Lunch at the Riverford Field Kitchen

Last week, I had the pleasure of enjoying an ‘intimate bloggers lunch’ at Riverford Field Kitchen near Buckfastleigh in Devon.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Riverford is a cooperative of organic farms, mostly in Devon, which delivers veg boxes to homes across the country. The place where it all started, Wash Farm, is owned by Guy Watson, and along with my fellow food bloggers I was treated to a tour of the farm before we sat down to lunch.

I won’t lie, it would have been a little more enjoyable if it had hadn’t been in the minus degrees and my hands and feet hadn’t turned into icicles, but it was very interesting to take the tour, see some of what’s being grown and find out more from Guy about the history of the farm, the problems they’ve faced with the horrific weather, and how the whole operation is managed.

We also saw where the veg is stored and packed, and had a little snoop at the boxes waiting to go out. Guy admitted that there was more important produce than he would have liked, but February is not the best time for British fruit and veg and I imagine customers still expect a bit of variety, even though the emphasis with the veg boxes is very much on locality and seasonality.

On to lunch, at the Riverford Field Kitchen – a rustic, casual dining room lined with long wooden tables serving a menu designed for sharing – using produce fresh from the fields, naturally.

The company for the lunch couldn’t have been better – along with Guy and Holly (Riverford’s digital marketing manager and organiser of the lunch) were Choclette and her CT, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before at a couple of Clandestine Cake Club events; the Frugal Queen and her Dearly Beloved; Grazing Kate and Marcus from Country Woodsmoke. I really enjoyed having the chance to meet more fellow South West food bloggers and very much hope it won’t be the last time we meet in person.

To start with we were served a Cropwell Bishop blue cheese, celery and apple salad with hazelnuts and radish sprouts with some fantastic homemade bread, which on any normal day would have been enough on its own to satisfy me at lunchtime but I did my best to restrain myself so I could enjoy the rest of the meal.

Quite often, I’m put off from eating out by the fact that I know the vegetarian options will be limited and I could do a better job at home, but that is definitely not the case at Riverford.

The veg is the star of the show with one meat dish and four veggie sides, but I was still given a vegetarian alternative to the duck main of griddled aubergine and ricotta on butternut squash, lentils and spinach.

Served with it were carrots and beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower with mustard, spring greens and kale with wild garlic and my personal favourite, a celeriac, potato and mushroom gratin – I could have eaten the whole dish, it was so good!

Luckily for my waistline I didn’t, but you’ll see from the picture at the top of this post that my normal portion control went out the window with so many delicious dishes on offer…

For dessert diners are invited to the serving pass to choose from a selection of around 6 cakes and puddings. Decision making is not my strongpoint, and I feel I may have made a mistake choosing the lemon cheesecake instead of the pear and chocolate pavlova – I do love cheesecake but it’s something I often make for myself so I am very critical, and although the texture was spot on it could have done with a little more lemony zing for my liking.

A 2-course lunch at Riverford is normally £22.50 per person, which although a bit pricey is really excellent value when you look at the amount and the quality you get, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again and pay that price.

Riverford has very kindly offered to send me a veg box to review as well, which will be coming later in the month when I return from a mini-holiday, so check back in a few weeks to see what I think of that!

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Review – Hotel Chocolat Easter Egg

When Hotel Chocolat were kind enough to offer me the chance to review one of the products from their Easter range, unsurprisingly I didn’t hesitate in saying yes!

The only problem was choosing which product; it actually took me several days to come to the decision but in the end both the pony and I were won over by the smiling faces of the chocolates inside the ‘You Crack Me Up’ Extra Thick Easter Egg.

Here’s what they have to say about it: “An irrepressibly upbeat egg cast in 40% milk chocolate and bursting with our cheeriest chocolates, from smiley face pralines and happy chicks to classic Easter bunnies – Includes 12 chocolate brownies, cookie pralines, chocolate fried eggs, solid chocolate bunnies and chicks cast in milk and caramel chocolate and more.”

