Review: Inside East Anglia's most unusual pop-up restaurant
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
Ed Sheeran has his castle on the hill. And, for one weekend only, Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore had their own pop-up restaurant on a mound.
It was a bit of a blustery start to an early Saturday evening, ascending the grassy bank opposite Fen Farm Dairy on the outskirts of Bungay. Battling against a breeze in suede heels is no easy feat, let me tell you. But that view from the top. Stunning. Nothing but farmland, hedgerows, streams, grazing cows, a church in the distance.
The so-called ‘Restaurant on a Hill’ was a joint venture conjured between the Crickmores and Forage Kitchen of Rougham – renowned for tasting menus that scale the heights of inventiveness. The two businesses have a long-formed friendship and Mel Evans, owner of Forage, has been keen for a while to really, truly showcase the produce his chefs use in the kitchen.
What better way than to export customers direct to the source?
And so it was that we and 80-plus other people, including some of the great and good of the East Anglian food industry, found ourselves inside a marquee, ready to chew on the fat of the land.
First, as the light began to dip into the valley beyond, an outdoors introduction by Jonny, framed by the larder of his landscape. We heard all about the family’s farming heritage, and those first, tentative steps they made from being dairy farmers to cheesemakers. Today, their Baron Bigod brie de meaux style fromage is revered across not just the UK, but the globe, exporting as far as Japan.
Inside, the set-up was much like a wedding. Dainty floral displays. The buzz of chatter. Communal tables where you fear you might get sat beside a drunk uncle.
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Thankfully we were put next to an amiable bunch – including Woodbridgian Tony (hello if you’re reading this) who is as much as a foodie as I am – in fact, we took pics of the dishes almost in sync!
Tickets were £75 for the ‘do’, which included a glass of pimped up fizz from Flint on arrival, and a flight of wines with the seven (yes seven) courses, designed to show off Fen Farm’s wonderful ingredients.
We began with, in typical Forage Kitchen style, a plate of playful canapes. A very dainty wild mushroom arancini, heady with truffle. A Baron Bigod ‘jammy dodger’. And a complex-tasting tapioca cracker, loaded with marinated beetroot, Fen Farm curd and smoked apple.
After that palate teaser we were all positively starving for more!
And we were swiftly rewarded with puffy, crisp-edged slices of Penny Bun Bakehouse smoky Suffolk sourdough bread. This came with a trio of butters for the table. Alongside the caramel-like raw Fen Farm butter in its purest expression, were roast chicken butter (heavens) and mugwort and onion butter, which certainly sparked debate and discussion at the table. “What the flipping heck is mugwort when it’s at home?”
The foraged ingredient (said to be good for digestion) has a gentle hint of sage which, combined with onion, was a pretty delicious package when delivered on bread. It turned out to be the most popular spread of them all on the night.
The ‘meal proper’ began with a delicate-looking starter of elderflower cured salmon. While I couldn’t detect much flora about the fish, it was cured beautifully. Firm, but succulent and slightly yielding. There were a few cubes of elderflower jelly scattered, and I absolutely could have wolfed down more of those. The dish was married together with a light buttermilk dressing, peppery nasturtiums, and juicy pickled mouli.
When the main course arrived, the almost-too-loud patter of the dining room became still, besides the odd “phwoar” or “wow”.
When we’d opened our menus at the beginning of the night there’d been quite a stir caused by the unctuous-sounding beef fillet with beef fat potato, bone marrow onions, smoked aubergine, black garlic ketchup and lovage.
The absolute star of the show was that precious, most expensive cut of beef. Blushed pink towards the edges, with a well-rested medium to rare heart, it cut through like butter as the saying goes. No steak knife required. Every other element on the plate served to highlight, and orbit that star. The potato was rich and crisp. The aubergine silky, with a just-barbecued smoky depth. Lovage added a herbal, again almost smoky note. And everything was buoyed by little hits of sharp, sweet-sour, liquorice-like black garlic.
I’m afraid none of those beside me (myself included) were especially enamoured by the whacky Baron Bigod ice cream which, despite being paired with peach, raspberry and tarragon-flavoured Mexican marigold dust, felt too savoury and off-kilter. Mind you, if they’d have served it with a fig chutney and digestives at the end of the meal, it could have been a different story.
All was forgiven when serving staff put down in front of us the luscious, spoon-lickingly good Fen Farm mascarpone mousse. A luxurious buffer for the dark 70% chocolate creameux, pickled blackcurrants and elderberries, and tingly blackcurrant parfait. Pretty as a picture too.
We finished, of course, with a stonking great board of cheeses made on the farm – Baron Bigod paired with soft, spreadable, milky St Jude’s and the newer, almost alpine-style St Helena, alongside crackers, walnut bread, and Forage Kitchen’s red onion chutney.
A fittingly local end to a celebration of one of East Anglia’s best-loved producers.
But it didn’t stop there, oh no. As we left, each guest was presented with a box of goodies – glossy handmade chocolate bon bons, flavoured butter, ready-to-bake cookie dough, and Skyr.
I’m not going to lie...we ate the chocolates on the drive home. And...we couldn’t leave without a visit to Fen Farm’s 24/7 ‘farm shop shed’, where vending machines sell all kinds of foodie treasures, from their dairy products, to local cakes, coffee, meat and eggs.
Armed with a penny bun to share in the morning, a vat of raw milk, and hot chocolate to see us through the hour-long journey home, we rolled away from the hill and into the night, having experienced something really very special indeed.
Fen Farm’s products are available in farm shops, delis, food shops and restaurants throughout East Anglia and beyond. And you can also buy online from fenfarm.co.uk
Forage Kitchen are currently looking for their next pop-up location. Keep an eye on their social media accounts for details.