restaurant or drive down to the little parking area at the bottom and then walk back up through the Walled Garden – the long, low building top right is the glasshouse-turned-restaurant.
On a summer’s day, sitting out at the wooden tables in the garden would be delightful but not in February, thank you very much, so we headed inside, past the bustling kitchen area…
…to find seats in the old glasshouse. It’s been restored but not overly, with the original brick floor, whitewashed brick walls still studded with metal hooks to hold espalier fruit wires and rough-hewn wooden tables and mismatched chairs.There’s a smaller modern annex too, where it wasn’t quite cold enough for the wood-burning stove to be roaring away. See the hooks for the wires again?
First, a ‘spiritus libation’, a sip or steadying drink while perusing the menu. They grow and press eighty varieties of apples to produce their own apple juice, make a house vermouth called The Collector, stock beers and ciders from across the West Country and have a short European wine list – or you can have a glass of Somerset tap.
The menu changes twice daily. There was a choice of four starters, some of which included ingredients I’d never heard of : carrot (I did recognise that one) and fermented ginger soup, pearl las (I did ask, but I’ve forgotten) and dukka (an Eastern spice/herb/nut condiment); a cuttlefish puy lentil stew with smoked pollock and confit egg yolk; a cheddar and cider Welsh rarebit and gert (nope, sorry) salad; and lastly, pan-fried mushrooms, celariac puree and parsnip crisps – which tasted as fantastic as it looks.
There was a choice of five mains: two meat dishes (fashionably earthy pork belly and ox cheek); one fish, this pan-fried pollock, with Jerusalem artichoke puree, purple sprouting, crispy capers, pickled shitake and bottaga (smoked roe) and edible bright yellow radish flowers…
…and two veggie options, including this spectacular pan-roasted Romanesco cauli, cardamon labneh (strained yoghurt), butter bean puree, kale, spiced seeds and ewe’s curd. There were sides of sauerkraut and salad on offer but they didn’t seem necessary.
Although, strangely, dessert (almond, pear and cardamom cake) did.
There’s a perfect postcard-like view out overlooking the garden over to the Mendips beyond which I imagine gets even better in the spring when the plants start growing in the Walled Garden.
I love the idea of coming back to the same table throughout the year and seeing the gardens and view changing from spring through summer, autumn and onto winter. Definitely a place to return to. Ooops, forgot to mention the service. It was great: friendly, efficient and the waiters even brought water for those dogs.
Good for: foodies, veggies (though not exclusively vegetarian, the dishes that are, are a main attraction not an afterthought) and adventurous eaters.
Not for: families with children: there’s not much on the menu that would appeal to most kids although they do have a burger night on Tuesday (though I’m guessing that they’ll be unlike any other burger you’ve ever tasted); those who like meat and two veg
£££: moderate. Lunch: starters £8; mains £10-21; sides £4-5; desserts £5-8. Evenings: 5-course full feast set dinner £39; Tuesday Burger Night burgers £9.