Features

Eccentric eateries

The Goods Shed in Canterbury, where the in-house food market is an ever-changing backdrop for diners

What do a boathouse, a prison, a campsite and a fine art auctioneer have in common? They are among Britain’s more unconventional locations to visit in search of fine dining.

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 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 Radford says: ‘The building was unspoilt but rundown, 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 The 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
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. Quail stars with parsnip, ramson, onion and black garlic, and halibut with celery, salsify, sea beet and artichoke. Sweet courses are equally thrilling. The drinks list has some creative cocktails and wines from £23. timberyard.co

John’s House, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire
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. Wye Valley asparagus arrives with quail’s egg, truffle and crispy chicken skin, and some of the locally foraged Wood Blewit mushrooms are teamed with roast breast and confit leg of guinea fowl. It’s an energetically creative repertoire, accompanied by a short wine list offering plenty by the glass.  johnshouse.co.uk

Great value ££

The Goods Shed, Canterbury
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 game in season, guinea fowl, lentils, spinach and black pudding, and steamed hake, wilted chard, croquettes and alioli. For dessert, rhubarb tart has proved irresistible. Staff are always welcoming, and wines start at £16. 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. thegoodsshed.co.uk

Cherwell Boathouse, Oxford
Spirit-lifting recreation and stonkingly fine wines beckon at this enchanting Oxford institution – a working Victorian boathouse, with punts for hire and a gorgeous decked terrace. Bold English and French accents dominate, as the kitchen glides through seasonal ideas such as seared Brixham scallops, texture of pear and chorizo oil, or grilled sea bass fillet, octopus and cannellini bean casserole and basil sauce. To follow there’s apple tarte tatin, apple and calvados purée and toffee ice cream. The legacy of late owner Anthony Verdin is a fab wine list, with very reasonable prices. cherwellboathouse.co.uk

Budget £

The Marram Grass Café, Newborough, Anglesey
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. A main course of hake, burnt cauliflower and turnip, salted blackberries and celery salad might be followed by 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. themarramgrass.com

The Clink Charity, various locations
A brilliant idea executed with skill and compassion, The Clink Charity 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 ox tongue terrine, pickled girolles and caper dressing, and grilled megrim sole, crushed Jersey Royals, sea vegetables, coriander salsa, lemon oil. For obvious reasons, no alcohol is served. theclinkcharity.org

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