Archives for posts with tag: Babylonstoren

Leaving 014

I’ve always loved beautiful gardens and find myself feeling very happy when I have even the tiniest patch to call my own. Years ago I simply had a few troughs planted out on my first floor flat balcony and that progressed to a small but truly spiritual space at the back of my London pad. Now I am indulging in the most wonderful huge garden which is bringing me loads of joy.

The interesting thing is why there is always such a connection between gardening and cheffing. I know that it makes absolute sense that the people who cook your food like to connect with growing your food but I am not convinced it has always been as integrated as it is these days.

Restaurants like Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and The Star Inn have integrated their gardens and restaurants for years now and I wonder if that is part of the reason they have so many accolades. Others have followed in their droves including the Pig Hotel with their kitchen garden linked to the hotel and many other gastropub owners who have a desire to link the growing garden to the kitchen menu. There is no doubt that the flavours and interest of the menu are enhanced by being able to pluck something straight from under the window outside.

Even in the inner city of London or New York there are chefs finding space to create their own garden and grow their own produce. In London, the rooftop plot at Pied a Terre boasts over 200 plants and the River Cafe continues to propagate their produce from the garden they created back in 1987.

Bello, Book and Candle rooftop garden

Bello, Book and Candle rooftop garden

In New York, Bell Book & Candle have a rooftop aeroponic garden growing their greens and some fruit and and the likes of Rosemary’s, Roberta’s, The LCL and ABC kitchen also follow suit. They are all getting great reviews for finding the shortest route from field to fork with their own roof to table gardens.

There is also a big fashion to having bee hives in inner cities as well. Fortnums have their own hives on their roof which in turn produces their own honey and there is a company called Urban Bees who will help city dwellers set up their own bees and then there’s Hire a Hive which was a business proposition featured on Dragon’s Den which is now going strong.

Food shopping for dinner at Babylonstoren

Food shopping for dinner at Babylonstoren

I find myself pondering what to put in mine and love the idea that you can grow great things to eat that are also wonderful to look at. My gardener in London had some great suggestions. Artichokes are like some sort of prehistoric beast taking over from the earth and cavalo nero is not only imposing and curvaceious but yummy too. Red chard was just lovely adding colour as well as food options and of course peas growing up tripods give height as well as interest.

The two most inspiring examples I have seen on my travels in terms of a growing kitchen shop is Babylonstoren in the winelands of Cape Town and in Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm.

Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm

Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm

I guess it is this connection with the earth and all things that grow from it that inspires us to create good food. I was listening to the latest interview with Dan Barber who is the master of all things from the ground and has now written his next book all about it. He set up Blue Hill at Stone Barns and really has changed the way we could cultivate produce for the better. His work not only with the soil, but also the rotation of planting, is changing the quality of the raw product and by working on different varieties as well, he is discovering some amazing things about veg that you can listen to in that interview. It was inspiring to eat at a restaurant where the first 12 courses were to be eaten with our fingers and 11 of the 24 savoury courses were vegetarian. It was about picking up the most wonderful version of a carrot and eating it straight from the field it was picked in. What more could a chef do to improve on nature?

The fashion to connect more with the grower and produce is reflected in the continued strength of farmers markets across the world. Watching the film Chef last week had Jon Favreau’s character at the LA markets that I so enjoyed and this weekend I was back at the award winning market in Stroud. Once again there was an abundance of seasonal fruit & veg to inspire your cooking. There is no point going there with a list as it is the product that creates the recipes and menus. I was also taken to Jolly Nice which is a lovely concept parked on the side of the street with a great organic stall as well as home baked goods and a funky airstream trailer serving hot food. Who knew that a roadside venue could be so great but here in the Cotswold countryside it really is charming.

Freshly plucked tayberries

Freshly plucked tayberries

We have had the most indulgent weekend cooking with beautiful perfumed tayberries plucked from a friend’s garden, yellow courgettes adding colour to our Sunday afternoon ham hock salad and a delicious goats cheese from the lovely Renee at Windrush Valley Goat Dairy which was a centrepiece to our Saturday lunch browser board.

Windrush Valley Goat Dairy at Stroud market

Windrush Valley Goat Dairy at Stroud market

Just adding some fabulous herbs from the garden to our salad and a frond of fennel in our water made everything seem so much more beautiful not only to look at but to eat. I think by connecting back to the earth you stimulate even more of your senses because your hands have grown it too and there seems to be a heightened smell and taste just because it is so fresh and vibrant.

