I’ve been a big fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for many years. While I was disappointed by the likes of Jamie Oliver when I eventually found out that his cookery show on-screen personas and lifestyles were carefully manufactured for his TV shows, I’ve always found Hugh to be honest, upfront and genuine in what he portrays on screen. A refreshing attitude in these days of spin and his earthy honesty is reflected in his food and programs.
I’ve never made it to his River Cottage HQ as it’s just a little too far on the Devon/Dorset border. So, Emma and I were excited when the River Cottage Canteen opened in Winchester last year.
It’s located in Abbey Mill building in the Abbey Mill Gardens just off the Broadway in Winchester city centre. I like the location in the middle of the pretty gardens as I feel it fits in with Hugh’s ethos and they’ve done a great job with converting the interior.
The menu reflects Hugh’s philosophy with local produce and honest, traditional cooking but with interesting ingredients and combinations. The dishes we tasted were packed full of flavour and there were interesting flavour combinations to play with with on the plate.
For starter, Emma had the parsnip and pear soup with roasted chestnuts, a perfect wintry dish to combat the cold snap that week. It was sweet but not over-sweet and the nutty chestnuts were the perfect foil.
I had a giant portion of canteen smoked Brixham mackerel, apple salad and horseradish creme fraiche. A classic combination for good reason and the oily, salty mackerel found good palate partners in the sweet crunch of apple and heat of horseradish.
For main, Emma chose the slow cooked Creedy Carver duck leg, warm rabbit terrine, potato, black pudding and parsnip purée. It was nice to get 2 meats on one dish and this was another lovely winter warmer dish.
I went with the braised beef brisket, watercress barley, prunes, bacon, pickled walnuts and horseradish gremolata. Brisket isn’t a cut we often see in the UK but it’s popular in Chinese and American cooking where it yields best to slow cooking to reduce it to juicy tenderness. Barley isn’t a popular grain on menus but it was delicious. The only thing I would have changed would have been a it more zing in the horseradish gremolata – perhaps a healthy dose of lemon to elevate the dish just a little more.
Food: ★★★★★ Service: ★★★★★ Ambiance: ★★★★☆ VFM: ★★★★☆ Overall: ★★★★★
Price: Good solid bistro prices but great cooking
River Cottage Canteen
Abbey Mill, Abbey Mill Gardens, The Broadway, Winchester SO23 9GH