It was always unlikely that the Story Christmas party was going to be run of the mill.
Top quality food and drink were an absolute given, of course, but beyond that the team were kept in suspense until we found ourselves whisked into the depths of the Bristol countryside en route to an idyllic kitchen garden and the home of The Ethicurean.
Its setting is unparalleled – Beatrix Potter-worthy rows of vegetables sit serenely inside a walled garden on a hillside overlooking the Mendips and the restaurant is set up in a former orangery at the top of the hill. With an open kitchen, wood burning stoves and pots and pans clattering in the background you instantly feel that time has stood still and you’re a million miles away from anywhere.
Its reputation precedes it somewhat (“The UK’s answer to NOMA” raves Fiona Beckett) so no one needed to do much googling en route. For those not so familiar, The Ethicurean is the bountiful progeny of some very talented, creative and sustainably minded-minds. The key players are writer, hunter and mixologist Jack Adair-Bevan, Paûla Zarate and Matthew & Iain Pennington who are the self-taught chefs behind the stove. The premise is simple – bold flavours & exceptional culinary technique fed by foraged wild produce. Oh, and with some interesting wines and homemade botanical spirits in the offing too.
After a productive morning of fireside brainstorming and business strategy, lunchtime finally arrived and it was our chance to find out what The Ethicurean is really made of.
The menu, which changes daily, reflects the owners’ commitment to preparing traditional dishes with an updated twist using ingredient pairings sourced on site.
To begin, the goat bacon (cured dangerously close to the table where we had been brainstorming earlier) was universally popular, rivaled only by the gleaming slab of Welsh Rarebit, grilled to perfection and dripping in cheddar and cider. Main course choice was hard but by now we were confident that we were in safe hands with anything we chose. From ling served in turmeric to 12 hour pork belly with cavolo nero and chipotle crackling salt and marvellous duck confit, all the dishes were loaded with ingredients of the very best quality and the flavor combinations distinctive and effective.
The wine list, bursting with European biodynamic and natural choices, was met with festive enthusiasm, and appropriate sparkling, white, red and sweet wines selected.
The wealth of homely pudding choice was appreciated but the sticky toffee apple cake won out, maybe it was something to do with the chilly weather, setting sun and Somerset countryside.
After lunch, we attended a Vermouth making class to try our hand at creating our own botanical blend that might just make it into a lucky family member’s Christmas stocking. Some concoctions were definitely better than others so it’s a good job there was ‘some they made earlier’ waiting in the wings for us to take home.
As we hopped into the taxi back to Bristol station, and reality, we all felt extremely fortunate that our Christmas ‘do’ had taken such a unique turn.
Whether you pay a visit for The Ethicurean’s imaginative cooking, ethical values, peaceful location or just for some damn good grub and friendly service, you’re guaranteed a memorable meal in a countryside paradise.