Ham hock, bean, yellow courgette and lovage salad with honey mustard dressing

Ham hock, bean, yellow courgette and lovage salad with honey mustard dressing

I am going back to my raised beds, plucking the wild strawberries from the mouths of the birds and planning the next phase of planting for my delight and delectation.

PIGS

Pigs are very intelligent, clean, social animals with a wonderful sense of smell, which is why they are great truffle hunters. So we should love them for that reason alone. Oh, and they also taste great!

As a nice Jewish girl, I am not sure it is legal to have such a penchant for pig, but what can a girl do? It is definitely the meat of the moment having showcased its best sides through Jamie’s shoulder of pork recipe, the trend a few years ago for pork belly, the whole scratchings fashion and latterly, barbecued ribs a la Pitt Cue co.

Tea towels from Ham

Tea towels from Ham

This Christmas, my presents and cards will also have a piggy feel thanks to the wonderful Jo at Ham who is manufacturing beautiful piggy based things for the kitchen here in Britain.

The Pig Sign

This week, I finally managed to get down to the New Forest to have lunch at The Pig hotel, which has been on my list for some time now. Created by successful hotelier Robin Hutson, this reasonably priced, 26 room hotel is the latest incarnation from the Lime Wood Group. Mr Hutson is a bit of an inspiration in the hotel world. He created the Hotel du Vin chain which reinvented the town hotel and now he has applied his immense talent to the country hotel. The beauty of The Pig is the walled garden, which is central to the concept and really does define the identity of the place. By bringing the food into the heart of the hotel, The Pig has partnered two key elements required to satisfy even the most discerning lodger.

The walled garden treats

The walled garden treats

Cavolo Nero is such a wonderful veg

Cavolo Nero is such a wonderful veg

The Pig menu is created from within a 25 mile radius with chef, forager and gardener working well together to create wonderful British garden food. Everything was presented with a nod to garden, from the first seating in the Victorian conservatory to the presentation of the menu and table complete with herb pots. But the most exciting part was the menu itself. It was creative and interesting and the food generally delivered in the same vein. This wasn’t exciting cutting edge food and some of the flavour was not as intense as I would have expected, but we had a great time and a thoroughly enjoyable, good value meal.

The Victorian conservatory houses the restaurant

The Victorian conservatory houses the restaurant

The Pig hotelThe whole experience reminded me of two other places I have written about before in Top of the World and The Promised Land.

The Stone Barn that houses Blue Hill

The Stone Barn that houses Blue Hill

The first is Blue Hill at Stone Barns, home of the brilliant chef, Dan Barber in New York. This is the best overall meal experience I have ever had. It began with a tour of the farm and ended with a 28 course meal that blew my mind. The first 10 course were vegetarian and the first 12 course were eaten without cutlery!

What the team at Blue Hill don’t know about veggies is not worth knowing. It was the Driven by Flavour podcast that first introduced me to chef Barber, changing my whole outlook on vegetables, and was the only reason I went to Blue Hill in the first place. If you ever get the chance, go there, take the farm tour, see what it is these guys do with every single element of meat and veg and just bathe in the glory of these ultra talented passionate people. Ask about the charcoal, go and see the pigs and make the most of the incredible knowledgable passionate staff who will tell you everything you need to know about the meal. Each table gets something slightly different as the chef creates dishes from what is available so go for it…we did! The Blue Hill clan are genuinely changing the world with their revelations and delivering incredible food at the same time. This is the premier league of garden centric restaurants and it doesn’t get much better than this.

One little part of the garden at Babylonstoren

One little part of the garden at Babylonstoren

The other place that puts a garden at the heart of its hotel and restaurant is Babylonstoren in the Winelands, near Cape Town. The menu and cooking here was not as exciting as Blue Hill, but in terms of design and gardens, this wins hands down. My ‘room’ was actually a cottage which I could quite happily have lived in forever and every single part of the hotel embraced the surrounding grounds. Room service had touches of herbs, you were positively encouraged to go pick your own and cook in your room and the staff even let me go cook the morning breads for breakfast. This is a piece of heaven and a must if you are in the area.

My herby fruity breakfast bread baked alongside the Babylonstoren chef who cooks for Babel restaurant

My herby fruity breakfast bread baked alongside the Babylonstoren chef who cooks for Babel restaurant

Garden centric restaurants and hotels rule and I hope that The Pig is one of many that follow in this country.

