The Old Vicarage - Three decades of cooking grounded in nature
We have always followed the natural patterns of the countryside, in tune with the wild produce of the hedgerows, the work of the local farmers and growers around us, the amazing freshness and immediacy of produce from our own gardens, the richness of the game from our region. Our dishes evolve from what's around us, constantly changing, constantly updating, always innovating.
"Cooking at The Old Vicarage follows the seasons... you can tell the time of year by what is on the plate." Tom Jaine, The Independent.
From the first day of opening our doors we followed a path that was then unusual for professional kitchens, yet completely normal practice for most country cooks... foraging for wild produce, zero waste, sustainability, self sufficiency and biodiversity, we were doing all of this long before these terms were used as trendy labels and buzzwords for marketing purposes.
Cooking with a continuous heritage
Tessa Bramley has nurtured emerging kitchen talent throughout her career, believing that the future of the trade, the craft skills, the art and passion of cooking, must be taken forward by fresh young minds... so long as they stay grounded, respect the roots of traditional cooking and appreciate the work of the great cooks who went before them.
That influence can be seen today through the many talented young chefs who have been trained and inspired by this kitchen, some of whom have stayed and matured here, some of whom have gone on to head up their own kitchens, others opening their own restaurants and receiving recognition and awards in their own right. We are justifiably proud of this contribution to the industry.
Today the chefs from The Old Vicarage can often be seen collecting and foraging in the lanes and fields surrounding Ridgeway, picking in the orchard, harvesting produce from the herb garden.
When this beautiful old house was restored back in the 1980s we inherited a mature orchard and walled garden, rich with ancient varieties of apple trees, pears, plums and greengages.
Crab apples are pleached against the old brick walls, with damsons, sloes and blackberries allowed to trail wild around the boundaries. It is hard to tell where the garden ends and the hedgerows begin.
This underpins our produce-growing philosophy, where large areas of the gardens are deliberately left wild, promoting biodiversity and respect for native species.
Here elderberries mix with the brambles, providing shade for the wild garlic and sweet woodruff, which mix happily in the damp shady patches with bluebells and lemon balm.
Herb beds are planted out informally mixed with traditional old English varieties of rose and cranesbill geranium; huge swathes of lavender and flowering herbs chosen for their profuse blooms attract the pollinators.
A walk through the gardens provides inspiration for the week's menus
Preservation, Conservation, New Projects
We have carefully maintained the original orchard stock to preserve the ancient apple varieties like Court Pendu and Pendragon. These co-exist happily with traditional 19th Century English cultivars like the Laxtons Superb and, of course, Bramleys!
In the past year we have extended the growing capacity working in conjunction with fruit tree specialists Wykeham, part of the Dawnay Estate in North Yorkshire, who prepared new nursery stock of the original Court Pendu for us to re-plant. This was a total success so in recent years we looked to more adventurous projects.
We have now established our Mediterranean herb garden, situated in a south facing walled courtyard area by the orangery. In this dry, sheltered area our old Tuscan olives are doing very well, surrounded by thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, sage, and a gnarly old fig tree we imported from Puglia seems to like its new home in Derbyshire!
Garden to kitchen to plate
Through all of this work in the background, this combined effort supporting our kitchen output, we feel deeply connected to our locality and to our cooking history.
The long tradition of this hard-working kitchen continues just as it always has, with in-house baking of bread each day, curing meats and marinating fish, pickling, preserving, specialist patisserie and chocolate work, all done on the premises.
Just as it should be.
Everything you will experience at The Old Vicarage is hand made in-house with care and attention, from the savouries with your apéritif to the chocolates with your coffee.
Our aim is to give you the most delicious dining experience we can - to surprise and delight you with food of evocative flavours and aromas, something special that will stay in your memory to recall wonderful meals, warm hospitality and good times.
Modern country cooking at its best: it's just what we do.