There’s something special about the geography of this corner of Devon. Ten minutes after waving goodbye to the babysitter last Saturday evening at our home in central Exeter, and crossing our fingers that the bambinos would be good for her (because frankly where we were going wouldn’t have any phone signal, see ya!), we found ourselves driving through rolling countryside on our way to Bickham Farm, for a seasonal, organic, pop-up dinner by Rod and Ben's.
This was the first of three pop-up restaurants on the farm in coming months, in the gorgeously rustic Bickham Barn which has been done-up for use as an event venue. The farm is at the top of a steep, wooded hill leading out of the fairytale village of Kenn, where the views of the surrounding countryside are breathtaking.
The evening began with a tour of the farm by Roddy, who has been farming this land for twenty years, growing the organic vegetables which go into Rod and Ben's range of soups, stews and dips. Roddy's knowledge and experience are surpassed only by his passion for the land and the produce that he grows there. He showed us pristine rows of fat red cabbages and giant leafy kale, and a field of thousands of leek seedlings which he had recently sown himself that he talked about as fondly as though they were children, all watched over by an old fashioned scarecrow, with his Dexter and Hereford herds grazing on the hills in the distance… it was an idyllic illustration of what happens when you put love into farming.
The barn itself had been beautifully decorated with flowers and fairy lights and, once seated at the long table in the middle of the room, what felt like an endless stream of amazing sharing dishes began to arrive. Smiling waiters delivered whopping tureens of meat, numerous platters of vibrant vegetables, and whole loaves of delicious breads were dotted around the table, with delicious dips and oils and salads, all made with ingredients straight from the farm or local producers.
The communal nature of the meal, with plates being passed left, right and centre between us all, created such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. We were sat next to Mike from Sharpham Cheese and Wine, a friend of Roddy’s who told us that any event of Roddy’s was guaranteed to be a good one, and on the other side some lovely people who turned out to be good friends of good friends of ours, and who we are likely to have met before at a toga party, as you do. The wine was flowing, a live singer was performing, and through the open barn window swallows and swifts treated us to an aerial display. Everyone was smiling and chatting and making new friends. You know in Disney films when the crockery and candles come alive and dance around the table, birds are singing, everyone is arm in arm swigging their beer tankards, all is right with the world and people are JOYFUL? That happened!
Nothing that I ate was short of delectable. The braised beef with star anise, which is my favourite sort of food, was rich, silky and a perfect balance of sweet and savoury, and the charred cauliflower rice was a revelation, so full of flavour and something that I will definitely try at home. In the interests of fairness I made sure to try all three desserts and the whole selection on the cheese board; my favourites were the ‘Something Chocolatey’, a rich, not-too-sweet chocolate pot, and the moreish Sharpham Rustic Chive and Garlic cheese, and not just because it was recommended to us by Mike!
We left the barn clutching our full tummies and talking about what a lovely time we’d had - it was a celebration of local food, local food producers, community spirit and wonderful Devon, all summed up by this poem that Roddy read to us at the start of the meal..
In God is our trust – The Farmers Arms
‘Let the Wealthy & Great,
Roll in Splendor & State,
I envy them not I declare it.
I eat my own Lamb,
My chickens and Ham,
I shear my own Fleece & I wear it
I have Lawns, I have Bow’rs,
I have Fruits, I have Flow’rs,
The Lark is my morning alarmer.
So jolly boys now, Here’s God speed the Plough.
Long Life & Success to
There are two more of these seasonal dinners in the pipeline, on 22nd July and 14th October, tickets to which are selling fast so get in there quick!