Saturday, December 21, 2013
I'll be the first one to admit it; I'm a food snob! I know I am. It sometimes causes issues between friends and family and can occasionally turn into lengthy arguments, or discussions as my wife likes to call them. So, when I visited both River Cottage HQ and the River Cottage Canteen recently I was shocked that, between the two restaurants, I preferred the Canteen.
As I get older and Michelin Stars matter less, only slightly less I'll admit, but less, and my realization that the price of a bottle of wine doesn't always equal quality, although most of the time it does, I find myself doing a bit of extra research into restaurants I choose to go to. Currently, we live in a world over-saturated with celebrity chefs, and I'm yearning for simple, delicious, reasonably priced food. It's abundant in France, one can dine on a 3 course set-menu with Foie Gras, Steak Frites and Cheeses for dessert (if you've ever read this blog you know I don't much care for sweet desserts) for less than the price of a main course in many of London's swanky Michelin restaurants.
Like everything else on the planet at the moment, the price is rising… fast! China and Russia are making billionaires like the BBC churns out period-dramas. With all this excess cash, those people are looking to spend it on western influences, especially Food and Wine. Burgundy prices are at an all-time record. Trucks carrying First Growth Bordeaux to be shipped need armed guards tailing them to stop any thieves, for the cost of some First Growth Bordeaux is souring! And, of course, celebrity chefs are being made at record pace and their restaurants are opening up in every city on Earth. I truly don't know when it will end, but I have to say, as exciting as it is, it is really boring me now. I long for the independent food truck, or the kid selling me deli sandwiches from a stall in a village market as much as I crave Michelin Starred Haute-Cuisine.
Ok, rant over. Back to River Cottage Canteen.
My wife and I dined at the Canteen for lunch before going to River Cottage HQ. I thought it would be a prelude of things to come that evening. However, having eaten in both of these restaurants I can tell you that I prefer the River Cottage Canteen. By quite a lot actually. The recipes seem to come straight out of Hugh's books (but modified slightly), which I use on a weekly basis. In fact, I am nearly through cooking every recipe from his Veg Everyday book and have cooked many meals from his Three Good Things. I find his recipes to be 80% brilliant and 20% filler. Which is incredible for a recipe book. There are 200 recipes in each book!
My Pulled Organic Lamb in a Focaccia Bun, served with Chips and thinly sliced Pickled Cucumber with a Salad was absolute heaven! It was one of the nicest things I have eaten in a long time. And so simple. The Lamb was as tender as it could be and as juicy as you'd want it to be. My wife's Onion Bhaji was pure brilliance. The best Onion Bhaji I have ever eaten! They were served with Yogurt and Tomato Chili Sauce. It was majestic. And of course, we washed it all down with a side of Chips, because one can never have too many Chips.
Comparing the River Cottage Canteen and River Cottage HQ is perhaps a little harsh. They aren't really comparable. If I was given another free meal at either of these I'd choose River Cottage HQ and I would go in the summer when it's warm and you can fully take in the farm atmosphere and truly see what Hugh is trying to achieve. If I had to pay I would choose the Canteen every single time. It follows the exact same ethos as River Cottage HQ but the difference is, it is incredibly reasonable. My Pulled Lamb sandwich was £12.50 and my wife's huge plate of Onion Bhaji was £6.50.
Getting out the door for less than £20.00 before drinks and tip while eating organic, farm raised food, in the canteen of one of the nation's best and brightest chefs… priceless.
If you don't fancy spending all your pocket change on River Cottage HQ but want to soak up some of the brilliance that is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, do yourself a favor and take a trip to Axminster and visit the River Cottage Canteen.
Please check out my professional food and restaurant photography: Taylor Young Photography