Dunkery Beacon Country House Hotel in Somerset is championing Exmoor’s food heroes, smallholders, kitchen table top producers and garden growers this month (May, 2017).
John, who runs the hotel and restaurant in Wootton Courtenay with his wife Jane, an experienced wine expert and hotelier, explained: “We’re very lucky in these parts to have lots of lovely asparagus grown on our doorstep and we celebrate National Asparagus Month in May with wonderful asparagus inspired dishes on our menu and the British season goes on well into June, while stocks last.
“May is its peak harvesting time and it’s all the more delicious when it is picked just a few miles down the road from you and in our case at Withycombe Asparagus and arrives on our diners’ plates within a few hours of leaving Court Place Farm. You can’t get any fresher than that!”
Asparagus can only be harvested for around two months each year in the key areas in the UK that grow it. Depending on the weather, the crop is traditionally picked from around St George’s Day, April 23, and harvesting ends on June 21, the longest day of the year.
“In Somerset, we find it’s so popular that the harvest gets eaten up very quickly and in fact it’s pretty much just May when you can find fresh, locally grown asparagus in local farm shops and on restaurant menus. So, if you want to be sure to get your fix of the freshest, be fast off the mark!
“We weren’t the first to eat it, the Greeks and Romans bagged this title some 2,000 years ago. Not only did the ancients like its flavour and texture but, apparently, they also recognised its medicinal properties. Legend has it Julius Caesar was a purist and loved his asparagus with just a hint of melted butter.
“But is it really good for you too? Yes, it certainly is. This little veggie is packed full of folic acid, is high in fibre and rich in vitamins A, B, C and E. Perfect for your skin and hair among many other health benefits.”
The couple’s award-winning fare includes dishes made from as much produce sourced nearby as possible and John grows his own herbs, berries, fruits, salads and veggies.
Their double award-winning Coleridge Restaurant, named after the famous, Romantic Movement poet who lived in the area in the late 1700s, uses Exmoor honey, eggs, pork and even offers Exmoor roasted coffee and blended tea.
John also makes all his own bread from flour produced at the nearby National Trust owned and run working mill in the medieval town of Dunster.
“We’re committed to supporting as many ventures like this as possible and we even source veggies and fruit from the back gardens and plots of various villagers nearby wishing to share their spare crops.
“Food tastes better if it is transported as swiftly as possible from field to fork or plot to plate and is healthier for you too, so it makes sense to use the wonderful local ingredients we have nearby and particularly if it comes from the village itself.
“I grow a lot of my own stuff too and we have just built two new large raised beds for growing more of our own vegetables and salads this year.”
Also on the menu is sea bass, bream, trout, cod and scallops from nearby Devon as Exmoor covers a bit of Devon as well as Somerset.
John, who has more than 27 years’ experience in catering, notching up numerous top chef roles in this country and overseas, added: “We’re offering customers details of the provenance of the seasonal food we serve and in some cases, it might be that the person who grew the veggies or salad they’re enjoying is sitting at the table next to you having come in for an evening meal too! And how wonderful is that?
“Exmoor is often overlooked as a foodie destination but it’s a great place full of hidden culinary gems and somewhere off the beaten track to explore. It’s still got some really wild and remote spots and the farmers and producers that work on the land here are a hardy bunch.”
The décor and ambience of the hotel is of the very highest of standards too.
Each room has a mix of traditional, enhancing the sloped ceilings in some places and the character of the building, and modern décor – they are fresh, clean, uncluttered yet cosy and welcoming.
Jane says: “We offer luxury accommodation for those wishing to escape the hurly burly of everyday life and to unwind in a truly tranquil location with stunning scenery all year.”
To find out more about Dunkery Beacon Country House, please call 01643 841 241 or visit www.dunkerybeaconaccommodation.co.uk.