I get quite excited when I venture out on my trips out and about in Devon. A ride out to the small village of North Tawton recently to Ashridge Court Farm was no exception. It was a beautiful summer’s evening and I think it’s more of an adventure when you go somewhere you’ve not been before and you are not quite sure what will be on the menu. It has a ‘surprise’ element about it.
Cooking up a seven course meal was Ollie and his crew from Fig and Smoke Event Catering, a bespoke events catering business who can offer catering for wedding breakfasts, afternoon teas, dinner parties, private dining and much more. The venue was the beautiful Great Barn at Ashridge Court Farm.
It’s a wonderful, historic old barn, a fantastic wedding and events venue, set in the valley with beautiful views and with a small herd of South Devon Cattle grazing in the fields nearby, which was to be the feature of the evening’s menu. What is special about these cows is that they are grass fed and reared slowly which helps develop the flavour and the marbelling in the meat. It is then hung for 30 days.
Drinks were available to buy from Benedict’s Bar, a new mobile drinks business in a converted horsebox offering local ales, wines, spirits and soft drinks, by the bottle or glass.
The Barn was welcoming, cosy and simply yet prettily decorated with pots of herbs on the wooden tables, candles and fairy lights. Seating was on long tables so it was great to chat with your fellow diners. On our table, some were locals having been to events at the barn previously and others were staying in the area on holiday.
#1 ‘Cured’ The cured beef had a beautiful colour, was thinly cut and tasted delicious. If beef could melt-in-the-mouth, this did. The drizzle of hazelnut cream and fermented carrot added extra flavour and texture but didn’t overpower the beef. I could happily graze on a large plate of that!
Mooving on to #2, the second dish of the evening was ‘tongue in cheek’. This was a beef cheek fritter with a thin slice of tongue on the top. Now I don’t think I have ever eaten tongue before, so this was a first for me. It was surprisingly tender. The beef cheek fritter was super moist and tasty inside the crispy coating. The black garlic puree and nasturtium leaf added more flavours to tickle our taste buds.
The third course #3, was steak tartare, with mushrooms and a tangy mayonnaise. The tartar arrived under an upturned glass filled with smoke. I am amazed at what the chefs (two of them) were managing to prepare and dish up in the small kitchen area with little equipment that I could see.
They are a well-oiled team working together. Ollie said that he didn’t use too much in the way of seasoning on the raw steak so that you really did get the full flavour of the meat. He was right. It was perfect. The glass we were told to keep for the next course.
#4 Oxtail Consomme was poured from a vintage tea pot into our glass. Clear and steamy, this beefy broth packed a punch, possibly from a good seasoning of pepper and a splash of tabasco. On our tables was a small bottle of Black Cow Vodka with a pipette, which was to be added to the consomme. “As much as you want”, said Ollie. Four of five squirts I put into mine which gave it a bit more kick. I love these ‘extra bits’ and ‘audience participation’ – it makes your eating experience fun.
#5 Now I think this course was the lead up to the main and was ‘bistec cerazon’, slices of lightly seared heart with sweetcorn and pickled vegetables with a slice of polenta. I’d not eaten heart before, another first for me. This was a delightful dish – summer on a plate, colours and flavours dancing across my tongue.
#6 Braised was on the menu for this course. If I had to choose a favourite of each dish eaten so far, it would be difficult, but this one would be very near the top. The beef had a dark, rich colour and fell apart when you held your fork to it. It tasted as good as it looked. I wonder how many hours that had cooked for? A plate of wonderful tastes again, with smoked celeriac puree, a tallow potato, which I think is a cross between a fondant and roast potato, freshly wilted chard and a slice of a lightly pickled onion brought everything together.
#7 Dessert “Bone Marrow”! Yes! I adjusted my spectacles in the candlelit room. I can only think that the bone marrow is used as a setting agent in the custard, which it was, just like seaweed can also be used to set mousses. How clever. The custard was smooth and creamy, the fruit adding a contrast of sharp flavours and the meringue shards providing a sweet crunch. If I could have got my tongue in the glass I would have licked it clean!
And to finish off this delightful dinner was a piece of beef fudge. Yes, you read that right. Ollie got the inspiration for this petit four from a mid-west American cook book dated 1967. Having had a look at the recipe myself, ingredients listed were evaporated milk, margarine, chocolate chips, ground roast beef, marshmallow cream, sugar, vanilla and chopped walnuts. He tweaked the ingredients a little, added some nigella seeds and I think they were a perfect end to the meal.
I really enjoy going to events like this, where local producers, chefs and businesses collaborate together. The Great Barn is an ideal venue for holding Pop-Up restaurants which are getting popular down in this part of the country. Ollie and his team did an excellent job with the menu.
A lot of thought had gone into the planning and executing of each dish. The waiting staff were particularly attentive and friendly. I thought it was a fantastic evening. It certainly opened my eyes to the variety of dishes and ways in which you can get the most from the cow. It’s a different and fun way of spending time with foodie friends.
Keep an eye out for Fig and Smoke to see where they will be popping up next.
Beef boxes and individual cuts available to purchase. Also Hardwood logs from sustainably managed woodland around the farm. Geese from the farm also available to order for Christmas.
Tel: 07712 304002
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The meal provided in this review was gratis. Views expressed are independent of the business and is not seen or approved before publication.