Meatbox: Story Farms - Chew Valley
Updated: Jan 23
It is an imposing and wonderful site, steeped in folk law and good stories, of monster fish and ghostly apparitions. World famous as a trout fishery and surrounded by fertile land that produces outstanding food
Bunting seems to be trapped over every fence and door front as we drive out to one of my favourite places in the southwest. Chew Valley is steeped in History, centred around the famous creation of the large reservoir that floods the once rural landscape of a distant time. I happen to be friends with a chap whose father was the last man to drive a tractor across the Chew Valley basin just before the flooded it.
It is a imposing and wonderful site, steeped in folk law and good stories, of monster fish and ghostly apparitions. World famous as a trout fishery and surrounded by fertile land that produces outstanding food that is supplied to the restaurants and eateries of Bristol and Bath, and further afield no doubt.
So when you come across an advert in a local butchers for a mini food festival supported by the very best of local food establishments, using the very best of local produce, what would you do? Well we bought tickets of course.
We are perched on the hillside overlooking the lake in 35 acres of farm land owned and managed by a guy called Luke Hasell
Today the lake is quiet, no sailing boats, the odd fishing boat buzzing in the distance under a moody and leaden sky. Denny Island looks threatened by a light drizzle but as yet it hasn't fallen onto the small tented site that will be home to a mini feast for the afternoon.
We are perched on the hillside overlooking the lake in 35 acres of farm land owned and managed by a guy called Luke Hasell, who set up Story Farms back in 2006 with his good friend Jim Twine. They run their farms with a strong bias towards fully organic produce that is able to help utilise and conserve the landscape from which it is born, they put back in what they take out and the results are well worth showing off, why wouldn't you?
To be honest when we arrived it all felt a bit like they might be winging it. Food was being prepped and cooked outside over hot coals and in huge wood ovens by some top local chefs including Josh Eggelton of The Pony and Trap, Toby Gritten of Pump House and Rob Howel from Root. A large open sided tent housed tables and chairs and gave way to a presentation area at which some butchery skills would be shown off, the smell of slow roasting delicious meats and veg filled the air.
he took the time to welcome us with pints of Pimms and an explanation that in fact they would indeed be flying by the seat of their organic pants...
This would be very much eating on the land from the land and with the land and the feeling of unease soon gave way to a more relaxed informal introduction of what it is Luke and his team believe in. Turns out the "Sunday Session" which is the name given to this event, would be hosted by Luke himself and he took the time to welcome us with pints of Pimms and an explanation that in fact they would indeed be flying by the seat of their organic pants, but with a fair wind all would be just fine if we could be a little patient.
For those comms alone we commend the man, this isn't easy to pull off with a real kitchen let alone in a field from a tent and a BBQ.
Invited inside we got to listen to Luke and his philosophy of farming and a more positive outlook for eating and farming meat, and looking after the infrastructure around it. His side kick would be a Butcher called Phil, who had already laid a whole pig out on a table ready to show off his skills and explain the cuts of pork and how to use them.
We listened and and watched as Phil made short work of the butchery of half a side of pork, he really was deadly with a knife, it was fascinating to watch him working.
The great thing was they had the timing right, not too long. We are there to eat the food and Phil was happy to give way to us filling glasses from a fully stocked bar and finding ad-hoc space at a table to wait for the wonders that the chefs had been working so hard on all morning.
Having found a suitable spot Luke and his team, which included all his children and anyone else's children, all chipped in to run the service, and it was slick, yes we had to wait a little while but you kinda felt ok with that. Watching the world go by, meeting and talking to complete strangers, it just was not like being at a restaurant at all, more like family feast.
Food suddenly hits the table, a starter of beef brisket on a Polenta mash, OMG! so tender and full of flavour, wish we had a double portion. It was a bloody good start, then followed soon after by fresh sour dough bread and homemade fresh wild garlic and I think a curd cream to dip into, I mean it needed nothing extra, it tasted fantastic.
a wonderful delivery of succulent local vegetables, tomato, tender stem broccoli with a hit of chilli and garlic and chicory leaves so fresh and well dressed by Josh Eggleton’s team of chefs...
The food continued to be delivered, a main course of slow roasted organic lamb with local potatoes a mint sauce that was packed with vibrant fresh zing. The meat was so tender it just melted away, I mean it really was very high end: simply cooked fresh produce in a wonderful setting. To accompany the mains a wonderful delivery of succulent local vegetables, tomatoes, tender stem broccoli with a hit of chilli and garlic and chicory leaves so fresh and well dressed by Josh Eggleton‘s team of chefs, just a perfect accompaniment. The simplicity of it showed off everything Luke had mentioned in his pre amble. This was high class cooking kept simple, great ingredients treated with respect. They just allowed the produce to shine on the plate and at a ticket price of £39, it was insanely great value for money.
never mind the spoon shortage I WILL just eat this with my face thank you very much!
Plates cleared and feeling of smug satisfaction on our faces, we weren’t expecting to be introduced to a clever and opulent desert of Eton mess! We watched as the chef’s whisked cream by hand, smashed up the meringue and threw tons of the freshest sweetest strawberries into a vat and served up unctuous dollops in bowls... never mind the spoon shortage I WILL just eat this with my face thank you very much! The end of a fantastic feast eaten from whence it came, in front of the land that it was grown and fed upon.
As people began to find their way out of the tented area and muse over the wonders of the food. Phil took the time at the end to show us how to prep chicken, just a little add on to the afternoon, "a dying craft" he tells us. Although I do wonder if Phil showed off his butchery skills in a fashionable environment like TikTok or such like, the art butchery in younger people could catch on. It ended a fabulous afternoon of food excellence, something "The Pig" could learn from. These guys do everything they claim, just better at a better price. Yes it’s a rustic vibe, yes it can be a bit haphazard, yes the music is a bit lounge, but you know what the people and the philosophy of what is being done here means that all those bohemian edges work really well. We believe they actually made the food taste even better.
A privilege to have been at the first one and we are looking forward to the next one too.
A few details… you might go home smelling of fire pit, the food is cooked on a fire pit, the loos are porta loo type - fine and clean but still a porta loo. If you have a dog… bring it, they are welcome. If you have kids… why not, they can serve tables, and if you have a disability the gravel may be a bit of a pain for you but I reckon everyone would muck in to get you into a great spot to eat and see everything, so don't be put off.
Things they could improve? Well for us more online information would be good as the location is quite hidden away, just some details being relayed properly well in advance. They def should give the speakers a headset microphone as some people struggled to hear what was said. It would be so worth the extra trouble to do that.
These are not really criticisms just ways we think going forward the experience can go from a first time wing it to becoming a really slick event. We loved it and they deserve the scores below.
SCORE, EXCELLENT - 8
Food score 9/10
Service Score 9/10
Comms Score 6/10 (online info)
Disability Access 7/10 (needs clarification from organisers)
Sticky Table 8/10
Value for Money 10/10
What is cost - £39 per person including pint of Pimms
What it’s worth - £39 if not more!
Would we go back ? Yes!