[Disclosure: We were invited for a complimentary meal at The Kitchen at Primrose Hill Farm for this blog]
If you’ve suggested I go for lunch or dinner at a wedding venue ten years ago, I’d have politely declined. Back then, wedding venues were best known for mediocre food. Plate after plate of predictable starters, bogstandard meat and two veg, and a dessert bought in in bulk.
It’s one of the reasons (among many others) that we chose to celebrate our wedding in a restaurant instead, hopeful that we’d be spared that same identikit menu and mediocre meal. (We were, in case you wondered).
Happily, times have changed. Not only are plenty of wedding venues serving up restaurant standard food these days, but wedding venues aren’t really just wedding venues anymore. Many have diversified, mindful of the fact that a gorgeous venue and good food can be appreciated by people all-year round, rather than just the select few on the one-off when they’ve donned a posh frock and drunk a bit too much fizz to appreciate the meal in front of them.
Primrose Hill Farm is one of those. Safe to say, if I’d known about it ten years ago and if Jamie and I had had more than a tenner to spend on a wedding at the time, we might have chosen somewhere like this for our wedding. The former farm has clearly been lovingly converted, its pride and joy a set of converted barns that comprise ceremony space, a bar area and a reception area that opens out onto gardens overlooking the landscape below the slight hill it sits on.
Lucky for us and all of you, this glorious setting isn’t just reserved for big-budget nuptials or corporate events, but is open to us all thanks to pop-up restaurant The Kitchen, which serves up brunches and lunches in a modern British style, with the odd inspiration from the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.
It bills itself as a ‘panoramic, spacious, rural chic pop-up restaurant, nestled on the edge of the north Cotswolds’, and that description is entirely factually correct, right down to the four-by-fours in the car park and the many Barbours scattered around the dining room as we walk in. It’s to be expected, given the location we’re in and the reputation The Kitchen has already built up.
We could almost be walking into a wedding, from the spotless floor (a marvel, given it’s dog friendly and a slightly soggy Sunday) to the fresh flowers scattered here and there, fairy lights festooned across the ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking the views. There’s an air of calm as you walk through the glass doors – a warmth and stillness that’s punctuated by decent music on the soundtrack and a convivial atmosphere with all the best parts of a pub at Sunday lunchtime and none of the nonsense.
The menu is as promised – full of seasonal ingredients and well-judged for a time of year when the weather means you might want a bowl of stew one day and a salad the next. The cocktail list does the same, keeping a few classics but reminding you that this isn’t a two for £12 kind of place where a poor bartender has been forced into ‘doing cocktails’ but someone somewhere gets that these kind of drinks need a bit of attention and careful curation.
There’s a basket of homemade bread made by owner Ant – perfect when you’ve just traipsed across a few fields to get here (don’t worry, you can take your Range Rover if you want). The breadsticks are surprisingly great but it’s the foccaccia that gets me, especially when squished into the oil and balsamic until its saturated and leaves a neat line of drips across the table on a guided tour to my mouth.
As we dive into it pots of horseradish and mustard appear on the table – presumptuous maybe, or just really excellent pre-emptive service that means we don’t need to go through the rigmarole of asking for it later.
Jamie goes for the whipped Cotswold goat’s cheese that comes in the form of a colourful salad, swirls of the cheese hidden among a rainbow of pickled beetroot and pears, simultaneously sweet and tangy as the perfect counter-balance to the cheese. That same great foccaccia has been turned into melba-toast style crisps, bringing crunch for some of us, or for Jamie a vehicle to carry as much cheese to his mouth as possible.
It’s light, fresh and summery. One I’d go back to to enjoy when those big glass doors are open and I’m basking in sunshine instead of enjoying the thrill of central heating someone else is paying for to warm me up.
Jamie might feel like summer’s coming but I’m stuck in winter mode, so find a dish that bridges both in the form of a baby spinach and soft herb soup. It’s rich and earth, with a slight pepperiness and a tang courtesy of the swirl of lemon creme fraiche. It’s good, but even better with an extra turn of salt from the mill on the table.
The main menu offers roast beef. Of course it does – we would be appalled if it didn’t. But for those who want something a bit different, it’s a list of dishes that show someone who’s keen to show off their 22 years’ experience and some of the influences they love in food. Barbecue harissa chicken is another dish I’d come for on a summer’s day, along with pork belly yakitori. And as much as a day boat fish with smoke bacon and lentils tempts me, I know myself well enough to foresee the envy I’ll have if Jamie has beef and I don’t.
My decision is sound. It’s a great roast dinner. We ask for the pinkest beef we can have and we’re rewarded with thick slabs of tender, tasty meat coated in a rich, almost jus-like gravy. The Yorkshire pudding is the crispy, puffy delight you want it to be, and both are shovelled down quickly, slathered in the horseradish that I’m still rejoicing at not having had to ask for.
The roast potatoes could have been a tiny bit more crispy, but we’re booked in for a late lunch and I wonder if we’re on a slightly rushed second batch. But whatever they lack is more than made up for by the array of veg that joins them on the plate. Parsnips and carrot that have almost been confit’d in butter so they’re sweet, yielding and basically rather sexy.
There’s kale underneath too, delightfully doused in the gravy that’s been working it’s way through the pile of food as we tackle it. At £28.50 it’s somewhat more expensive than your average Sunday roast, but given the location, audience and quality of the food, I’d say it’s worth it. Average Sunday roasts are ten-a-penny, and this isn’t one of those.
We’re nearly defeated, but are ensured we absolutely cannot miss out on dessert, so go for a homemade vanilla cheesecake with toffee fudge ice cream. It’s almost too pretty to eat but not quite and proves to be another good decision. The cheesecake is just the right balance of cheesiness and sweetness, along with a texture to match – creamy and smooth in all the right ways. In a world where many cheesecakes are awful, this is up there.
My friend Ness is a huge fan of The Kitchen at Primrose Hill Farm and I leave understanding why. There’s something about this place, and not just in the way it looks. Our meal is littered with chats with staff who can’t speak highly enough of the passion behind this place – and not just for the weddings, but for the dining destination they’ve created.
That love is there in the food – in the careful plating, the well-thought-out dishes and the balance that acknowledges that chefs like to put their own stamp on things, but that we also all love the classics.
It’s well done, well presented, and served up in a setting that’s glorious enough on a grey March day, let alone on a sunny summer’s afternoon – and not just at weddings, thank goodness.