I’ll get my excuses out of the way early. I’ve been meaning to go to The Ethicurean for quite some time but have never made it. Until today.
Bad excuse and reason to pull my finger out number one: It is situated around 10 miles from our house in Bristol and, not being cyclists, realistically it means driving out there, for which I’d have to be the designated driver. When there are so many good places to eat in and around town to which we can walk somewhere else has taken precedence when we’ve been choosing a restaurant.
Rubbish excuse and reason to just head on over there number two: The Ethicurean struck me as the kind of place you’d want to visit on a good day, not in the depths of winter. A bright, warm, sunny, spring day like today is an ideal day to go but having visited, I can imagine going back time and again, in all seasons. Yes, there are the gardens to wander round which is always going to be more pleasant when it’s dry but the café is set up to accommodate all weathers.
The Ethicurean was, until recently, one of Bristol’s best kept secrets. It’s a café (you could argue it’s a restaurant) within the grounds of a stunningly beautiful, organised and expansive walled garden and orchard. It’s that kitchen garden and orchard as well as local produce (foraged, shot, donated or ethically sourced) which inspires Chef Pennington and his team in their compact kitchen.
The lunch menu was relatively short (five or six choices for each course) but varied enough. Thought had clearly gone into what could be produced for such good value within the confines of their small premises and from the seasonal produce available. It wasn’t overly ambitious but neither was it uninteresting.
The produce was the true focus of each of the dishes, no more obvious than in my starter of St George mushrooms; a raw assembly of thin slices of mushroom, jonogold apple, mint and ribwort plantain. Everything tasted so fresh and was bursting with flavour.
Jed’s ham hock consommé was as equally fresh tasting and at the same time satisfying and soothing. Perfectly clear, slightly salty and intensely ‘hammy’, it contained decent chunks of ham hock, fresh wilted rainbow chard and a poached egg.
The goat in my meatballs and Jed’s roast beef were incredibly flavoursome. It perhaps sounds like mumbo jumbo to some but I’m convinced that the flavour and texture of the meat we ate was the result of well-cared for, bred, slaughtered and butchered animals. These were animals which had had a good diet and a good (albeit short in the case of the goat) life and were so much more enjoyable as a result.
The vegetables from the garden tasted like vegetables should taste and, I’d like to say that these guys can make mashed potato. It was probably laced with pounds of butter but boy did it taste good!
Not having a sweet tooth, for me it was an obvious choice to end the meal; the cheese platter. A very generous portion of Old Demdike, Gorwydd Caerphilly, Keen’s Cheddar and Blue Vinny with a wonderful carrot pickle, onion marmalade and membrillo. Incidentally, if you’re not driving you might like to have a taster of their homemade membrillo vodka!
For Jed, however, it was a much more painful decision to make. Clearly the Ethicurean know how to make desserts and cakes. With the choice narrowed down to two, it took some recommendation from the waiter to arrive at a final decision of a bit of both! Their signature sticky toffee apple cake (people have threatened to kill them for the recipe) with rhubarb and elderflower cream was gone in minutes to a soundtrack of mmmms. I believe it was good!
The place and staff are relaxed, they’re happy to talk to you about the gardens, the food and its provenance as well as make recommendations. You can even buy some of their produce (jams, apple juice, vegetables and plants) to take home with you.
The view from the dining room is impressive and on a day like today it’s the kind of place you just don’t want to leave.
No more excuses. No more holding back. When the mood takes me, I’ll be there in a flash!
Thank you to througheye for the photos.