Castle Farm in Midford, just south of Bath, is not the most promising restaurant to approach. You pull off the B3110 into an abrupt car park. Spread out before you is what looks like someone’s allotment.
There’s a little plot of vegetables and leaves, and in the background a couple of polytunnels, a large-ish barn and some outbuildings. You half expect Jeremy Corbyn to wander out waving a fork and try to force some jam on you. In the rain it must all look rather depressing, the kind of scenario to send you racing back to a dreary tea shop behind the Royal Crescent.
Yet it was here that earlier this week I had my favourite lunch of the year so far, a simple, perfect meal of the kind that only comes around a few times a year. It was one of those days only Britain is capable of, warm but not hot, with everything just coming into flower, where you can’t imagine ever wanting to be anywhere else.
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The restaurant comprises a single barn with an open kitchen and a dozen or so tables inside, and a few picnic tables outside, where we sat.
Organic produce from the farm is for sale in a little hut outside, along with some postcards, prints and other “local artist” trinkets. A blackboard announced what we might find in the salads in May: lettuce, mustard flowers, land cress, sorrel, kale, purple and golden frills, fennel, mint, chard, chervil and borage flowers, wild garlic.
The restaurant and café was taken over last June by Pravin and Leah Nayar, a husband and wife team. Pravin’s has Asian and Scandinavian in his background, which means bright clean flavours as well as chapati wraps on the breakfast list.
They’re open for breakfast and lunch, including a roast on Sunday, and also run supper clubs in the evenings. Their menus are inspired by what’s in season on the farm and change a lot, although they have a pizza oven, so those are always an option.
We ordered a chicken salad and a whole mackerel from Brixham, and shared a bowl of leaves on the side. It sounds dreary to write down, but these were the kinds of dishes you wish you could have for lunch every day: light, filling, full of joy and chlorophyll.
The chicken salad was a glorious heap of colour: purple chard, fronds of green lettuce, bright tomatoes from the Isle of Wight, a spoonful of capers, chicken that had been torn by hand, its skin still on, crunchy gold croutons.
Striped and hot from the grill, the mackerel was served sitting pertly in a heap of thick charred pale yellow carrots and fresh thin spears of asparagus, with a handful of wild garlic flowers scattered on top like tiny white stars.
Afterwards we shared a rhubarb sorbet, whose sweetness was offset by crunchy, salty hazelnut praline. There is a decent wine list, too, featuring a few local producers, although we stuck to soft drinks.
This was all so simple that it can barely be called cooking, but it still takes ingredients and confidence. Having had their crouton, I would trust them with a croquembouche, which is why, back in London, surrounded by cynical small-plate pedlars and multimillion-pound refurbs, I have found myself thinking back to a salad in an allotment car park. Perhaps the sunshine went to my head.
Should you go? Yes
Would I go back? Yes