I was a little apprehensive about going to the Ethicurean as I was worried it might not live up to the hype. Friends based in Newcastle have heard how good it is and managed to shoehorn it in to their holiday en route to Cornwall. Luckily for me I wasn’t at all disappointed.
The drive to the restaurant from Bristol is itself impressive, winding down some hilly country roads before ending up in the car park of the Barley Wood Walled Garden. It is a beautiful looking place – as though it could belong to the National Trust. The Ethicurean restaurant is set in an old Victorian winter garden with long wooden tables and jars of pickles on window sills. It has an intentional rustic charm with an obligatory wood burner roaring in the corner and vases of wild flowers on each table; all of which adds to its English country garden feel.
It goes without saying that there is a strong sense of ethical, responsible and sustainable cooking going on at the Ethicurean. After all, it’s in the name. They strive to look for alternatives to imported produce by looking closer to home for ingredients which include foraged leaves or food grown within the Walled Garden itself. They are therefore dependent on the head gardener at Barley Wood, a man with a passion for heritage and heirloom vegetables. They are also therefore dependent on the changing seasons, good weather and a spot of good luck.
The menu looked wonderful, with plenty of interesting choices for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. There were no crazy flavour combinations going on but a real sense of trust in high quality ingredients and letting the food speak for itself. According to their blog the Ethicurean team: “looks for ways to update and innovate historical recipes that highlight the bounteous nature of our land. Embracing the limitations of nature has, for us, spurred unbounding creativity.”
It sounds like a lot to promise from what is just a restaurant with a kitchen garden. But I think they’re got it totally right. The recipes are creative and they taste wonderful while care and attention is used with each and every plate.
I ordered the beetroot carpaccio and honeyed walnuts to start. When my plate came out it was beautifully presented with colourful red and yellow slithers of beetroots and more importantly, it tasted divine. My main course, mushroom and English truffle bread pudding with cavolo nero, was outstanding. I have a weakness for mushrooms and truffles. Every mouthful seemed to get better than the last and I found myself purposefully trying to eat more slowly in order to savour the experience. I often find I don’t have room for pudding, but the portion sizes were perfect which meant there was just enough room to squeeze in a desert. I had an incredibly rich dark Montezuma chocolate brownie with salted caramel which was divine, rich and sumptuous – just as a chocolate brownie should be.
It wasn’t just me who enjoyed my meal. The group of friends I came with were all very impressed. We spent most of the meal comparing dishes and tasting each other’s food; a definite sign of good grub! The waiter was also very knowledgeable, explaining which ales were best, what wine we should have and which deserts were his personal favourites.
The team behind the Ethicurean have picked up a host of awards, including Observer Best Ethical Restaurant 2011 and the Michelin Guide Bid Gourmand 2013. But it’s not just the restaurant the team are in charge of. They have also hosted a series of events and pop-up restaurants which have included a Mexican yurt on a Brecon hillside and a BBQ from the back on an ambulance at the Mongol Rally launch. Last year was also a big year for them as they launched their self titled cookbook which is available from to buy from Amazon here.
I’ve told pretty much everyone I know how wonderful this restaurant is and I honestly can’t wait to go back to this magical and colourful little place nestled in the hills.
Well worth a visit – be sure to book.
Barley Wood Walled Garden