We’ve been meaning to go to the River Cottage Canteen on Whiteladies Road for a while now, so when a specially themed foraging evening appeared on their events page, the time for excuses was over as the exciting prospect of a delicious meal AND learning a new skill proved too strong a pull!
John Wright might not be a household name, but if you’ve ever watched any of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s shows you might recognise the face. John is Hugh’s expert adviser on all things edible in the wild, and on this fascinating evening he made the trip up from Devon to Bristol to share some of his knowledge.
The River Cottage Canteen lends itself well to an intimate event such as this: The warm wooden floor and furniture, the open-plan kitchen, and the friendly staff are all very welcoming.
Upon arrival we enjoyed a canapé of roast carrot and caraway hummus with wild pennywort. The carrot hummus tasted mildly curried, and the pennywort leaf on top had a liquorice flavour. And of course there was a nice minty mojito to wash it down with!
John opened the evening by talking about the wealth of edible goodies on our own doorstep right here in the heart of Bristol. You’d be forgiven for thinking that foraging is something you’d only do in the country, but it turns out that their are edible plants in our verges and roundabouts in the city centre (you’ll want to give them a good wash if they’re right next to a road!).
Whilst some of the plants which we passed around for us to try were picked that afternoon in Bristol, John had also brought some examples from his local beach. Apparently all but one types of seaweed in the UK are edible, and once dried, baked and then ground into a powder, they make a great savory seasoning packed with vitamins and minerals. We actually tried this the next day on a weekend trip to Pembrokeshire and it worked surprisingly well (although I’m sure that with a little refinement a truely delicious meal accompaniment could be created). We also tried a very horseraddishy nettle type plant which would go very well in a roast beef sandwich (I’m afraid I can’t remember the name if it). Listening to any expert discussing a subject they’re passionate about is always riveting, but this was particularly interesting as it adds a new dimension to any walk.
Our starter was wild garlic soup (picked that day from Leigh Woods) with truffle oil and raisins (not so readily available in Leigh Woods). I’m already a fan of wild garlic as you get the great garlicky flavour, but without the lingering after taste. Raisins in soup was a new one on me though; an odd but not unpleasant addition to a wonderful dish, accompanied by fine sourdough bread.
For the main we had pine smoked pollock, seabeet speltotto and wild chive créme fraiche. The fish was perfectly flakey and smokey and went well with the light and subtly flavoured spelt risotto. The créme fraiche gave it a nice clean richness.
Our sweet was chamomile meringues with elderflower jelly and sorrel cream, which was every bit as floral and incredible as it sounds. We finished with a smooth and creamy Cornish yarg cheese wrapped in nettle, served with seaweed crackers and chutney.
The meal was delicious and stood up to those enjoyed in many of Bristol’s best restaurants. The knowledge that some of the key ingredients were picked from the wild only a mile or two away a few hours beforehand only enhanced the experience. And learning and trying new things was the cherry on top of a perfect evening!