Abbey Gardens, Winchester; boy do I have a few memories of this place from my younger days, thank goodness I can paper over them with my new view of this ‘sacred place’ thanks to River Cottage Canteen Winchester. Tuesday 18th October was my first ever visit to the RCCW, shame on me for taking so long to do so!
I’ve always loved the Abbey Mill, despite never having been inside, it is such a beautiful building; imposing but inviting. Add in the full moon and the crisp air – one perfect autumn evening to venture out with my ‘sister’ and great friend, Lucy Pinder of Pinderpix.com, for a four course meal created by the talented and terribly easy-on-the-eye Gill Meller, group head chef for River Cottage for the last twelve years.
Upon entering, whilst having a ‘penguin looking at a plane’ moment – the interior is stunning, beams and squirrel-cage bulbs galore – there stood Gill, hut hum, waiting to greet his diners. I’m ashamed to admit I made that awful Bambi-in-the-headlights face and all too quickly reached to shake his hand, poor chap! Luckily he is utterly charming and Lucy was ready to divert the impending assault by doing the ‘talking bit’.
“Look at the lights, look at the floor, just look anywhere but straight at him”…
Freshly composed, we three had a chat about the book, the main reason we were there, with great gusto; the concept, the message and ultimately the passion for seasonal, ethically sourced, real food. ‘Gather’, which took a year to complete, is broken up into chapters by landscape rather than the usual starter, main, dessert layout. It is such a fabulous way to present a recipe book! Hubby, bless his selective taste-buds, is highly allergic to fish and shellfish so, thanks to the landscape breakdown, I can flip straight to Orchard, Farm, Woodland and so on. The Seashore chapters are for mother and I to enjoy!
Having stolen quite enough time from Gill we sashayed up the staircase to the bar where Lucy ‘twisted my arm’ into joining her in having an Orchard Champagne to start; Fizz with elderflower and a touch of lemon – yum!
Much more penguin-plane eye wondering ensued along with some furious camera action – God bless being a blogger; having the poetic license to wield a camera, completely carefree!
Back to the event in question, we were seated at a well-sized table for two (can’t stand having to worry about plate, cutlery, elbow and notebook space when dining) next to a lovely Australian woman with her, also lovely, son – she was so thrilled to see our camera equipment dwarfed hers, completely alleviating her shyness to snap away.
“Are you two the press?”
“Somewhat, we’re the blogging (insert expletive)”
God bless people with a sense of humour!
With a clink of a glass, Gill started his introduction; his background, the joys of growing up in Dorset, how he came to be the chef he is today, his passion for foraging, ethically sourced, seasonal ingredients and food in general. Such a down-to-earth, honest man with zero self-obsessed puffery.
Bring on the food!
I’m not going to insult Gill’s food or embarrass myself by trying to be foodie and describe the flavour combinations, the textures so on and so forth; each and every nibble, dish, side was flawless! I would eat the above menu every day without complaint!
Particular stand outs for me however were;
- The damson jam
- Goats cheese, rhubarb and loveage
- Salted pollock
- Pear, roast red onion and crispy puy lentils
- The dish of the night for me was the honey and coriander seed cake…oh my word!!! Definitely one to bake over and over again! Utterly stunning!!!
I had never eaten squirrel before…would I eat it again? You decide; the following morning, whilst walking to work, I had two grey, fluffy little friends cross my path…my first though (rather than the usual ‘awww’) was ‘yum’! Completely sold! And, as Gill put it, why waste such an abundant source when one can eat it? Squirrels are (cute) pests, they cause much damage to trees and if you’ve ever had one living in your roof I’m sure you were happy to see it evicted, once evicted there is only one future, by law(!), most end up in landfill which is such a terrible waste! Please give it a try, obviously via one of Gill’s recipes in Gather!
The final verdict:
River Cottage Canteen Winchester is a beautiful, comfy and welcoming setting for any occasion; impeccable service, the staff are enchanting, the kitchen runs like a dream and coffee is nuclear…perfect!
Gather is quite possibly the most beautiful book I have ever owned, the photography is stunning, the recipes beg to be cooked let alone eaten! I have been singing the praises of this book to anyone who will listen, I’ve lost count of how many visitors have locked on to it laying on my kitchen worktop, emitting many ‘ooohs’ and ‘yums’. Gill is the icing on the cake, it was an absolute pleasure to meet him and enjoy his delicious dishes!
Now go get yourselves a copy!
To the kitchen!!!
With love ‘beauty and the beast’
For River Cottage bookings and events please visit: https://www.rivercottage.net/canteens/winchester
For Gill’s website and book information please visit: http://www.gillmeller.com/
Pictures c/o Lucy Pinder of pinderpix.com