Sunday, April 10, 2011

River Cottage Canteen, Axminster

Somewhere out in that vast, cold, English wilderness lies my lunch. That's not to say it's waiting to be trapped, shot or enticed into the back of a windowless van; it's actually in Axminster, which is pretty much wilderness country given the length of time I'd spent holidaying recently in the hubub of London. Axminster, located in Devon, is home to the River Cottage Canteen, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's eatery, offering nosh made from goods and produce sourced from both River Cottage HQ and its locale, the south west of England. I'm a big fan of the lad, and wanting to see what was on offer, found myself seated on a train with my sister, hurtling across Britain's cold bottom for a spot of lunch.

Two hours later we arrived in Axminster, leaving the warmth of our carriage to brave the cold walk up to Trinity Square, site of our lunch destination. Incidentally, I saw my first ever pair of trainspotters en route, standing on one of the platforms we pulled into. There they both were, notebooks in hand, writing down details of trains as they came by. On reflection, they might have been terrorists. One of them did after all have a beard; she had a pleasant face, too.

We walked into what was a very busy and packed Saturday lunch service. Fortunately, we only had to wait for about 5 minutes before we were seated by what was possibly Britain's youngest waitress, a very polite and efficient wee thing who ferried us into a large hall-like room (not unlike the school hall she was probably in the day before, tweeting away on her MP3 cassette player-thingy). There were large pictures of produce on the walls (I liked the triffid-like mushroom photo), and we were seated at one of the large, chunky tables graced with mismatched op-shop chairs.

The menu was simple, but plenty of choice was there to be had; relatively inexpensive, too. I chose a faggot (chortle) & my sister ordered the mackerel bap, with a lemon posset to share. "What's a lemon posset?", I hear you say? Keep reading...

The first of my three ciders, all locally made including one called 'Badger' or "Bramble". Or possibly "Zebra".

Lunch up! Here is my sister's Mackerel in a Bap: a nice crispy battered mackerel fillet in a fresh bap with hand-cut chips (with extra crunchy bits) and a chunky tartare sauce...

... and here's my bacon-wrapped faggot, made with savoury beef minced offcuts, with a delicious onion gravy and a hefty dollop of creamy mash. Perfect winter (or as the English call it, "spring") fare.

And now for the posset. It's a cold, set-cream pudding (flavoured here with lemon) served with shortbread for texture. Simple, unaffected presentation, and more importantly, it tasted great - creamy and sweet, with the zing of citrus providing contrast and balance.

With a return train to catch, it was time to pay and take a quick snoop around the souvenirs before leaving. Stopping by the pass, I asked the head chef how he made the posset. The man promptly dropped everything and came out to talk about the dessert, and also proceeded to write it down for me! Bless :) If you want to follow the recipe, bear in mind that the amounts given are restaurant quantities, so reduce each ingredient by about a quarter. To make, simply add the cream and sugar to a pan, bring to the boil, stirring to ensure the sugar's been dissolved, and boil for 3-4 minutes. Stir in your lemon juice and zest, pour into ramekins and leave to set in the fridge - simple as that!

So all in all, it was a great experience: friendly front of house staff, kindly kitchen folk, and tasty, flavoursome food. Pop along if you ever get a chance.

A big thank you to my sister, Heidi, for coming along :)

By the way, we didn't see Hugh F-W. He was probably busy organising this, the "Fish Fight" campaign which had a significant presence in the press at the time. Apparently, half of all the fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back, dead - such waste.


Plum Kitchen said...

I'm rather jealous! Love Hugh, and that menu , simple but tasty, wish we had a RC Canteen where I live......!

Nigel Olsen said...

I'm a big fan of his work, too. If you ever get the chance, it's well worth a visit.

Mairi@Toast said...

Wish I had more time to eat in the UK :) Also a big fan of Hugh. Don't know why more people don't provide simple, delicious, local fare :)

Nigel Olsen said...

There are places that do so; it just requires a bit of effort to find them. Consequently, you end up doing a lot of hunting around & relying on word of mouth. While a lot of places do 'simple food', a lot of it's pretty homogenous so finding a great place to eat that does 'local, simple & delicious' is often a) a pleasant surprise, & b) worth telling as many people as possible about.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Nigel,
What a great post and experience. River Cottage and Hugh are a must watch show for me, and I want to get his book. His is one show that does keep it simple and I never fail to come away from watching it feeling inspired and having picked up some good tips. Hope all is well.

Nigel Olsen said...

Robb! RC has a wealth of reading material, most of it well worth a read. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients/materials are only available in the UK, but the intrepid forager/chef will always find a way around that. Good to hear from you, young man :)