The EthicureanA VICTORIAN WALLED GARDEN
FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS THE BUILDINGS WERE ABANDONED UNTIL THE CURRENT OWNER RENOVATED THEM. THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE VILLAGE, THE OLDER GENERATION, WHO CAN REMEMBER PLAYING IN THE WALLED GARDEN AS CHILDREN.
Set in the bucolic Mendip Hills behind the redbrick walls of an exquisite Victorian garden, The Ethicurean is a hidden treasure of the Somerset countryside. Focussed on ethical sourcing of ingredients from the local environment, this seasonal restaurant serves up a plethora of dishes and cocktails, from beetroot carpaccio with honeyed walnuts to a Bristolian take on an Old Fashioned. Started by friends Jack Adair Bevan, Paula Zarate and brothers Ian and Matthew Pennington, The Ethicurean seeks to embrace the French concept of Terrior, loosely translating to mean ‘a sense of place’. Everything, from the vegetable patches, bursting with marrows and fragrant herbs to the 19th century apothecary décor combine to create what Jack describes as a quirky, fairytale like environment.
On a blustery October morning, inundated with showers and brief forays of glimmering sunlight, we sat down with Jack over a coffee and found out more about how they discovered the walled garden, what sources inspired their cookbook, and what the future holds for The Ethicurean.
Cereal: Tell us a bit about your background.
JB: So initially we were all working at the farmers’ market across Bristol and Somerset. We were buying produce from the farmers at the market, cooking it ourselves and then selling it to members of the public. We picked up a number of really interesting contracts from that, including work with Hendricks gin and the Adventurist (Mongol Rally).
Cereal: And were you guys all friends before that?
JB: Yes we were, and Matthew and Ian are brothers. Matt and I started the business up together at the markets and then Paûla and Ian joined later. The four of us formed The Ethicurean together.
Cereal: And so it was a coming together of like-minded individuals? What led you to working together?
JB: Totally, yes. Paûla is the boss and is very business minded as well as being creative, incredible at organisation, financing and running the books. She is the backbone of the business. Matthew is very scientific and ordered in his approach and is a wonderful inventor of recipes. He spends a lot of time researching and works a lot on the marketing side of things. He mans our social media platforms. Ian is a fantastic chef and works a lot on sourcing ingredients and developing recipes. I am very much about creating new ideas and concepts – and I also run the bar and FOH. So we all operate as a homogenous entity if you like – The Ethicurean brain is made up from a number of different perspectives and backgrounds. We have a mutual respect and trust for each person’s individual skills and that allows us to operate at as high a level as possible.
Cereal: How did you find the walled garden?
JB: We were selling apple juice for a producer from the market called Miles Bradley. We were very interested in apples, particularly of the English variety, and he told us that there was an apple business for sale at Barley Wood Walled Garden. We went and had a look at it and it turned out that the café was up for rent also, so we said, let’s take on both! We integrated the apple juice business and the cafe. At that point it was just four of us but as the business grew we took on more people.
Cereal: Tell us about the history of the building and the grounds.
JB: So the walled garden was built in 1901 for the Wills family. It was attached to a big house across the road, which was originally the home of the reformist Hannah More. When the Wills family owned the land they continually extended the grounds. For a number of years the buildings were abandoned until the current owner renovated them. There are still people who live in the village, the older generation, who can remember playing in the walled garden as children.
Cereal: Was the idea of creating ‘a sense of place’ there before you found the walled garden?
JB: That idea was always in mind. No one has truly translated the concept of the French word Terroir into English really. It is something that exists within our food culture already, it’s just that with the industrialisation of food and mass production it has been lost. This isn’t necessarily the case in other countries. We wanted to be part of its resurgence in the UK. The idea of looking at food as having its own story or narrative is important to us. We focus on why certain foods grow in certain parts of the country and why that food tastes best at certain times of the year. This mindful attitude towards cooking and sourcing food is something that is happening a lot with Nordic food, for example. Chefs there are really trying to evoke a sense of place in their food. We are doing the same.
Cereal: And the ethical side of things – is that something that is encompassed in this way of looking at food?
JB: Completely. Food that has been grown and reared properly, or shot in the wild, without knowing that is going to be shot, just tastes a hell of a lot better. It’s a much better way of producing food for health and ethical reasons.
Cereal: And do you source the majority of your ingredients from the garden?
JB: Exactly, the majority of our ingredients come from the garden. Things like onions and potatoes can’t, just because we go through so many of them – but all of our radishes, beetroots, fruits, salad leaves, and herbs come from the garden.
Cereal: And how do you go about sourcing the other food?
JB: If we go anywhere else, it is to the community farm, which isn’t far away. All the customers that buy their veg boxes from the farm have a stake in the business. It’s amazing. People will also bring in a couple of trucks of something unique like quince and we will exchange that for food or a drink at The Ethicurean. So an interesting market community has developed there. We also forage every week, all our mushrooms and other ingredients like wood sorrel come from the local countryside. As do the rabbits and deer that we shoot.
Cereal: We know you are involved in the bar and cocktail side of things so we were wondering if you could tell us about how you use alcohol to complement your food menu?
JB: So we definitely say that there is a strong synergy between the bar and the kitchen, a real bond – everything made in the kitchen is run through me at the bar so that the drinks we produce complement individual dishes. Also, we will often have a dessert that has a strong drink element – our custard for example is served in a coupe – and is made from butter, lavender cordial, and cider brandy. We don’t use any citrus fruit in our drinks. We are all about using fruits from our local surroundings. Our Old Fashioned cocktail is made up of a burnt oak cider brandy, with chipotle, vanilla and toffee apple syrup – which is a product from the kitchen – so it’s a drink with its roots in Somerset. We are really trying to push the idea of drinks that reflect our area. By doing this, the drinks directly complement our dishes – rather than use a wine from the Rhone for example, which comes from a totally different family of ingredients.
Cereal: What are your sources for inspiration?
JB: In terms of inspiration for our book – we looked at lots of old texts such as Hartley, Beeton and Spry, and also at the work of our favourite chefs like Heston (Blumenthal). The product is the amalgamation of everything we have ever learnt, looked at, or liked. When we read reviews of the restaurant, people have described the place as a slightly curious, bohemian fairytale land – that’s really just a result of the literature we read, the music we listen to, the food we cook, and the drinks that we like. We want it to be a place where we, personally, want to hang out the whole time. So the inspiration isn’t a concept if you like, it’s just that we really love the place and continually seek to improve it.
Cereal: What do you think it is about The Ethicurean which really appeals to people?
JB: I think the main thing is the view out the window, seeing everything growing in the garden, seeing Ian picking herbs and marigolds and flowers – there is a certain reassurance that can be taken from knowing that everything comes from the same place. I also think people enjoy the general aesthetic and feel of the place, the slightly Victorian apothecary, quirky, experimental, bottles and jars, cured meat on countertops. There is definitely a sense of fairytale about the whole thing.
Cereal: Whats next for The Ethicurean?
JB: We would very much like to open a bar, with some great complementary food, like British charcuterie, using meats like our own cured fallow, deer, and goat. Eventually we would like to open another restaurant but it entirely depends on whether we can find the right place. We are always going to be in Barley Wood, we will always count this as our home – and if we do take a new place on – it’s got a lot to live up to in our minds.
* This is our second joint feature with Freunde von Freunden. You can read their version of this story here.
- Words & Photos: Robbie Lawrence