Dean Bailey heads out into Northumberland and finds Northumbrian chorizo, smoked cheese, fishing, astronomy and the pub which brings it all together
Beetroot isn’t my favourite thing in the world, but when Eddie Shilton, head chef of Wark’s Battlesteads pub, restaurant and hotel has it coming in from the garden by the barrow load I can hardly decline.
A purple masterpiece, complete with seven – seven! – variations of beetroot returns. Crispbread infused with the juice, a beet and yoghurt crisp, puréed, crumbled and pickled versions, flowers to garnish and a delicate beet semifreddo in the middle. Not bad for a grand total of about 15 yards in food miles.
“Sourcing ingredients is both the biggest challenge and the greatest thing about Wark,” says Eddie. “When we moved here in 2006 we had a bit of trouble getting suppliers to come all the way out for deliveries so we decided to do it ourselves where we could and use local producers for just about everything else.”
Meat curing maestro Andrej Wout is 100 yards up the road and produces the chorizo and salami for the deli board which follows the aforementioned purple masterpiece. It features duck smoked by Bernard Lynch in the village, cheese from Diane and Eric Horn at Slack House Farm about 12 miles away also smoked by Bernard, thyme butter whipped up from last night’s leftover cream, pickled onions and oven-dried tomatoes from the poly tunnel, and stottie cake made this morning.
We’re just back from a quick walk round to Bernard’s – just round the corner and across the village green – where we found smokers filled with pink salmon and golden cheese and a view to the river where members of the parish can fish between Blue Bell Island and the bridge.
“It’s a pretty little village with everything you’d want if you like your food,” says Bernard. “A sign reading Home of the Artisans would go nicely just there by the bridge.”
Back at the pub, where Gilroy the cat is curled up by the window, Eddie shows me the Dark Sky Observatory at the far end of the kitchen garden, reached through poly tunnel rows of kale, sprouting broccoli and beetroot.
“You’ll get the Northern Lights on a good night,” says Eddie, who says local regulars in the bar are frequently joined by an eclectic mix of stargazers, foodies, anglers, walkers, and guns from the shoot.
This is also now recognised as one of the greenest hotels in the country, according to the Green Tourism and Considerate Hoteliers awards in 2016, and the space above the biomass boiler is home to micro herbs and bat boxes. The hanging baskets are filled with fresh bay and thyme, there are cherry and apple trees, and more beetroot, naturally.
The menu works around what’s in the garden, produce brought in by suppliers like Bernard and Andrej, the produce of the shoot or anglers’ baskets.
Life in the country suits Eddie down to the ground. “Having worked in city centre kitchens, this is totally different and rewarding,” he says. “Working with small producers and local ingredients broadens your horizons as a chef,” which is clearly to my advantage, as he produces a dish of roast smoked belly pork (cured by Eddie, smoked by Bernard), butterbean and chorizo cassoulet (the chorizo from Andrej) with vegetables from the garden. Wark – home of the artisans indeed.