The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine
Sitwell stirs it up
William visits Pythouse Kitchen Garden, Tisbury
William finds home-grown perfection in Wiltshire
The Wiltshire countryside surrounding Pythouse Kitchen Garden rolls about with green and lush abandon. On a summer’s day the trees, fields and hedges seem an almost miraculous creation. Now and then a grand house pops up around a bend before melting, discreetly, into this verdant heaven. Driving along one cranes one’s neck, aching to see more.
I remember the talented furniture designer David Linley telling me how his father, Lord Snowdon, had a habit of spotting grand houses then proceeding up the drive, introducing himself and getting a tour. David said the experience felt excruciating at the time. How embarrassing to just turn up like that. But retrospectively how wonderful. Nowadays, even if you had the balls to do it you’d never get past the electric gates and security, let alone the baffled new owner.
So the closest I got to grandeur in these parts was the kitchen garden of a rather imposing-looking house with a grey façade of which I caught a glimpse.
And how incredibly splendid Pythouse Kitchen Garden is. What was once a series of greenhouses, potting sheds and outhouses is now a restaurant, small shop, and cuttings, herb and vegetable garden, and there was a marquee. This is where most of the summer dining takes place. Bereft of an English summer wedding for the past two summers (yes, I know, hardship) this was a gorgeous tonic; all hessian floor and ropes and tent pegs, and wooden tables with garden furniture made comfy by wool throws and blankets.
As I arrived a woman who turned out to be the owner’s wife walked past with a large wicker trug laden with fresh cuttings. It was as idyllic a Wodehousian summer scene as at Blandings before all hell breaks loose.
As we studied the menu at our table, decorated with fresh flowers, a line of hessian cloth and a pot of rosemary, we sipped on the house nonalcoholic aperitif Sprigster with tonic. The brew is scented with the botanicals that crowded the view from the tent.
The menu has compulsory starters and veg; you just choose your dish ‘from the fire’ and a pud. So we nibbled first on a light ‘yellow-split-pea whip’, a subtle and soft mush of pulse, with the lightest fragrance of the garden and a whole radish – tops and all. There was beetroot, too, with slender roasted carrots, and delicious bread made with potato. It was all sublimely natural, skilfully cooked and presented with a deft artistic bent.
As was my dish of beef, the remnants of a retired dairy cow whose service to mankind was perpetuated as her flesh was well aged in salt then cooked nicely over charcoal. It came dressed with a long, curling piece of veg: a garlic scape, apparently. It’s the shoot from a garlic bulb, just before it flowers. The chef pickles it, to soften, then tempers it briefly on the grill. It tastes gently of garlic, but earthy and fresh too.
My pal Josie – herself a sort of Blandings character in a state of constant near-hysteria, who is a novelist and creator of the gem detective Jemima Fox – was enjoying some trout, meanwhile, smothered in heirloom tomatoes and resting on charred Little Gem lettuce.
The accompanying vegetables were magnificent, of course, the highlight being fermented asparagus, now thin and crisp and topped with a dash of eggy sauce and crisp, dried onions.
Our lunch ended with the most sublime chocolate mousse, rich, light and dappled with bits of cocoa, hazelnuts and puffed grain.
Pythouse Kitchen Garden is a bucolic English paradise deserving of global fame. Turn up and get a tour.