Farm to table is a concept or movement celebrating the production of food locally and delivering that food to local customers. It considers the route the food takes from the farm to the table, often ethically or organically sourced.
I love it as an aspirational concept, as a movement, and as a phrase that rolls wonderfully off the tongue.
During my trip to Northern California last year, I had the opportunity to explore it through visiting farms, shopping at farmers markets, and eating at as many restaurants as I could afford! The term populated menus far and wide – from urban eateries in the city of San Francisco, to the rural towns along the valleys of wine country and even the tiny shacks dotted along the Pacific coast. I was even tasked with writing an essay on the subject in Natural Chef school.
But why? I feel it is incredibly important to support local farming businesses, and encouraging others to also, as it allows them to thrive in an industry where competition for produce is from cheap supermarkets – which is often of inferior quality.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Ive seen the term farm to table used much in the UK (or in central London at least), though clearly through the increasing number of farmers markets, delivery companies such as Farmdrop, and conscientious restaurants such as The Pig in Hampshire, and Silo in Brighton it is happening. I’ve noticed us Brits favour a different term if one is used at all, perhaps ‘farm to fork’ or ‘field to fork’, but not really affirming either with enough confidence to start a movement. Can we start the movement? Maybe give it a hashtag? (groan).
A few weeks ago I visited another business worthy of being added to my farm to table directory – The Pointer, just outside of London in the home county of Buckinghamshire. The Pointer is a pub, a farm, a butchers – one company, one concept – and is situated in and around chocolate box village Brill which happens to be the highest village in Buckinghamshire (Brill, think Hill).
In my mind, an idyllic farm to table restaurant set up would be if a restaurant owns their own a farm, grows or rears their own fresh produce and livestock on site, and then turns this around to sell on to their OWN customers. The Pointer is a fine example of this concept.
During my visit to The Pointer I had the opportunity to tour many of the farm to table stages of the business. The fields where the livestock are reared, the kitchen gardens and polytunnels where the produce is grown, and the adjoining butchers where at set times of the week the shop is open to the community to purchase their grass-fed meat.
We were invited to sample a little fresh produce picked straight from the field. These loganberries (a cross between raspberries and blackberries) were so succulent, sharp, and with a gentle hint of sweetness that left me lusting after a punnet that I could devour all by myself.
Then there were the fresh flavoursome tomatoes, that kicked most tomatoes I have ever eaten to the kerb, excluding those grown in the greenhouses of my tomato fanatic Welsh grandfather of course.
And what did we find in the open meadow space? A wheelbarrow of freshly picked radishes, which we were soon to help feed to the pigs. Was a bit jealous of the pigs to be honest. Those radishes were beautiful.
The pigs soon enough got stuck in, and said thank you by shaking their muddy wet coats all over us. Charming.
After the tour, we had the opportunity to dine in the gardens of the pub where head chef Mini Patel works his wonders turning simple produce into plated works of art. The menu changes daily according to the fresh produce available from the farm, gardens and other local producers.
To snack while we perused the menu we had BBB (baked broad beans), dipped in harissa houmous and breads with freshly churned butter or beef dripping butter (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). Sadly I wasn’t able to eat the bread, but it looked perfect.
Then on to the real food. For starters I chose Pointer Farm Pea soup with poached quails egg. On a hot summers day, I did question why I’d chosen soup, when all the others around me were gorging on fresh cold salads. But, no I was the lucky one. That first slurp of velvety fresh soup, perfectly garnished with chives and a drizzle of oil reaffirmed why I’d been tempted by the ‘on season’ peas!
For mains, I opted for pork belly. The pork, was as to be expected absolutely delicious, but what I loved most about this dish was the care and attention to allow the vegetables – so often a neglected extra – to be part of the show. A fun addition to the plate was Mr Hawes Gooseberries. I actually thought I hated gooseberries, because of childhood memories. Like most 8 yr olds I just didn’t get them (all that hair ), and have been too scared to eat them since. Thank you Mr Hawes – a local grower in Brill, who it is said trades gooseberries with The Pointer for ale – these have changed my mind!
For dessert it was Eton Mess, one of the few desserts on the menu that was without flour. With strawberries from local Bucksum Farm (the small kitchen garden can’t always meet the quantity demands for the restaurant), folded in with cream and shards of meringue I needn’t have been disappointed not to try the treacle tart or lemon drizzle cake.
One of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, and If I had any criticisms at all it would be that there could be more gluten free options. For example the bread that came with the soup was terrible (but quite normal standards for gluten free sadly). It didn’t bother me as I don’t think you need extra bread with a soup, but it might some.
But really I think what made the food so special was the understanding of the whole farm to table process, the education, the learning about the food before I ate it. I’m constantly surprised that at 33, I am still learning stuff and having experiences that I wish I’d had at a younger age. I think it would have made a huge impact on the way I approached vegetables throughout my teens (naturally, I wasn’t a fan). I’m glad to see that more and more school initiatives are now focussed on food eduction. Let us all campaign for more.
Tours of the farm aren’t officially offered by the The Pointer just yet, but I have heard on the grapevine that the whole experience is something they are going to build on soon. Brill isn’t that far out of London to visit for a day’s rest and recuperation from the hustle and bustle of London, and offers plenty of opportunities for long walks across Buckinghamshire hills to work off (or up to) a feast. I hope to do it again very soon.
The Pointer – Pub, Butchers, Farm, can be found at 27 Church Street, Brill, Bucks, HP18 9RT
*Thanks to The Pointer for my invitation to spend a day at the butchery, farm, kitchen gardens and restaurant. All opinions are my own.0