En route to our recent seafood holiday in Cornwall, we paused for a visit to Riverford Organic during the day, and stayed overnight in nearby Scoriton. For dinner, we visited a local recommendation, Agaric in Ashburton.

Our trip was organised by (and courtesy of) The Food Travel Company.

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Agaric is a small restaurant with bed and breakfast guest rooms above and a kitchen shop next door. It’s run by husband and wife team Nick and Sophie Coiley, with Nick in charge of menu and kitchen and Sophie overseeing the day to day running of the business.

Unusually (or perhaps not for the area) the restaurant serves morning coffee / late breakfasts, lunch and dinner, though I guess if you’re running a B&B anyway, it’s not a huge step to offer breakfast to more than one’s overnight guests. For all three meals, the Coileys make as much themselves as they can, from home made bread and preserves to smoked fish and cured meats to ice creams and sorbets, not to mention home grown produce, where possible – behind the restaurant is a courtyard garden, a greenhouse and a kitchen garden; the Coiley’s grow most of their own salads and herbs and also some of the soft fruit, flowers and chillies they use too. For the rest, they source locally and quality.

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Inside is small and welcoming, though the sheer volume of preserves on sale is slightly unnerving, filling shelving by the door, nooks within the walls and a dresser nearer the bar towards the back.

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Initially, we take a seat at the bar, where we also make our choices for the meal and are served an amuse bouche. Skewers of very tender beef have been doused in an Asian-inspired marinade and lightly seared. Tender and tasty. The plump olives stuffed with pickled chillies are great too. After nibbles, we are shown to our table.

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The bread, served warm out of the oven, is truly some of the best I’ve ever had. Brown, feather light, soft, with a light crust… it tastes so good I have to concentrate not to make happy noises and shock the elderly fellow patrons.

I ask for more info, but am told only that Nick has fine tuned his recipe over the years and bakes it in the wood fired pizza ovens he had installed in the kitchen. Later though, our waitress comes back and tells me that Nick combines Shipton Mill brown flour with Marriage’s white and uses live yeast. A start, if I’m to persuade Pete to try and recreate it…!

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Pete starts with baked goats cheese with rosemary & paprika on toasted brioche with wood oven roasted peppers (£8.95). He is very happy with the soft mild goats cheese, a nicely dressed salad and sweet peppers.

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I choose a fish plate of kiln roast salmon and smoked salmon with a lobster cake, buckwheat pancakes, organic green salad & lime mayonnaise (£9.50). The smoked salmon is thick cut and with nice flavour, not the most flavoursome I’ve had, but decent. The hot smoked salmon, on the other hand, is spectacularly good – succulent, full of flavour and a nice portion too. It’s lovely with that lime mayo. The lobster cake is pleasant, and the taste and texture of lobster chunks do come through, with a lemony back note, but it doesn’t blow me away, being a little too dry.

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Pete’s main is an enormous panfried fillet of Devon beef with a shallot and red wine stuffed mushroom served with parsnip puree and horseradish cream (£22.50). As you’d expect from a fillet, the meat is wonderfully soft. Less of a given is how good it tastes, with real beefy punch. The pepper adds texture and a little fire, but without masking the meat. Parnsip puree is fabulous with all the sweet, earthiness of this undersung root vegetable. The only let down is the gravy which is somewhat bland and not particularly attractive either, with all the floating dark matter. Still, overall a great dish.

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My roast breast of duck with a honey and rosemary glaze served with a warm beetroot mousse, onion and orange confit and spinach (£19.50) is mixed. The duck is super soft, cooked just right and with excellent flavour again. It’s a generous portion too. The beetroot mousse tastes alright but the grainy texture is off-putting. I’m given a small dollop of that same parsnip puree, and it’s so good I wish I had more instead of the beetroot. The onion and orange confit is superb, with caramelised onion cut by tangy citrus, but this time the portion is far too big. It’s strong stuff, and a little goes a long way. I like my gravy better than Pete’s – thick and glossy with a decent flavour of rosemary too.

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Pete enjoys his vanilla and ginger baked cheesecake with poached gooseberries (£6.95) well enough though says the ginger is virtually undetectable and the gooseberries are under ripe.

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The hot chocolate soufflé (£6.95) was meant to come with jersey double cream, but I asked instead for a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, listed as part of one of the other desserts. The souffle is decent but it’s the salted caramel ice cream that wins me over more, with it’s generous measure of salt in a properly browned caramel base.

It’s a good meal served by friendly faces, in a simple and cosy setting. The ingredients are clearly of excellent quality, and the dishes attractive and with many good flavours. Not perfect, by any means, but very enjoyable and a restaurant I’d be happy to visit again.

 

Our visit to Agaric was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company. They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available. Our trip included a night near Buckfastliegh, four nights in Cornwall where we enjoyed a number of seafood-oriented activities, and another night in Bristol on the way home, allowing us to visit some great breweries and restaurants. I’ll be posting about several more of our experiences in coming weeks.

 

The welcome at the Riverford Organic Farms Field Kitchen is warm.

