Melissa Blease goes behind the menu at Castle Farm Café near Midford
Castle Farm Café – a charming little oasis of pastoral perfection nestling in the Midford hills – may only be a short hop from Bath city centre (around ten minutes by car) but, once you’ve arrived, it’s difficult not to believe that you’ve entered another time zone altogether, yet alone another place far removed from the cut and thrust of city life.
Having left the car at the top of the gently sloping pathway, we ambled past the vegetable and flower plots, pausing to take in the views across acres of lush, rolling countryside, before finding ourselves outside a large barn, its doors flung open to reveal an inviting café and kitchen within, with a quirky little shop in a shed by the entrance.
On my most recent visit to what’s swiftly become one of my favourite staycation spots, the tantalising scents of freshly-ground coffee, wild garlic and fresh tomatoes were in the air, followed by the unmistakable aroma of pizza straight from the oven, the cheese topping still bubbling away. I may be waxing lyrical but Castle Farm is the sort of place that works a kind of magic. One minute you’re bemoaning traffic, work woes and everyday stresses; the next, you’re on holiday, with not a care in the world, apart from wondering how soon you might be able to indulge in a slice of pizza.
Owner Sarah Kelloway explains how it all began: “Castle Farm Café came to life almost a year ago, when my partner Rob Eldon and I came to meet Jo and Mark Edwards, who run the organic farm here. I’d always wanted to own a vegetarian café. When I was young I used to write business plans, draw pictures of food and table layouts, and design menus filled with yummy veggie treats.
“So when Mark offered the barn to Rob as a new business, it was all systems go. We initially took our inspiration from the incredible views, the edible garden and the peace and tranquility of the surroundings, and aimed to create a little sanctuary – an all-round wonderful experience serving good, fresh, tasty food in a relaxed, chilled out setting with a massively friendly, fun and rustic vibe; we want customers to feel at home from the moment they arrive.”
Sarah and Rob have totally fulfilled their ambition. But let us tear our eyes away from those amazing views to study the menu of delights at this bucolic Shangri-La.
Chef Victoria Mason’s roll call of suppliers reads like a guide to the leading lights of Bath’s local producers scene: coffee from Roundhill Roastery, tea from Comins Tea House, beer from Albion Brewery, cider from Honey’s Midford and Iford, fermented drinks from the Bath Culture House, wine from Wolf Wine. And when it comes to food Vic’s inspirations are locally sourced too.
“I truly enjoy cooking the most when I’m working with ingredients that are in season,” she says. “This could be humble chervil whizzed up in a soup or bright, orange-fleshed pumpkin that won’t be seen again for another year. I’m very lucky to work beside Castle Farm Organics and I liaise with Jo pretty much every day regarding what’s growing right now, or what to get excited about over the coming weeks. I get to taste and sample a wide variety of herbs and edible flowers.
“As for paying attention to food fashions – certain ingredients or dishes may be exciting for a period, but trends change. We prefer to keep true to our main aims and keep the food honest and unpretentious, just like our surroundings. Having said that, our pizzas are by far the most popular items on the menu. We use a rye-based sourdough for our bases, which I top with a few carefully selected ingredients – organic if possible – so the flavours sing.”
But as perfect as her pizzas are, Vic selects the mezze platter as her favourite. “The mezze showcases many tasty morsels simply prepared, so the true essence of seasonality shines through. I’d recommend that you order the mezze for two accompanied by a couple of local beers to wash it down with.” Summer on a plate? We think so.
Life on the farm sounds idyllic, but is it as perfect as it seems? “In so many ways, it really is,” says Sarah. “We have nature as our backdrop. We spend each day with inspirational people, eating incredible fresh, delicious food from the land, making new and lovely friends. But of course, there are challenges too. It hasn’t been easy letting people know we’re here, let alone persuading people to come all the way out of Bath for a coffee or lunch.
“We spend each day with inspirational people, eating incredible fresh, delicious food from the land…”
“Because we started with such a low budget we didn’t have money for marketing or even proper signage, so we relied pretty much solely on word-of-mouth. But we’ve just managed to fully rebrand the café and we’ve had some fantastic new signs made for us by Front Left, the Bristol-based company. They’re also the team behind Boomtown (boomtownfair.co.uk), so we’re really excited to be heading into summer with some fresh new energy.”
Talking of which, Castle Farm Café also doubles-up as a unique venue in which Sarah and Rob host events, with workshops from fermented food fairy Lucie Cousins of Bath Culture House (see our February issue, or online, for Lucy’s in the Food Hero spotlight), wine tastings with Wolf Wine, nutrition workshops, health coaching, movie nights and yoga classes all in the pipeline.
“We’re hoping to expand these events to a couple of other venues too, so we can offer a wider variety of exciting goings-on in different settings around the beautiful countryside,” says Sarah. “We’re also planning our first birthday celebrations, which we’re aiming to present as a collaborative event with four other local independent businesses who are also celebrating their first year of trade this summer – we haven’t confirmed the date yet, but we’re planning an all-day party, with outdoor stalls run by friends and fellow independent businesses, including our suppliers.”
Now that sounds like a party that nobody of a tasteful persuasion would want to miss, so keep an eye on the Castle Farm Café website and twitter feed. But you don’t need to wait for a party invitation to make your next trip to Midford; personally, I’m happy to raise a glass with the Castle Farm folk every time I get the opportunity to escape to the country.