Why The Best Restaurants Of 2019 Are Farm-To-Table
Food Circle, Portugal. Photograph by Mr Nelson Garrido, courtesy of Food Circle
Food that looks good, tastes good and does good, too.
Back in the olden days of, say, 2010, “farm-to-table” was a movement that meant little more than not purchasing your food on, say, another continent. Perish the thought you grew anything yourself.
Now, though, it’s a term with more clout, one that all the best chefs talk about, alongside hyperlocal and homegrown. Where once they’d have hankered for a kitchen lab, these days it’s a chemical-free veg patch that’s the sine qua non. Techie gizmos have been replaced with composting teas.
This approach isn’t a fad. It’s an ethos born from a genuine love of provenance. While it’d be easy to construe tattooed barfolk lovingly concocting bitters from home-harvested herbs, or devoted chefs manning their beehives as self-indulgent, the result is a worthy one – reducing carbon footprints and being gentler to nature. We diners also benefit, reaping cleaner, lip-smackingly fresh ingredients on our plates. Here are the culinary cultivators leading this shift.
Blackberry Farm, Tennessee, US
Left: Blackberry Farm, Tennessee. Right: Grilled pork shoulder with fava beans, spinach and crème fraîche. Photographs by Beall + Thomas Photography, courtesy of Blackberry Farm
Head to the luxe resort of Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains to try its Foothills Cuisine. The menu saunters along a carefully balanced line between refined and rugged, borrowing from haute cuisine and local culinary lore.
With 4,200 acres on the Blackberry estate, there’s much DIYing to be enjoyed. Butter is churned, cheese is produced, foragers are employed to pick young shoots and leaves, and a preservationist masters the jars of ferments and pickles.
All this is topped off by executive chef Ms Cassidee Dabney’s seasonal Appalachian menu at The Barn restaurant, where spring might see young micro veg plucked straight from the soil outside the window, or wood-grilled guinea fowl caught from the mountainous surrounds. With such abundance of booty, it’s no wonder global culinary superstars such as Mr Grant Achatz regularly visit.
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Brae, Victoria, Australia
Left: Brae, Australia. Right: Aged peking duck wood-roasted on the bone, sour squash, muntries and purslane. Photographs by Mr Colin Page, courtesy of Brae
In the Australian hinterlands of The Otways, Mr Dan Hunter sources his ingredients within kilometres – if not metres – of his globally celebrated restaurant, Brae. The area is, in general, ample with nature, from corpulent parakeets to forest and coastline, but it’s the 30 acres of farmland he purchased alongside the restaurant-cum-cottage that is most fascinating. Gnarly shrubs and spindly vines have been transformed to lush rows of heritage vegetables, punctuated by fruit trees, greenhouses and olive groves.
Despite the rusticity of its surrounds, this is firmly fine dining with dishes as bonny on the eye, as the palate. The menu? A mellifluous 15 courses. Look out for the burnt pretzel, treacle and pork among highfalutin amuse-bouches, while the signature iced oyster is deceptively simple, but 12 hours in the making. Fittingly, he’s tackling the egregious food-waste problem restaurants suffer, producing just six bins of waste weekly. Not bad for an operation serving more than 200 customers.
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Food Circle, Portugal
Left: Azores pineapple tempura accompanied with sage pineapple granita. Right: Food Circle, Portugal. Photographs by Mr Nelson Garrido, courtesy of Food Circle
“Permaculture” ain’t just any old style of growing food, it’s an eco method that’s particularly kind to the environment. A few years back, it would be considered something only hippies would play at. Yet, the serious farm-to-table chefs have now taken this up. The core tenet is a healthy planet and a key principle is to grow layers of ecosystems above and below each other.
But to really get to grips with it, journey to Alentejo in Portugal and you’ll see it in action at laid-back luxury hotel, Sublime Comporta. There, we can all sample a slice of the permaculture pie now they’ve set up Food Circle, a restaurant set outdoors amid the lush herb and veg idyll, with is room for just 12 diners. The menu is the brainchild of chef Mr Tiago Santos, who not only serves a fancy 12-course dinner picked from the fruiting vines, but he cooks only on coal or wood.
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Hiša Franko, Slovenia
Left: Cauliflower ravioli with crab and black trumpet mushrooms. Photograph by Mr Benjamin Schmuck, courtesy of Hiša Franko. Right: Hiša Franko, Slovenia. Photograph by Ms Suzan Gabrijan, courtesy of Hiša Franko
Ms Ana Roš is championed for her immutable commitment to native hyperlocal Slovenian ingredients. Tucked away in the Soča Valley countryside where Ms Roš and her husband Mr Valter Kramar live with their two children, the big grandiose house – said to be where Mr Ernest Hemingway was treated for a wound he received on the Isonzo Front, and possibly even where A Farewell To Arms was written – is home to her fine diner, a world-famous destination for the well-travelled.
On the ground floor, her team offers a breathtakingly refined tasting menu of more than 20 courses. Elegant innovations include fermented cheese and tempura fried white asparagus with a celery emulsion and ancient Slovenian pear variant Pituralka with langoustine. Similar to other farm-to-tablers elsewhere, she’s devoted to provenance. Expect meat to be wild deer and goat caught scampering around the surrounding Julian Alps, while esoteric flowers from the alpine meadows frequently make the grade, too.
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Open Farm Community, Singapore
Left and right: Open Farm Community, Singapore. Photographs courtesy of Open Farm Community
“Our vision is to bring to life, the impact of urban farming in Singapore, and in doing so, strengthen our understanding and respect for food and its origins.” This the opening gambit on Singapore’s Open Farm website. As the name suggests, this place is as much about sharing knowledge, as it is about fine food. The team’s unerring ambition to reconnect the locale with their roots means they have introduced food tours of the orchards, talks, gardening workshops, as well as a chance to dine at the bountiful restaurant.
If you’re going for the latter, Mr Oliver Truesdale-Jutras, a Canadian chef who recently took over the kitchen, uses 80 per cent of ingredients from south-east Asia and Singapore. The hot favourite among locals is the prawn pappardelle laksa reduction, chilli garlic oil, kaffir lime leaf, soft-shell prawn tempura. Another must-order is steamed barramundi, dashi butter, snap peas and shoots, garden manioc, pulut hitam furikake.
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Pensons, Herefordshire, UK
Left: Lamb, turnips and onion. Right: Pensons, Herefordshire. Photographs by Ms Patricia Niven, courtesy of Pensons
This new establishment in the wilds of Herefordshire’s Netherwood Estate is housed in a 15th-century derelict farm. With its double-height ceiling, knobbly beams spread akimbo and airy windows, it’s as blissfully agrestic as any Mr Thomas Hardy novel. Additionally, it’s under the aegis of chef Mr Lee Westcott, formerly of London’s The Typing Room, who has experience in some of the world’s best kitchens, including Gordon Ramsey at Claridge’s in London, Noma in Copenhagen and Per Se in New York.
Early pilgrims have been in raptures over dishes with seemingly unpolished names such as Herefordshire Herdwick lamb, turnip, potato and onion and IPA sourdough served with cultured butter. To complete its A-lister, farm-to-table credentials, much of the menu’s ingredients come from the surrounding estate, a 1,200 acre Shangri-la replete with its own hives, rapeseed fields and orchards.