Published in Cornwall Today, October 2016
We are well and truly spoilt when it comes to new places to eat and stay in Cornwall. Hardly a month goes by when there isn’t somewhere fresh and interesting that I feel compelled to try. However, few new-comers have generated so much excitement in my food-obsessed household as the arrival at Coombeshead of Tom Adams and April Bloomfield – with the promise of ‘glorious isolation and farmhouse comforts’.
Coombeshead Farm is just outside the village of Lewannick, near Launceston. It’s a working farm, with picturesque kitchen gardens, meadows, ponds and wooded creeks to explore – all centred around an attractive Georgian farmhouse, which has five en suite bedrooms.
A visit overnight or just for dinner throws you into the midst of a fun and relaxed gathering of friends – the kind where the kitchen is always the best place to be. There’s also a comfortable lounge with eclectic artwork selected by Coombeshead friend and Slade Honorary Research Associate Rose Lewis (lots of creative friends have helped get things up and running), and a well-stocked honesty bar-cum-library, which has all the ingredients for many lost hours.
But it’s the big country kitchen which is the epicentre of Coombeshead, and guests are welcome to wander in and out as Tom and his team prepare the evening meal. A hefty butchers block and traditional Aga are put to good use, as daily menus are crafted using farm and garden produce – as well as other top-quality ingredients sourced from neighbours in Cornwall and Devon.
Tom is from a farming background, and grew up in rural Hampshire. He is quietly but intensely passionate about food, and has a purist’s instinct for provenance. Everything from a freshly pulled radish to a finely aged piece of beef seems to float his boat, but pork is his real passion. He admits that he used to arrive at his London restaurant early just to gaze into the meat fridge – something very few busy chefs would contemplate doing!
Despite being just 28, Tom has already launched a successful restaurant in East London off the back of a popular food truck by the Thames. Pitt Cue specialises in smoked meats and the menu celebrates nose-to-tail cooking.
Fellow chef and business partner April Bloomfield grew up in Birmingham but is now based in New York, where she oversees six restaurants – two of which have Michelin Stars. She shares Tom’s passion for all things pig, and the two struck up a firm friendship after meeting at Pitt Cue several years ago.
Their Cornish project is the result of a desire to exercise control over the whole journey from field to fork; not just in the rearing of prize Mangalitza pigs (several are arriving soon at Coombeshead) but over every other ingredient destined for the long farmhouse table.
During our visit for dinner on a warm summer evening in July, this translated into a succession of intriguing tasters followed by a memorable supper – which left us singing Tom’s praises to anyone who will listen. Pre-dinner delicacies included crispy pig’s skin with a piquant green rhubarb dip, and ‘rye cracker, swede and egg yolk’ from which I would usually run a mile, but which turned out to be utterly delicious.
Dinner began with a piggy Broth with broad beans and nasturtiums – a delicious summer starter which was colourful, fresh and satisfying. This was followed by braised short rib (‘melt in the mouth’ is horribly overused but I’m afraid this really did) accompanied by piles of vegetables, including kohlrabi and beetroot with horseradish curd. Finally, a dessert of gooseberries, raspberries and cream cheese managed to deliver on seasonal, refreshing and indulgent all at once.
Coombeshead won’t be for everyone; it’s not a traditional restaurant or country house hotel experience – but that in many ways is why it works so well. Tom’s cooking goes beyond local produce and seasonally inspired menus to a deeper and more specific connection with place and time, and the traditional production of food. This, combined with the sharing of meals around a big communal table, is how more and more people want to spend their hard-earned cash; and I for one can’t wait to go back for more.