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Guests are shown to their spot at large communal tables serried beneath a vast curving roof. Huge windows let in plenty of light during our June lunch-time visit. The menu is no-choice, served family style at a fixed time, so there’s a real sense of buzz as everyone arrives and waits eagerly for service to begin.

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Whether you come for lunch or dinner, the menu is designed to show off the organic vegetables for which Riverford is known. There is one meat dish, but amongst the five colourful vegetable dishes, it’s simply one more taste and texture rather than the star of the show, as is more often the case elsewhere.

This is, of course, by design, as head chef Rob Andrew tells us during an interview before lunch.

Rob joined Riverford in 2010 to head up the Travelling Field Kitchen, which toured the UK with its giant yurt, bringing some of the Devon Field Kitchen experience to diners further afield. When former Riverford head chef Jane Baxter left the team earlier this year (to work with Henry Dimbleby on Leon’s next cookbook) Rob stepped into the head chef role in the Wash Farm Field Kitchen.

From the beginning, Riverford Customer Service received many calls from customers seeking advice on what to do with some of the less familiar items they found in their boxes plus fresh ideas for the more prosaic contents. The Field Kitchen started a a way of showing people what they could do to make the most of their produce; it also lead to the vegetable cookery books written by Jane Baxter and Riverford’s owner Guy Watson.

Today, that’s still how they work, creating menus based on the contents of the current boxes. Rob explains that the farm team deliver pre-pick test boxes about a week ahead, and the kitchen team use these to trial and develop the dishes they’ll serve the following week. He admits that the main farm teams refer to his gang as “fridge rats” as they’re always heading over to the stores to see what they can find to take back to the kitchen and experiment with.

The Kitchen is located on Wash Farm, the original home of Riverford. Since then, the company has purchased additional farms in the area to meet demand from a growing customer base. It has also forged partnerships to create the South Devon Organic Producers (SDOP) cooperative, a group of farmers who’ve converted some of all of their lands to grow organic produce to be sold by Riverford. Riverford have also purchased farms in France, to better cover the hungry gap when our local weather and lack of light makes growing hard work. They do import some produce from Spain, bringing it over by road rather than air, and can pass by their farms in France on the same route.

The meat and dairy is also sourced locally, from farms within a handful of miles of the Field Kitchen.

And the beers and soft drinks on offer are, of course, from local producers.

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On the day of our visit, lunch is a a dish of slow cooked lamb over griddled leeks and butter beans, carrots with mustard and honey, spring greens with red onion and raisins, roasted beetroot with pistachio, orange and feta cheese, new potatoes with rosemary, fresh garlic and lemon, and the most fabulous salad of chargrilled courgettes, asparagus, broad bean and little gem salad. For vegetarians, the lamb is substituted with roasted red peppers stuffed with tomatoes, garlic, basil and ricotta.

The chargrilled courgettes, asparagus, broad bean and little gem salad is by far and away my favourite dish and I would happily feast on this dish alone and be completely satisfied.

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After lunch, Rob takes us outside to show us a row of cardoon plants (also known as artichoke whistles), a passion of owner Guy Watson, along with globe artichokes, which we spot in a nearby field. Apparently, cardoon needs to be forced like rhubarb, so that it grows thin, tender stalks rather than heavy wooden ones. The bitterness is not to everyone’s taste.

Another of Guy’s enthusiasms has made it into both boxes and the kitchen. During a brief chat with Guy during lunch, he tells us that whilst former head chef Jane Baxter wasn’t such a fan, Rob is happy to use broad bean tops, which are picked anyway, when the farmers thin out the broad beans. Like pea shoots, the flavour is reminiscent of the beans themselves. A good tip for those of us harvesting our own crops from gardens and allotments.

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Whilst the savoury dishes are brought to the table, dessert is served at the kitchen end of the room, with tables invited to go up in turn and choose a dessert from the array on offer. Torn between pavlovas, lemon tart, cheesecakes, chocolate cakes and sticky toffee pudding, it’s not an easy choice, but again, all of the ones we try within our group are deemed absolutely excellent.

For £19.90 per person (£9.95 for children aged 3 – 12) you’ll enjoy a substantial, delicious and inspiring meal.

In the evenings, the price tag of £26.50 / £13.25 includes a starter as well as the main and dessert we had for lunch.

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After lunch, we were kindly given a private tour around the farm by Penny Hemming, an experienced horticulturalist who now cultivates organic cut flowers and runs farm tours for Riverford. She also planted up the beautiful culinary and medicinal herb garden just outside the Field Kitchen and she writes their gardening blog, here.

Because of the time of year, and also the ease of access to different parts of the farm, our visit was heavy on the polytunnels, though Penny explained that only 2% of what they produce is grown under cover. It was a fascinating tour, lead by a passionate and witty guide, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We finished with a visit to the Farm Shop, full of tempting goodies.

 

Our visit to Riverford was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company (and Riverford Organic Farms). They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available. Our trip included a night near Buckfastliegh, four nights in Cornwall and another night in Bristol on the way home. I’ll be posting about several more of our experiences in coming weeks.

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