It arrived in gorgeous hat box style packaging, which I somehow managed to refrain from opening for a full 5 days, until it was the weekend and I could take pictures in the sunshine.

Opening the box revealed two half shells of the egg wrapped in gold foil, with a tissue wrapped package of mini chocolates inside each half. Well done Hotel Chocolat for making it easy to share between two people – although the pony promptly gobbled his and is now begging me for some of mine every time I  have some…

The shell of the egg certainly does look a lot thicker than a normal egg, but it’s a bit deceiving as the edges are a lot thicker than the rest of the shell. It’s still a lot better than most eggs you would get though, and a really nice quality milk chocolate.

I actually preferred the treats that came inside the egg though if I’m honest – the crunchy praline and chocolate brownie smiley eggs in particular were delicious and I wish I had more!

The You Crack Me Up Extra Thick Egg retails for £26 – considerable more than I would normally pay for an Easter egg, but I think the size, quality, taste and packaging combined do make it worth it if you really want a treat.

You can buy this egg and lots of other easter goodies from www.hotelchocolat.co.uk – thanks very much for sending me one for free!

Hotel Chocolat – Christmas review

The lovely people at Hotel Chocolat were kind enough to offer me the chance to review one of the products from their Christmas range – and this us what I chose.

I picked the ‘Classic Christmas H-Box Selection’ partly because it meant getting to try 13 different little chocolates rather than one large one, and also because the description of the festive flavours sounds rather appealing.

“Brimming with sparkling seasonal cheer and the gorgeous flavours of the season – in melt-away pralines and soft caramels, creamy truffles with warming mulled wine, chilli and rum, cherry florentines, gingerbread, cinnamon and more. There’s something inside to make everyone feel Christmassy all over.”

Doesn’t that sound tempting? So when the box arrived I was pretty excited.

The friendly pony and I conducted a very methodical tasting, over the course of 2 weeks – it took quite a lot of willpower not to scoff them all in one sitting!

Each chocolate was cut in half so we could both sample them all, then we made notes on what we thought of each one.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with that much detail, but here’s a rundown of the best and worst.

I found it quite hard to choose a favourite – I really liked both the gingerbread truffle and gingerbread cheesecake, the mulled wine and the zesty marzipan star – which as well as being the tastiest are probably the most festive. The gingerbread cheesecake, although nothing like cheesecake, was actually the best ginger flavoured chocolate I think I’ve tasted.

zesty marzipan star

The pony like the zesty marzipan star the best, describing it as “fresh and indulgent”. I’m not a huge lover of marzipan, but I thought the orange flavour came through more strongly, which is probably why I liked it.

I had two definite least favourites, but in both cases they were flavours that I never like, rather than actually being bad chocolates. The star anise truffle was definitely not my favourite, and I couldn’t even finish my half of the rum truffle as it was so strong – but I’ve always disliked liquor chocolates so that wasn’t really a surprise.

star anise truffle

The pony’s least favourite was the sea salt and caramel bauble – which he said tasted like it had come straight out of the sea. I imagine for someone who likes the salt and chocolate combination that would probably be a good thing, but neither of us are huge lovers (although I was pleasantly surprised by the crunchiness rather than containing a liquid caramel).

Overall, I think the H-Box has a really nice selection of festive flavours, with a little more originality than a lot of the chocolate boxes you see at this time of year.

On the downside, I think the packaging doesn’t match up to the ‘luxury’ style of the brand – when you walk into a Hotel Chocolat shop it feels a lot more upmarket than say Thorntons, but I don’t think that really translates to the H-Box. (I should add that the friendly pony doesn’t agree with this at all, so maybe it’s just me!)

Would I buy the H-Box for myself? At just under £1 per chocolate I doubt I would, but it would definitely make a nice gift if you’re stuck for ideas this Christmas.

You can buy the Classic Christmas H-Box Selection from the Hotel Chocolat website.