Give your opinion on the ephemeral restaurant Fen Farm and Forage Kitchen 2021
Ed Sheeran has his castle on the hill. And, for just one weekend, Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore had their own pop-up restaurant on a mound.
It was a slightly windy start to Saturday morning, moving up the grassy shore in front of Fen Farm Dairy on the outskirts of Bungay. Battling the breeze in suede heels is no easy feat, let me tell you. But this view from above. Superb. Nothing but farmland, hedges, streams, grazing cows, a church in the distance.
The so-called ‘Restaurant on a Hill’ was a joint venture between the Crickmores and Rougham’s Forage Kitchen – renowned for its tasting menus that reach the heights of inventiveness. The two companies have a long-standing friendship, and Mel Evans, owner of Forage, has been passionate about really, really showcasing the products his chefs use in the kitchen for some time.
What could be better than exporting customers straight from the source?
And so it was that we and over 80 other people, including some of the big and good in the East Anglian food industry, found ourselves inside a marquee, ready to chew the fat off the Earth.
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First, as the light began to sink into the valley beyond, an open-air introduction by Jonny, framed by the pantry of his landscape. We’ve heard all about the family’s agricultural heritage and the hesitant first steps they’ve taken from dairy farmers to cheese makers. Today, their Baron Bigod brie de meaux style cheese is revered not only in the UK but around the world, exporting to Japan.
Inside, the set-up looked a lot like a wedding. Delicate floral posters. The buzz of chatter. Common tables where you fear to sit next to a drunk uncle.
Luckily we were placed next to a nice group – including Woodbridgian Tony (hello if you’re reading this) who is as much of a foodie as I am – in fact, we took pictures of the dishes almost in sync!
Tickets were £ 75 for the ‘do’, which included a glass of Flint’s sparkling pimpé on arrival and a flock of wines with the seven (yes seven) courses, designed to show off the wonderful ingredients of Fen Farm.
We started with, in typical Forage Kitchen style, a plate of playful canapes. A very delicate wild mushroom arancini, heady with truffles. A Baron Bigod ‘jammy ddger’. And a complex-tasting tapioca cracker loaded with pickled beets, Fen Farm curd and smoked apple.
After that palace teaser, we were all hungry for more!
And we were quickly rewarded with puffy and crispy slices of Penny Bun Bakehouse Suffolk smoked sourdough bread. This came with a trio of butters for the table. Alongside Fen Farm’s caramel-like raw butter in its purest expression were roasted chicken butter (the heavens) and mugwort and onion butter, which certainly sparked debate and discussion at table. “What is mugwort when she’s at home?” ”
The forage ingredient (said to be good for digestion) has a slight hint of sage which, combined with the onion, was a pretty delicious wrap when delivered on bread. It turned out to be the most popular broadcast of all on the night.
The “meal proper” began with a delicate appetizer of dried salmon with elderflower. Although I couldn’t detect much flora on the fish, it was beautifully healed. Firm, yet succulent and slightly productive. There were a few cubes of elderflower jelly scattered around, and I absolutely could have swallowed more. The dish was paired with a light buttermilk vinaigrette, peppery nasturtiums and a juicy marinated mouli.
When the main course arrived, the almost too loud crackle in the dining room subsided, in addition to the weird “phwoar” or “wow”.
When we opened our menus at the start of the evening, there was quite a stir caused by the smooth-sounding beef tenderloin with beef fat potato, marrow onions, smoked eggplant, black garlic ketchup and lovage. .
The absolute star of the show was this precious and most expensive cut of beef. Rose reddened towards the edges, with a well-rested medium to rare heart, it cuts like butter as the saying goes. No steak knife required. Every other element of the plate served to highlight and put this star into orbit. The potato was rich and crisp. Silky eggplant, with a smoky depth just barbecued. The lovage added an herbaceous note, again almost smoky. And the whole thing was carried by little puffs of spicy black garlic, sweet and sour, liquorice.
I’m afraid none of those next to me (myself included) were particularly taken in by the wacky Baron Bigod ice cream which, although paired with Mexican marigold powder with peach, raspberry and with tarragon, was too tasty and offbeat. Mind you, if they had served it with fig chutney and digestives at the end of the meal, that might have been a different story.
Everything was forgiven when the service staff spooned the delicious Fen Farm mascarpone mousse in front of us. A luxurious pad for the 70% dark chocolate cream, marinated blackcurrants and elderberries and the sparkling blackcurrant parfait. Pretty as a picture too.
We ended, of course, with a superb board of farm-made cheeses – Baron Bigod paired with sweet, spreadable and milky St Jude’s and the new almost Alpine-style St Helena, alongside crackers, nut bread. and red from Forage Kitchen. onion chutney.
A very local ending to a celebration of one of East Anglia’s most beloved producers.
But it didn’t end there, oh no. When we left, each guest was presented with a box of goodies – handmade shiny chocolate candies, flavored butter, ready-to-bake cookie dough, and Skyr.
I’m not gonna lie … we ate the chocolates on the way home. And… we couldn’t leave without a visit to Fen Farm’s 24/7 ‘farm shed’, where vending machines sell all kinds of gourmet treasures, from their dairy products to local cakes, coffee, with meat and eggs.
Armed with a bun to share in the morning, a vat of raw milk and hot chocolate to accompany us on the hour-long journey, we moved away from the hill and into the night, having experienced something really very special.
Fen Farm products are available at farm shops, delis, food stores and restaurants across East Anglia and beyond. And you can also buy online at fenfarm.co.uk
Forage Kitchen is currently looking for its next pop-up location. Keep an eye on their social media accounts for more details.