I am in heaven. Well, my version of heaven anyway.

I have my friend Jo to thank for introducing me to Babylonstoren when it was merely a concept in the eye of Karen Roos, former editor of Elle Deco, South Africa. Now it is a much lauded luxury hotel on a working farm. At the centre of it all is a vast garden made primarily of edible plants and it is from here that you can pick your own larder, or watch the chefs do their shopping.

Shopping for produce

The veg section

Ocado delivery!

Shop window

In fact, the premise was to restore this wonderful old farm site and it was only later on that rooms, restaurants, and the spa was added. And what rooms they are. In fact, my room was more stand alone cottage with stunning kitchen, trendy design and the most indulgent of bathrooms. I could easily live here permanently.

My 'room'!

The living room

My kitchen! complete with Dualit toaster, Smeg oven and Nespresso machine

You can't beat a bath like that

Sadly this does not come cheap so there is no chance of my moving here in this lifetime. Pricey it may be, but generous too, in so many ways. It’s the staff who give you the most of all. They are outstandingly friendly, passionate, helpful and knowledgable. This is the ultimate in service with seamless assistance from the moment you are welcomed in the car park through to the time when your luggage is returned to the car for departure.

The lovely ladies who delivered my dinner platter were in awe of my skype conversation with Mum. They genuinely couldn’t believe that I was both seeing and talking to a lady in Leeds, UK. I’m not sure if I was more touched by my Mum asking them to look after me, or them waving like lunatics to my Mum!

Then there was the beautiful box of freshly picked produce left in my kitchen, along with 2 bottles of local award winning wine. I was able to create a positive feast for dinner with the veg, the platter’s pesto and some added chard I picked in the garden.

Freshly picked today

Dinner is served

Their restaurant, Babel, was built in the original cow shed which explains the theming. The menu is the ultimate in seasonal food as it is totally dependent on what is ready to eat in the garden that day. Sadly some of the fruit and veg needs more time to really develop it’s taste so fruit salads were colourful but lacking in flavour. But I am sure this will happen as the garden matures. In the meantime, they make good use of what is there for a choice of red, yellow or green salads and juices as part of the core menu.

Menu: written directly onto the white tiled wall

Babel restaurant with open kitchen at one end and menu wall at the other

The recently opened tea room at the other end of the vast garden has a more casual menu with pretty trays of breads served with your choice of toppings, preserves and drinks for you to mix and match. Casual eating at its best. Once again, it is a lesson in design and visual merchandising creating a peaceful space to loiter.

Tearoom inside

Tearoom outdoor space adjacent to the garden

Trays of treats

Loving the alliums

The beauty of this set up is that you can really find your own way of interacting with it. Kids just love the fact they can pick their own and they are big fans of the plethora of animals on site: donkeys, turkeys, geese, chicken, tortoise and many different birds. And adults can do as little or as much as they want…as well as partake in the daily garden tour for top tips and wine tours with the Babylonstoren wine maker.

Morning duties: feeding the donkeys

The cockerel rules this roos

The lovely Karen and her yummy bread

Cutting fresh herbs for the bread

Surprisingly, my personal favourite was getting up at 5am to join baker, Karen, who let me loose on the day’s bread production.

Magic bakers hands

My first attempt at Karen's bread

She has a relaxed and passionate approach, combining obvious bread making skills with a clever palette to make fresh fruit and herb breads as well as unique traditional recipes, all of which are optimised by the kitchen team throughout the day.

Karen will also be heading up the new cheese, wine and charcuterie rooms, opening in February, and I am sure they will be perfectly complemented by the range of home-made preserves and chutneys on offer in the reception shop.

So what can I conclude from my time here? It is simply the best example of the farm-to-fork concept that I know. Where Daylesford is elite and aloof, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns is cutting edge and forging the future of veg production, Babylonstoren is real, approachable and stylish.

Above all, the gardens on this stunning site are the heart and soul of the whole experience. They are physically and spiritually beautiful and this emanates through your stay. From a food point of view, it excites me about the opportunity. These guys are exploring new varieties, new tastes and new food combinations. So watch this space.

New varieties intersperse with old to create some exciting opportunities

I am sure that with the evolution of their offer, they will become the very centre of the new evolving food community that is on this side of the winelands and will give Franschhoek a run for its money.