Matthew Pennington, together with his brother Iain, run the incredible Ethicurean Restaurant only 15mins from TOG HQ in Somerset. It’s a firm favourite of ours. Diners can sit looking over the Victorian walled garden (where they grow most of their produce) and on to the beautiful Mendip hills beyond.
You’ve recently had a complete re-launch. Could you tell us a bit about the thinking behind the vegetable now taking centre stage?
Indeed we have, and most excited we are about that because we’ve also had a long look at how we might approach our food offering in the next decade at The Ethicurean and I think we’ve got it down to something rather progressive and even more delicious than before.
There’s a little known fact that, a humble heritage vegetable, grown in a ‘no dig’ garden system from healthy soils rich in microbes and full of worms, beneficial fungi & their mycelium, are almost ten times more nutritionally dense than vegetables produced from modern farming methods. They are more flavourful and the method of their growth is beneficial to the environment & wider ecology. This principal means everything to us. So, we have taken the obvious step to focus our menu around the veg and fungi we are so fortunate to cultivate here on site. Vegetables are taking the spotlight on our menu with the majority of our dishes being vegetarian, with options to pair with the highest quality pasture reared meat and sustainable seafood.
The same attention to provenance extends to our choice of meats served, cooked over a huge charcoal grill in the new kitchen. We source meat farmed & fed on pasture for very similar reasons to our choice of vegetables; flavour, nutritional value & having a beneficial impact on the environment. Our menu is split into five distinct seasons, each with fascinating qualities depending on time of year. They are, Scarcity, Growth, Fruiting, Harvest & Festivity. The humble veg has more than most expect to offer!
Have dietary requirements influenced your new offer?
Of course, we want guests to have an effortless and relaxed experience while they take in the views and be curious of what is happening here in the garden. Our menu is designed thoughtfully of every dietary requirement a guest may come with, allowing them to choose according to what they can have rather than what they might miss or need avoid. We continue our expertise in understanding of ingredients and guests needs.
How does seasonality affect your dishes and your use of creativity? Does it restrict you?
It is limitation that breeds creativity. Being constantly curious has allowed us to find solutions to the conundrum of scarcity in certain seasons, the temperamental weather patterns that might not provide quite when we were expecting it and ways of storing food that also increases its nutritional value. You can probably tell we are hinting at our use of lacto fermentation, always represented well on our menus. We’ve always vowed to use ingredients which are closest to us and in season. We’ve learned an awful lot in nearly a decade of doing this, never has it felt like a constraint, rather liberating we’d say.
Tell us about your cook book.
Our cook book follows our early years progress in this stunning kitchen garden venue. Full of creative ideas, recipes, drinks, cocktails, foraged ingredients & starting points to utilise heritage vegetables and fruits. All stuff we encourage the curious gardener or home grower to explore. Hopefully it’s a good example of what all of us can achieve, we encourage everyone to take a small step into exploring this fascinating and delicious land.
Why are there so many TOG knives in your kitchen ?!
The whole kitchen team love them for many a good reason. They sharpen beautifully on whetsone or ceramic rods, have great balance, geometry, wonderful handles and make prep more effortless. There’s a lot to be said for a great knife, it’s an extension of your principals as a chef. Ultimately we are a kitchen team who demonstrate great care in every aspect of what we strive for and how we approach food and it’s preparation. That’s why there are so many, I’m sure there’ll be many more in the coming years.
One top tip for people cooking at home and wanting to improve?
Just keep tasting, taste everything, be thoughtful about how that taste progresses over a few moments and most importantly how it makes you feel. Before long you’ll build a broader base that your mind will quickly be able to reference back to and it will begin to influence how you buy, prepare, season and improve your ingredients. Stay curious. Deliciousness is a moment that lingers on the tongue, your olfactory nerves can also recognise that. Seek deliciousness out at every opportunity.