As garden to plate distances go they don’t get much shorter than that at Middleton Lodge Estate.
A two-acre kitchen garden at this sprawling family estate near Richmond, North Yorkshire, informs each day’s menu at its new restaurant Forge.
Created from previously run-down estate buildings, this new development at Middleton Lodge builds on its successes as a hotel and wedding venue, and the popularity of its other restaurant, Coach House, which draws people in from across the region with its informal, yet special, dining offering.
Forge is more about fine dining and it’s given head chef Gareth Rayner the chance to really stretch his culinary muscles with a seasonal menu that reflects what’s been handpicked from the kitchen garden that morning or foraged from the 200-acre estate.
The history of the estate dates back to its Georgian mansion - still home to owners James and Rebecca Allison - whose kitchens were once reliant on what was reared and grown on the site and that ethos of sustainability still thrives today.
While meat for Forge’s menu comes from local farms, the aim is for 90 percent of the vegetables and garnishes used in dishes this year to come from the kitchen garden and its polytunnel, just a four minute walk away.
It means Gaz has an endless supply of everything from wild garlic and nasturtium to elderberries and blackberries for syrups at his fingertips.
He uses the estate’s rich bounty to craft a nine-course tasting menu (£75) or an à la carte menu (three courses for £55), both of which have a vegetarian version, which are served from Wednesday to Saturday evenings.
We took our seats in the new restaurant for a night of feasting on that night’s tasting menu. The decor doffs its cap to the site’s history with beamed ceilings and stone walls inside and a fire pit outside which echoes the open fire cooking and creates a cracking atmosphere. Rustic features are given a modern twist with industrial feature shelving housing plants and chunky glass vases.
It’s a blend that’s reflected in the menu with Gareth using the site’s natural produce to dramatic effect.
We began with an intensely smoked cod’s roe tart, with the thinnest of pastries allowing the smooth flavour of the filling to shine.
Humble heritage carrots also packed a punch when served with whipped cheese and pickled carrots in a beautiful medley of colours.
Broccoli from the kitchen garden came charred and served with Jerusalem artichoke and 36-month parmesan in a dish so good it almost turned me vegetarian.
Next up, delicate skrei is served with cauliflower and a ridiculously moreish vin jaune jus, which Gareth poured at our table. Covers are kept low so he can interact with guests as much as possible.
Meanwhile, Yorkshire chicken served with hen of the wood, asparagus and wild black garlic was like a poster boy for the best of British produce.
The site’s rhubarb led the charge for dessert courses, its natural tartness balanced with a vanilla cream followed by an artistically-presented chocolate and hazelnut dish which was given real oomph with a coffee kick. It was a faultless culinary ode to the Middleton estate.
Wine had equal flair. Ours was paired by dapper sommelier Lewis who was informative, without being stuffy, as he introduced our palates to some really interesting varieties. I’m not a great lover of Champagne, but his choice of an English sparkling wine, from the Gusbourne estate in Kent, was an amazing alternative.
Praise too for a Homer Riesling from New Zealand with an intoxicating petrol note and a Spanish number, Tkakoli, that was long-poured like they do in the Basque country which added to the sense of theatre in this evening of bold flavours.