Friday, 15 April 2011

Quex Barn, Birchington, Kent

With all the recent burger, BBQ and chocolate escapades the latest Farm Shop Friday write up has been a bit delayed.  Although it already feels like an age since my Kentish jaunt I couldn't leave out the lovely Quex Park in Birchington, home of Quex Barn.

Quex Barn is a farmers’ market and restaurant owned by local farmer Ian Matheson.  Most of the meat sold at Quex Barn is reared locally on the Quex Estate, and they also produce cold pressed rapeseed oils and, just launched last month, a range of Kentish crisps in local flavours.

As you enter there is a counter, selling cakes and drinks, in the main shop area, and then the restaurant through double doors to the right.  When we visited on a grey Friday afternoon there were plenty of diners still enjoying lunch, and a stream of people calling in for coffee.  These included two men who arrived clutching bunches of freshly picked asparagus, which were put straight into a bucket by the till, who stopped for a chat and to warm their fingers on mugs of hot chocolate.

Any place that greets their customers with a wooden board of warm, freshly made sausage rolls is alright in book.  These resembled my favourites from The Ginger Pig, but at bargain £1.75 a pop, they didn't mirror the price.  They were pretty much piggy perfection.  A highly seasoned, dense, meaty core, I'm guessing a good half a pound of sausage, covered in a thin, flaky carapace of pastry.  They really need no other accompaniment, but I found they also went very nicely with a smidgen of apple and chilli chutney.

As mentioned above, the meat sold at Quex is all reared locally and the butchery make their own sausages and pies.  Local fish and seafood is available as well as a large range of condiments, spices, pickles and jams.  There is a range of fresh fruit and veg, and they even have keen allotment holders bringing produce to sell if they have a glut on their hands. Local ciders, juice and wines are sold and we bought some of the Biddenden Strong Dry Kentish Cider; a lovely, clear and fruity tipple, perfect for a sunny day, but at 8% deceptively strong!

There is a small antipasti bar, where we picked up some feta stuffed peppers and patty pan squash in olive oil and a selection of, very garlicky, olives.  Those with a sweet tooth can buy cakes, fudge (the coffee and walnut we took home had a buttery taste and a crumbly, tablet like texture) and chocolates.  There are also  large freezers containing frozen vegetables, berries, danish pastries, fish and locally made 'ready meals' that even tell you the name of the chef who prepared them.

The cheese selection included a unpasteurised Kentish Blue, which the very helpful assistant encouraged us to sample before we bought.  This is a fairly hard cheese with a subtle blue flavour and a rich finish.  As there was a problem with the scales printing the label for our purchase we had the opportunity to try several other cheeses and chutneys while waiting including Stilcheton, a smoked cheddar and some lovely damson chutney.

A special mention must go to the Kent Crisps, made with 100% Kentish potatoes and available in a range of flavours designed to showcase the Garden of England.  I saw that these were too be launched just before our visit and was keen to try some, especially the Oyster and Vinegar which are claimed to be a flavour first.  On hunting them down we were not disappointed.  The crisps had a very light, almost 'baked' taste, and had been cut nice and thick for a good crunch.  As a bit of a crisp connoisseur I enjoyed the punch of Sea Salt and Biddenden Cider Vinegar and the tangy, rich Ashmore Cheese and Onion.  The Oyster crisps were pleasantly unusual, with the slight tang of the sea and a moreish flavour that made me wish that were are available in larger bags.

Quex is a great little place to pick up some local produce, stop for a coffee or stay for dinner.  They offer cookery courses, and host yoga, pilates classes and a healthy eating group, details of which are advertised on their website. On leaving we noticed that even the birds are catered for with their own feed centre. 

In the summer months you can combine it with a trip to the Powell Cotton Museum, and Quex House and Gardens, but it's worth a visit at any time for those sensational sausage rolls alone.

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