29th April 2016

Eccentric Eateries



Restaurants in unusual places are nothing new. The Cherwell Boathouse, for example, where you can eat and hire a punt, is an Oxford institution. But the recent rise of the pop-up eatery has helped open minds. When petrol  stations, car parks and scout huts can become temporary foodie hot spots, the notion of eating on the premises of fine art auctioneer Bonhams is hardly a stretch. As long as the food is good, we’re curious enough to embrace dinner on private islands, in treehouses and even prisons.

However, whether it’s a farm or a campsite, the unusual setting should be less novelty, more part of the restaurant’s story. In the north-west of England, Manchester House is a celebration of the creativity of the modern city halfway up an office block. In Edinburgh, the sheer graft of converting a rugged Victorian warehouse into the Timberyard demonstrates the Radford family’s all-in approach. Chef Ben says: ‘The building was unspoilt but run down, and all five members of the family were very involved in creating the restaurant and retaining the character of the space. There’s a rustic, authentic feel that reflects the building and the food.’ At The Goods Shed in Canterbury, the in-house food market creates what chef Rafael Lopez calls ‘the shortest supply chain possible – about 10 yards! The market floor is an ever-changing backdrop, and customers can ask for things that are in the market – if we’re not too busy, we’ll cook it’.

Meanwhile, at Anglesey’s Marram Grass, Barrie brothers Liam and Ellis credit the seasonal highs and lows of their location on their parents’ campsite with shaping their much-loved restaurant. ‘A busy summer and quiet winter mean we can learn lessons and experiment,’ says Liam. ‘The whole place is really homemade, from the food to the bar, and the location had a big part to play in that.’ Long may their winters be experimental.


Treat yourself £££

Timberyard, Edinburgh | 0131 2211222 | timberyard.co
This is not the traditionally sedate family-run restaurant. Behind large garage doors lurks an expansive industrial-style space – a one-time wood merchants, where the Radford family stick to sustainable and ecological principles to create food that is creative and of our times (think Noma). The ingredients lead the way, arriving from local artisan producers, growers and foragers, and a vegetable patch in the courtyard garden. Smoked beef stars with an array of vegetable textures and flavours, and bass with cockles and clams includes the Jerusalem artichoke-like knotroot. Sweet courses are equally thrilling. The drinks list has some creative cocktails and wines from £22.

John’s House, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire | 01509 415569 | johnshouse.co.uk
John Duffin returned to the family farm, Stonehurst, to open his restaurant in a 17th-century cottage. You park amid the outbuildings and old farm machinery, and enter a place whose rough and readiness extends to battered furniture and brick walls. The kitchen’s orientation is in bewitching contrast to the setting, with smart precision and dazzling combinations. Seared beef fillet sliced thin as carpaccio is topped with brown shrimps and a crisp-fried quail’s egg in lemon butter, and some of the home-grown wasabi crop electrifies rib and coffee-braised cheek of beef. It’s an energetically creative repertoire, accompanied by a short wine list opening at £18. 


Great value ££

The Goods Shed, Canterbury | 01227 459153 | thegoodsshed.co.uk
Overlooking the food market, this informal restaurant is powered by impeccable local produce from the stalls. Good for everyday dining as well as easy celebrations, this is the place to come for grouse in season, Kentish Ranger chicken with leeks and chorizo, and wild halibut with mussels, garlic and cream. For dessert, treacle tart has proved irresistible. Staff are always welcoming, and wines start at £15.75. Elsewhere in the market, readers can’t say enough about the Wild Goose bar and counter, which serves small plates of market produce and cocktails made with its own herb-infused spirits. 

Cherwell Boathouse, Oxford | 01865 552746 | cherwellboathouse.co.uk
Spirit-lifting recreation and stonkingly fine wines beckon at this enchanting Oxford institution – a working Victorian boat-house, with punts for hire and a gorgeous decked terrace. Bold English and French accents dominate, as the kitchen glides through seasonal ideas such as confit and seared quail with textures of beetroot, or herb-crusted black bream with a casserole of Puy lentils and Brixham cuttlefish. To follow there’s lemongrass and coconut rice pudding. The legacy of late owner Anthony Verdin is a fab wine list, with very reasonable prices from £14.75. 


Budget £

The Marram Grass Café, Newborough, Anglesey | 01248 440077 | themarramgrass.com
There’s charm from the off at Liam and Ellis Barrie’s earthy restaurant in what is effectively a lovely shed on a campsite. Under a low corrugated iron roof is a grotto-like interior, twinkly with candlelight and full of cosy corners. The food is gutsy and ambitious, and more sophisticated than the rustic presentation might suggest. One reporter was ‘bowled over’ by a main course of pearly fresh sea bass with roasted new potatoes, watercress and Jerusalem artichokes. A deconstructed bara brith – tea-poached dried fruit topped with luscious vanilla rice pudding and brown sugar jelly, with thick bara brith ice cream on the side – proved equally delightful. Wines are from £14.25.

The Clink, various locations | 020 7147 6724 | theclinkcharity.org
A brilliant idea executed with skill and compassion, Clink prison restaurants are staffed, front and back of house, by prisoners training for the catering qualifications that can help turn their lives around upon release. At the original restaurant, High Down in Surrey, and at HMP Brixton, you’ll eat in smart environs within the prison walls; at Cardiff and Styal, in Cheshire, the restaurants are just outside, so walk-ins are allowed. All four are run on sustainable principles, using seasonal produce often grown on prison farms in dishes such as seafood terrine with horseradish emulsion and walnut, sage and artichoke arancini. For obvious reasons, no alcohol is served.


Article originally published in Waitrose Weekend, 17 March 2016. For more news stories, life-style features, wine recommendations, recipes and weekend entertaining, download the Waitrose Weekend app.