With views out towards the Mendip Hills and set in a Victorian walled garden, complete with orchard and beautiful herbaceous borders, it’s likely the Ethicurean will steal your heart before you’ve even tasted a mouthful of the delicious, seasonal food served in the restaurant.
Set up by brothers Iain and Matthew Pennington, the Ethicurean has a menu that follows the natural cycle of the garden using ingredients that are always at their peak. There are five seasons in a year: scarcity, growth, fruiting, harvest and festivity. Each one as creative [and mouth-watering] as the next.
In this Six with Seedlip we asked Iain and Matthew to tell us what nature means to them and what ingredients they love to use at this time of year. Plus, they open up about their new venture down in Cornwall, which involves a new restaurant and a winery.
I. What does nature mean to you?
Nature is something to be enjoyed, celebrated, nurtured and protected. It offers endless joy in endless forms. From providing the food we eat, to the air we breathe. Activities that connect us to the present moment can all be found in nature. The sounds of a starling murmuration, or the energy of the ocean’s crashing waves; the sight of the Milky Way splitting a black sky in two; the first smell of pollen after a particularly long winter. Picking chard in early summer as the sun rises before a busy day in the restaurant. The more aware of nature we become, the more we feel fulfilled, rewarded and connected to a greater sense of purpose. Nature is our religion and what makes us happiest.
II. Your menu follows the natural cycle of your productive gardens, and it’s about to move into ‘scarcity’ in February. What ingredients excite you most at this time of year?
We love this time of year. Despite the name, scarcity, there is still produce growing in the garden. Winter roots like beetroot, swede, parsnips, salsify and celeriac all feature heavily on the menu, in many different guises. Whole roasted cauliflowers get all of us properly excited as well. Mark, the gardener at the restaurant, grows the most incredible oriental salad leaves that seem to thrive in the cold. This is also a time of year where we open the ferment cupboard and see what treats we’ve squirrelled away from last summer and autumn to make the dishes even more wonderful. All in all, it’s one of our favourite times of year.
III. You love to experiment with making your own drinks at the Ethicurean. Is there a recipe you’re particularly proud of?
Our drinks menus are always designed with seasonality and locality in mind. We are lucky enough to have access to beautiful ingredients such as rhubarb, apricot, gooseberry and blackcurrants, to name but a few. We forage hedgerows for elderflowers and pick their berries later in the season. Sloes, rosehip and blackberries all feature heavily, along with wild herbs, which change throughout the season. We love to experiment with and enhance these flavours through fermentation, always keeping our fridges and shelves well stocked with different infusions. We use ingredients that are at their peak in flavour and take as many as possible from within the garden walls.
Our GM, Meghan, made a Barley Wood Sour that is the perfect example of this. It’s a drink combining a hawthorn shrub, nasturtium rum and muscat verjus, paired with the aromatic notes of Seedlip Spice 94 and finished with pink peppercorn salt. It is a sweet, smoky, peppery delight that showcases the beautiful flavours of early autumn. What makes it so special is that the nasturtiums, hawthorns and muscat grapes all grow metres apart from one another, a true reflection of the flavours of Barley Wood at harvest time.
IV. You kicked off 2020 with the amazing announcement that you’re opening a new restaurant in Cornwall. Can you tell us a little bit about the new venue & why you chose it?
Actually, it chose us. Both of us had wanted to open another restaurant for the last three years or so and we came pretty close to opening a second site two years ago. It was a beautiful walled garden somewhere in the midlands. We’d designed and planted up the garden to supply the restaurant, but sadly the project fell through at the last minute. Guess that’s how it goes sometimes, but there were plenty of positives to take from that whole experience.
When we were approached by Trevibban Mill asking whether we’d be interested in opening in their vineyard, we jumped at the opportunity. The owners of the vineyard, Liz and Engin, share the same principles that we do at the restaurant. We hit it off straight away, and we’re really excited about sharing a space with people who are as passionate about sustainability, as well as excellent food and drink, as we are. Their wines are immaculate, and the vineyard is just as beautiful as our current venue. There’s plenty of space for growing, which we’ll be aiming to do in the first 18 months of opening, enabling us to have the same quality of produce that we cook with in Bristol. We’re really excited about being involved in the Cornish community too. The suppliers and producers down there are world class, and some of our favourite chefs are based nearby. A massive bonus for us will be being able to eat their food on a more regular basis.
V. What is your favourite way to switch-off?
Iain: I'm a keen surfer. Owning a restaurant has meant there was no time to surf in the first five years, but I'm gradually finding more time to get away and switch off as we reach the decade mark. No doubt that’ll change as we open a second restaurant, however it is strategically placed in Cornwall, so yeah…that should help! We shut the restaurant for a fortnight every January, and I usually venture off in search of tropical waves with good friends and a camera in hand. From the moment Matthew lent me his camera, photography has been a really big part of my life for the last few years. I’ve fallen in love with photography. We now both do all the still and moving imagery for the restaurant, which is an enjoyable use of our time. Both Matthew and I also got pretty seriously into tenpin bowling (funnily enough) and both of us bowl in leagues. People laugh at us for this, and we laugh at ourselves for it too. It’s funny how random things can pique one’s interest and turn into hobbies.
Matthew: I concur, cold water is an enlivening remedy for a hectic schedule and I love to take every opportunity to swim in deep and nippy waters. There’s a fabulous swimming lake in a quarry at Vobster near our Bristol base and I’m looking forward to testing the waters in Cornwall, especially as there is an idyllic lake on the Trevibban vineyard. Foraging for wild garnishes, drink ingredients and attempting to understand my locality, and its particular seasons, is something I relish to spend time on. Cornwall is wild and bountiful; I cannot wait.
VI. Who would you most like to go for a cocktail with?
We were incredibly fortunate to meet and dine with Fergus Henderson at St John, to show him the first designs of The Ethicurean cookbook a few years back, and he would still rank as the number one person we would most love to go for a cocktail with. I do remember there was a quick pace to the 'stiffners' wines and then aperitifs over that incredible meal. Fergus commented "There is un-bounding energy around this table" something that we will always remember. He was so encouraging of our burgeoning restaurant project. However, the walk back to the hotel could have taken a much straighter route had we had the option of a couple of sneaky Seedlips, still un-invented then, to temper the giddiness!
Follow The Ethicurean in Bristol @theethicurean / Cornwall @theethicureancornwall
For all details on the restaurant including menus and upcoming events, visit theethicurean.com