Our little part of the world encapsulates a wealth of great local producers, many gorgeous medieval Cotswold stone buildings and a glut of wonderful eateries. At Thyme in Southrop, a mere stone’s throw away from our little fruit farm, all three are rolled rather luxuriantly into one.
Boasting an award winning pub, (the Swan) a boutique hotel, top notch cookery school, art exhibitions, dining events and so much more, what is astonishing about Thyme is how much of their food they source from their own kitchen gardens. Local produce is of the upmost importance as well, which is where we recently popped into the frame for an evening with top chef Oliver Rowe. Aided and abetted as he ably was by Charlie Hibbert and Darryl, Thyme’s resident culinary genius.
Oliver Rowe is a multi faceted, multi talented chef, author and all round stubborn bugger. As documented in his bestselling book Food For All Seasons, his quest to use exclusively local, seasonal, quality ingredients has made him a thing of legend. Ok, so maybe that’s overdoing it a bit, but upon reading his quietly thoughtful companion to the seasons; at once an eye opener, a page turner and a seasonal bible, you can see immediately how his determination and focus on strict availability of nearby fresh food has set the bar a fair notch higher for anyone who dares utter the words ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’ in the same sentence. He is the guru of the veg patch, the wise man of the hedgerow, and once you’ve read his book, you will never, EVER, look at a strawberry in November again. Seriously, not even a peek.
We were beyond flattered that the lovely Olwynne from Thyme and Oliver decided not only to use our raspberry liqueur in their welcome cocktail, but also to invite us for the whole evening. (yes, it’s true, I squealed in such excitement, only dogs could hear me.) After visiting our farm to get some inspiration, Thyme mixologist Charlotte, (a wee fey slip of a thing with a liver I suspect is made from reinforced steel) swirled together our fruity fayre with some top notch vanilla and rosepetal infused vodka, a dash of something herby, something else which I think was quite strong, sashayed in a little swirl of lemon and treated the evening’s guests to her very unique framboise épice.
I don’t go out to fabulous do’s half often enough (cough, hint), and hailing from deepest darkest Cornwall, where only bats live, am rather overwhelmed with seeing actual people from London when I do. Thus far, my tried and tested technique is to hide behind my camera and snatch canapes as they pass as if in some duck bobbing game at the fair. Whilst Miles mingled like a proper urban sophisticate, all tailored tweed and cut glass vowels, I stuffed myself so full of radishes with whipped anchovy butter and broad bean and goat’s curd bruschetta, all that came out of my mouth was a mixture of muffled chewing and a small spurt of anchovy butter. Good job my camera caught most of the butter. Although that bit on that really nice lady’s jacket, yes, um, sorry about that.
After I’d eaten my own body weight in radishes, supper was served. The barn is a tall airy space, huge long dining table twinkling with candlelit glasses, sky high flowers, and beautiful paintings especially commissioned by Caryn. A delicious whisper of salads to start was followed with the most celestial porchetta ever, stuffed with fennel and silver skin onions and very probably also angels (if seasonal). All veg sourced from the vibrant kitchen garden at Thyme, of course. On the side, a rhubarb compot and milling around the table huge bowls of potato salad with more varieties of potato than you could shake a stick at, and some greeny salad strewn with marigolds. The flower, not the essential rubber glove. Sadly, I missed most of this, as I was licking the plate.
Summer pudding, with Oliver’s lavender ice cream, one of the most sublime combinations I’ve ever eaten. The recipe’s in his book, incidentally. Buy it. Or pester him on Instagram with photos of his book in the hope he’ll send you some.
Cheese course, of course. At this point there was no room in anyone’s tummy. So defying waistlines and buttons and gravity, everyone piled into the delicious Berkswell, a hard, tangey ewe’s milk cheese and the sea salt and woodash covered Cerney Ash, served with hefty chilled slugs of our blackcurrant liqueur.
Staggering under the weight of our newly expanded bellies, we gradually drifted off into the night, with everyone magnificently sated and agreeing that a wonderful time (thyme?) had had been had by all. This little piece is an opportunity to thank our spectacular hosts for such an exceptionally tasty evening out. Caryn Hibbert has created something truly special in Thyme, no wonder it’s a such a coveted venue for both guests and cooks alike. I can’t wait to go back.