[Disclosure: Our meal at The Scenic Supper was complimentary, including a bottle of wine, but we paid for any extra drinks beyond that]
A few years ago, if someone had suggested dinner in a greenhouse, we might have laughed them out of the room. Then along came COVID and changed everything – including the way we dine. Since 2020, we’ve eaten in sheds, pods, huts and tents and none of it really phases us anymore.
In fact, plenty of us have come to like the creativity that has come as a by-product of this strange age. Which is probably why The Scenic Supper, born in July 2020, is still going strong as we speak, despite the fact you can merrily walk into a restaurant again just like the olden days.
Maybe it’s the fact it’s a bit different. Or perhaps it’s having your own private dining experience tucked away from other people, yet with all the joy of restaurant service. Or maybe it’s the fact you’re essentially sitting in a Cotswolds field surrounded by nature – frisky little lambs if you’re lucky – and can enjoy a spectacular sunset as you plough through several courses of locally-sourced restaurant quality food.
Whatever it is, two years after being created by a trio of old school friends, The Scenic Supper is here to stay. It managed a winter offering over the colder months at a different location, and is back for the whole of summer, hence us getting booked in.
The setting is as stunning as I had imagined. Tucked away at Todenham Manor Farm – whose produce features in the menu – the greenhouses line up neatly, walking the line between rustic and refined, with crisp white linen, beautifully dressed tables, and an array of tiny touches to provide everything you need for a night in a field, from blankets to brollies and even heaters.
Most of the greenhouses seat two to four people, but there are larger options if you fancy going in a bigger group. Marvellously, they’re also dog friendly and even have stable-style doors so you can keep you pooch ensconced in your glass dining room without worrying about it going for a playdate with the sheep and lambs who trot around loving their lives.
A six-course tasting menu is on offer, based on a farm-to-fork ethos that has evolved slightly from hyperlocal produce to a wider radius, but still with a focus on provenance. There’s a decent wine list, beers and ciders and a range of cocktails – many gin-based in a nod to the fact that one of The Scenic Supper’s creators, Sam Lawson-King, makes his own award-winning artisan gin.
The menu may be set, but there’s the option to add oysters to start, or Moules Mariniere for the table, but before we can get our order in the first courses are already galloping towards us from the hut at the bottom of the hill. It’s no biggie, but we’d have liked to have had a few moments to order a drink and perhaps kick things off with some oysters before we had to dive into the main event.
Regardless, the first course of sourdough with tomato-flavoured buttermilk is a delight, getting the taste buds warmed up for the feast to come. It’s refreshing in flavour, yet indulgent and silky smooth in consistency. A great combination.
We’ve hardly finished it when the next course rocks up. An English garden inspired dish of asparagus with egg yolk and shavings of white truffle. It’s light and fresh, with the crunchy asparagus a great vehicle for the rich hollandaise-style accompaniment.
At this juncture we manage to get our hands on some drinks, tucking into cocktails that are well-executed and we would happily have enjoyed more of if we weren’t already a third of the way through the meal.
We also manage to squeeze in an order for the oysters that we would have loved to kick things off, deciding that while it’s not ideal, we’ll slot them in between courses.
They’re beaten by the arrival of ravioli filled with Cotswold chicken and served with a consomme poured over from a rather lovely tea pot. It’s well-made, delicate in flavour, and a great spring dish. The only downside is that we find ourselves eating it amid the arrival of the oysters, and wondering if the dynamic, slightly confusing order, of delivery is standard Scenic Supper form, or whether perhaps we’ve just come on a night when things aren’t quite working like clockwork.
The oysters are served ‘au naturel’, with just a bottle of Tabasco as an accompaniment and are, unsurprisingly, delicious, reminding you that while service may be slightly chaotic at times, the sourcing here is pretty good.
Smoked leek with crumbled black pudding and a watercress veloute is one of my favourite courses, the meatiness of the black pudding working well with the slight smokiness to the leek, and the combination of different textures making it a good all-round dish.
The next course of blackened cod with mussels, cauliflower, sea herbs and capers is pretty but doesn’t quite knock my socks off in the same way I’d have thought it would. I find myself craving bigger flavours after several delicate dishes in a row, but perhaps that’s personal taste.
Ribeye of beef sourced from Todenham Manor Farm isn’t much to look at, almost hidden under a piece of cabbage, and in fact the picture I took of it is so poor it won’t appear here.
But what it lacked in aesthetics it made up for in flavour – with the real star of the show proving to be a Marmite hollandaise accompaniment that I’ve demanded Jamie recreate at home. Packed with a deep savoury hit, it elevates the ribeye to the next level and means it’s over far too quickly.
Dessert is a rhubarb parfait nestled into a white chocolate bowl. I love the idea, but the white chocolate shell isn’t quite man enough in sweetness to counterbalance the very tart rhubarb, making it more of a challenge than a pleasure.
In direct contrast, an Espresso Martini to finish the experience is perfect. In fact, it’s probably the best I’ve ever had, and that’s without adding the fact we’re drinking it against the backdrop of the twinkling lights from ours and neighbouring greenhouses in what is now the post-dusk peace of the Cotswolds. Baa’ing sheep, hooting owls, and the gentle hum of people enjoying a one-off dining experience.
We leave sozzled and happy. Is the Scenic Supper the best food I’ve ever eaten? Probably not, though I still think about that Marmite Hollandaise quite often and wouldn’t mind starting every meal with their sourdough and tomato buttermilk.
Despite the slightly chaotic start to the service, it soon settled down into an enjoyable rhythm and I’ll take a bit of chaos if it comes alongside friendliness and chattiness, as well as great wine recommendations.
Add to that the unique setting, the thought and effort that has gone into transforming a bunch of greenhouses in a farmer’s field into a restaurant, and you’re reminded that some meals are about much more than the food. They’re about the experience – the whole package – of which food is just one element.
This is what The Scenic Supper is. Good food, well sourced, served up in a one-off setting that feels somehow relaxed and homely yet rather special too.
Dishes can be tweaked, service made slicker, but there are elements of The Scenic Supper that just can’t be recreated without its unique story and setting. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that while perfection is nice, we can do without it. So rather than the focusing on the odd element that wasn’t quite 10/10, my enduring memory of The Scenic Supper is of a wonderful evening of fun, food and laughter tucked away in the Cotswolds countryside. I’ll take that, thanks very much.