Sunday 3 September 2017

Coombeshead Farm, Cornwall

There's no way I'm going to make it through to the end of this post without being elaborately, embarrassingly gushing about my stay at Coombeshead Farm, so I may as well just get it over with straight away. This idyllic spot deep in the east Cornish countryside makes for as close to an ideal weekend away as it’s possible to imagine; an exquisite combination of luxurious country retreat and cutting-edge modern British restaurant, the fruits of artisanal animal husbandry and organic horticulture presented by a kitchen team at the absolute top of their game. It’s a wonderful place, and you should go as soon as you possibly can.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the details. Every inch of the Coombeshead Farm experience is magnificently polished or notable in some way, from the grand comfort of the downstairs living rooms with their well-stocked honesty bars and cookbook libraries, to the bedrooms themselves, softened with thick carpets, absent of ugly 21st century technology (though supplied with WiFi, thank God) and with views of the rolling emerald green countryside from every low-beamed window.

It may be a working farm, and though it feels brutal to point it out, a successful business, but where it counts it has all the securities of a five-star hotel, only a five-star hotel where staff fade in and out of focus enough to make you feel you have the place to yourself, and where you don’t need to lock your bedroom door.

Even the practical, working farm side of things are beautiful, though. The symbols of the place are of course the mangalitza pigs; these magnificent beasts with their thick covering of wire-wool hair trot happily around their enclosure (for at least as long as their services aren’t, er, “required” anyway) and is the image you wake up to in the west-facing bedrooms.

Other rooms look out over the sheep paddock and what has become a much-Instagrammed symbol of the farm - a grand row of tall trees at the top of a grass meadow, framed by hedgerows and resembling an impressionist painting.

So yes, the place is knockout stunning beautiful, but never mind about that now, we have pigs to eat. Alongside drinks in the farmhouse living rooms, the first snacks appear, beginning with a selection of house charcuterie including duck I think as well as the all-important cured mangalitza shoulder blade and sausage. All incredible quality, as you might expect.

With the charcuterie, nasturtium bud capers, punchy and addictive, and wild garlic “sauerkraut” so vibrant and intensely flavoured they were, for the few seconds before I tried the next thing to arrive, my favourite new thing in the world.

These crackers were made from waste breadcrumbs, soaked, spread out like porridge and then fried with honey, whey and thyme. They cracked delicately in the mouth, releasing a sweet, oaty flavour.

Leaves of lettuce that had been growing in the kitchen garden greenhouses moments earlier were spread with “walnut miso”, which complimented the hot, almost bitter lettuce stems for an interesting asian-tinged effect.

Snacks done, and rehoused in the test kitchen/bakery/dining room, our tables were soon laid with bowls of pickles, plates of tastefully dressed garden vegetables, and home-baked sourdough with homemade butter. This just above is a plate of grilled white beetroot with cultured cream and parsnip, a heavenly blend of dairy and earthy veg which satisfied on every level.

And this is kohlrabi (which we’d spotted in the kitchen garden earlier, elongated purple limbs holding themselves above the soil like weird alien invaders) dressed in walnut paste and various interesting dry spices.

Onions came in a stock made out of bread sauce (there’s a certain waste-free philosophy at Coombeshead, though just like the extraordinary Where The Light Gets In in Stockport, nothing is repetitive - ingredients are just teased into ever more interesting new directions), and buttermilk.

Chard and mint had an unbelievable depth of flavour for what is essentially some shredded salad. And look at the colour of it - so vivid they almost glowed in the dark. Cries of “oh my God have you tried the chard” went up every few minutes during the evening.

Once Tom Adams and his team had us sufficiently bowled over by the fruits of their kitchen garden, it was time to move onto the protein. Translucent-thin slices of cured belly came draped over what my menu here tells me was ramson (wild garlic by another name) and gherkins although I’m convinced there was lovage somewhere in the mix too because, well, I hate lovage and can sniff it out at a thousand paces. For that reason, this one didn’t bowl me over but a friend on the same table said it was her favourite thing overall, so I’d go with her if I were you.

Finally, it was time for the Main Event. A thick, medium-rare steak of mangalitza pork, with a flavour profile every bit as complex and rewarding as the finest slab of Jamón ibérico secreta, next to a lively puck of mangalitza sausage and a blob of sharp blueberry chutney. All at once it made perfect sense to hinge an entire restaurant-farm and foodie weekend around a single product - this was world class stuff, nothing like any pork I’d had before. Beautiful.

Dessert was various locally foraged summer berries, blitzed into a kind of chunky sorbet and laced with sorrel. Maybe. Look, we’d had quite a bit to drink by this point (wines are advised by Zeren Wilson, so were obviously a) rare and unusual and b) brilliant, particularly a sparkling Crémant de Limoux) and my notes have started including quite a bit of odd punctuation. We enjoyed it, is all that matters.

After dinner, we wobbled back to the farmhouse and got stuck into the honesty bar. At the risk of sounding like I’ve lost all touch with reality, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when sat in the cosy library at Coombeshead knocking back an Auchentoshan Three Wood, revisiting every course of the dinner that we’d just eaten with similarly intoxicated (in all senses of the word) pals. But that’s what Coombeshead does to you - it is an escape from reality so comprehensive and so powerful that you enter a kind of altered state of consciousness where you convince yourself you can stay here in this beautiful place forever, tending to pigs and weeding the artichoke beds in return for food and board. I can make it work, you say. Just give me that chance.

Breakfast the next day consisted of cheese and broccoli tartlets (straight out of the oven), lardy cakes (ditto), pots of kefir, homemade granola, various freshly squeezed grape juices, and - what else - glorious slabs of glazed mangalitza belly bacon. The thought of heading back onto the M4 and revisiting the real world became a deeply depressing proposition. We left, eventually - slowly, reluctantly, a final wave to the sheep and the chickens, a final couple of photos of the garden softened with morning dew - vowing to return as soon as circumstances will allow. And if circumstances didn’t allow, we’d go back anyway, dammit.

Coombeshead the restaurant alone is a phenomenon - a rare example of the kind of magic that happens when only the finest ingredients, treated in sympathetic and intelligent ways, are presented in exactly the environment they belong, a perfect harmony of hospitality, invention and flavour. But as you may have noticed from reading this far, Coombeshead Farm is way more than a restaurant. It’s a holistic foodie nirvana, a shining example of how a partnership between the land and the table should work when good people put their heart and souls into making it happen. And it exists right now, in 2017, in Cornwall. So what on earth are you waiting for?



Pleb said...

Medium rare pork?!

Unknown said...

Great review. How much would all that have cost normal people?

Chris Pople said...

Pleb: Am I being trolled by your username? Yes medium-rare, you can serve the best pork under.

Ben: Same as it cost us! £100ish (depending on size) for the room, £50 for dinner and whatever extra on drinks.

Hollow Legs said...

Tom did tell us about the lovage - we pulled collective faces, us lovage-avoiderers, remember? :)