“Creating a true connection with ‘real’ food is a way of life at Fallowfields.”
Last Saturday, I was very lucky to be invited to Fallowfields Hotel and Restaurant near Kingston Bagpuize, to the west of Oxford and to the east of Faringdon, in order to meet the extremely nice ladies at Energy PR. Fallowfields has been owned by Anthony and Peta Lloyd for the last 18 years but last summer, a very exciting development began a new chapter at the hotel with the acquisition of Shaun Dickens, a chef who has trained at Le Manoir, under the watchful eye of Raymond Blanc, before heading to Per Se in New York and back to England and on to L’Ortolan, the only Michelin starred restaurant in Reading. With the combined ambitions of Shaun and Anthony comes a brilliant new three year plan which sees the pair seeking a Michelin star as well as to develop a wonderful symbiosis between the land they farm and the food they serve in the restaurant.
The wonderful Energy PR ladies, Louise and Susannah, welcomed us in on a very cold day to sit by a roaring log fire and we had a lively but interesting conversation about PR and how this is changing with the force of people blogging these days. It was a really enjoyable experience to meet other bloggers as it can be quite a lonely past-time and it was really interesting listening to other peoples’ experiences and opinions on blogging, from the early beginners to the very established. Whilst sat by the fire, we were given lots of hot coffee and tea and homemade cake which is always a real treat. The room in which we drank our tea was lovely and cosy full of sofas and with lovely views out on the lawn. I thought to myself that if I were staying here for the weekend, I would curl up in that spot with a book and a cup of tea and possibly only move to eat!
When we’d finished our chat, Anthony came through and explained to us, along with Shaun, the vision they both have for Fallowfields and how they’re intending to achieve this. Their shared passion is clear and this is what makes their ambitions seem really possible. We were then very lucky to be taken through the grounds before lunch. We were given a charming map and this was cleverly designed for Fallowfields by Louise at Energy PR.
First, we walked past the vegetable beds and quail pens which were wonderful to see, with a wonderful wide and ranging array of vegetables. Anthony explained his relationship with his gardener who’s responsible for crafting the lovely rows of homegrown seasonal vegetables and I thought to myself what a talented man he must be. We continued walking down past the quince, medlar and apple trees which reminded me how much I want to plant quinces, they are my absolute favourite fruit and it would be lovely to grow my own. We rounded the corner from the Old Orchard and were surprised by several falcon/hawk types sitting on perches. Now you’ll have to excuse my lack of knowledge about these things but they were beautiful birds and even more exciting were the owls and ferrets. Anthony explained to us that the chap who owns the falcons is running falconry and archery events and that they hoped that this would bring corporate types to visit them.
Onwards, we walked through the New Orchard and popped our heads over the chicken coops to see the chickens, all of which were traditional breeds, and then striding across the field, we found ourselves with the Dexter cattle. This was the absolute highlight of my day (perhaps excluding lunch but more of that later), I adore Dexter cattle and we were introduced to Clare, the matriarch of the group of cattle, as well as the new calves. The next stop on the tour being the pigs, Tamworths, Middle Whites and Gloucester Old Spots. They were beautifully happy snuffling in the mud and are fed the windfalls from the orchard, which would make me pretty happy! As we rounded back to the house, we passed the duck pond where the Aylesbury ducks are guarded by a lone goose. All of these are used in the kitchens and are supplemented by local hunts and shoots such as venison and pheasants.
When we got back to the house, we removed our wellies and walked through to the bar area for canapes and champagne which were delicious. Small cubes of belly pork with an apple puree, the freshest salmon and cheese beignets, which I adore but which you don’t see very often. I had a lovely chat with Aveen of http://bakingobsessively.blogspot.com and Becky from http://holdtheanchoviesplease.wordpress.com; two such nice girls who I really hope to stay in touch with and whom I really recommend reading and following. We exchanged business cards and gossiped about blogging and food.
We were then called through for lunch and we took our seats at the table, I was pretty excited to be eating a meal cooked by a chef used to Michelin kitchens and with the very ingredients we’d seen on our walk around the grounds that morning. Our starter was a Jerusalem artichoke veloute with a confit of artichoke, spinach leaves and a truffled creme fraiche served, very cleverly I thought, with a lovely warm, freshly baked roll stuffed with fennel seeds. The veloute was delicious, creamy and wonderfully textured, light and full of flavour and the truffled creme fraiche was an absolute dream, fresh and velvety. Benjamin Petit, who manages the restairant and sommeliers, had paired the veloute with a glass of Semillon 2007 Mitchell Clare Valley, Australian, which was an absolutely lovely glass of wine, crisp, clean and aromatic.
The next course was venison, cooked pink and sliced thinly, with a side of mashed potato, a game jus, chestnuts, more artichokes, beetroot, and some greens. It was beautifully cooked meat, full of the natural flavour of game and the other elements showed it off to its best rather than overpowering it. The chestnuts were delicious, I adore chestnuts and it was topped interestingly with a chocolate and nut brittle. This was a brilliant idea and shows the clever thought that goes on in Shaun Dickens’ kitchen. Benjamin had paired this with a Shiraz, 2010 Bush Telegraph Petit Verdot, South Eastern Australia, which was absolutely crammed with flavour and punch without creating too much of a stir.
Between this and pudding, we had a wonderful merlot jam with a yoghurt foam and shortbread crumble, this was refreshing and had a lovely warm spiciness which we agreed was rather like cinnamon. Following this, we were treated to a wonderful dessert of honeycomb cheesecake, caramelised walnuts and walnut ice-cream, fresh figs and a red wine jus. The figs and the walnuts were from the garden and the walnut ice-cream was absolutely delightful, creamy and with a wonderful texture.
As we adjourned to the set up stage for Shaun’s masterclass/demonstration, we were treated to petits fours and coffee. Shaun prepared a wonderful dish of quail, taken from the garden that very morning, with fondant potatoes and jerusalem artichoke. This was beautifully executed and it was interesting to hear Shaun talk about how he got into cooking and what makes him tick in the kitchen, including his interest in ‘sous vide’, the latest buzz in cooking.
It was a great day and one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a long time. The hardest graft will be getting people out to Kingston Bagpuize but it is very much worth the journey and if I didn’t live so close, I would very much like to be taken to stay for a long weekend. Fallowfields has been through many changes but the new kitchen team, the amazing new things coming out of the kitchen and their combined vision for the future means that this is definitely one to watch in Oxfordshire. Would I go back? Definitely and I hope to soon. Anthony kindly invited us to come back over the course of the next 3 years to see how the changes are made and how they have realised their dream and I sincerely hope they do.
Excitingly, last week, they were awarded two AA stars and won “Best Small Hotel/Townhouse in the South East of England” at the Tourism South East Awards which is a great sign of things to come.
Fallowfields, Faringdon Road, Kingston Bagpuize, Oxfordshire, OX13 5BH