Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wild Strawberry Cafe, Prestwood

The Ewing and I don’t often argue (well, much anyway) but come the summertime we always manage to have at least one exchange of words over three small letters: PYO.

For while the idea of spending a sunny afternoon picking soft fruits and digging vegetables wouldn’t appear, on the surface, to be a very divisive issue - and the picking its self remains a fun-filled activity - the punnets of frozen fruits that fill the freezer, alongside the endless jars of jams and curds and bottles of flavoured spirits and liqueurs that seem to fall out of every cupboard upon opening provoke an annual bone of contention.

Up until last weekend, this year was looking pretty textbook. I mentioned going fruit picking, the Ewing replied not until I had eaten at least some of the blackberries that had solidified into a great frozen purple mass. That was until she came in to the bedroom last Sunday morning and suggested we went to Peterley Farm. I, careful not to mention the several jars of gooseberry and elderflower chutney I had recently found under the bed, quickly agreed.

It wasn’t until a little later I found out the real reason for her renewed enthusiasm; discovering, via her parents, the existence of new pop up café that had sprung up in a yurt onsite. By this point it was too late to say no, although the idea of being trapped under canvas with the sort of people who might think it was fun to visit a farm early on a Sunday morning (conveniently forgetting this included myself until a few minutes previously) suddenly didn’t seem very appealing.

So what a joy it is to report that the Wild Strawberry Café is one of the nicest places I have visited for a long while. I would use that hoary old cliché ‘hidden gem’, but as we turned up for brunch so it seems did half the surrounding Chiltern Villages. Showing, despite only being open a few weeks, the word is clearly already getting out.

There are plenty of reasons to love WSC, first up being the charming service – seriously, I've never met such a well versed and charming group of young people, especially early on a Sunday – and the cafetieres of Extract Coffee they serve.

Having forgone my usual pint of PG Tips in order to get out on time the Mexican blend we sampled first – in homage to their heroics the night before against the Dutch – was superb, although, sadly there’s no booze, as a bloody mary or glass of fizz would be the cherry on the cake.

Speaking of cake, they also had some trays of pretty brilliant looking Danish pastries and croissants, although figuring that a quarter to eleven was pretty much lunch time, I went for the special of Stockings Farm lamb burger with a griddled courgette and feta salad.

This was, in a word, joyful; the fantastic brioche bun and slow roasted tomatoes being particularly worthy of praise and the lamb being cooked to a perfect pink within and charred on the outside. I would have perhaps preferred a slightly bigger patty, but I’m greedy like that. The salad, shared with my wife because I’m nice, was sweet and zingy with lemon at once, punctuated by little nuggets of the salty sheep’s cheese.

The Ewing chose the far more prosaic at that time in the morning, but no less delicious bacon sarnie. Rashers of crispy back on local sourdough and served with artisan ketchup or Oxford brown sauce. This was rated as very good from one of the world’s most proficient bacon sarnie makers; high praise indeed. Again, probably owing to my greed, it would have been nice to have the option to apply your own sauces as the wrong ratio can kill all breakfast enjoyment, but there was just right amount for the Ewing.

There followed a picking interlude which, as every year before, I, remembering the Ewing’s words about storage and waste -carefully picked a scant few punnets of choice fruit, while the Ewing went full out and attempted to fill the whole boot (while leaving me to try and deal with the rapidly fermenting  haul, but that’s another blog post...). Poppycock - TE

After a quick visit to the farm shop, for the superlative Lacey Green Farm cream to anoint our berries later, it was time for round two at WSC. For the second round we opted to share a large pot of the Kenyan coffee and a slice each of the magisterial cakes that lined the counter.

I had the courgette, walnut and cinnamon flavour, tall layers of sponge and butter cream that were a feat of engineering and tasted just as good, while the Ewing nabbed the last square of rhubarb and almond. Although the picture above doesn’t do it any justice, the nutty, sweet sponge was crammed full of batons of the sharp fruit and was, like the courgette number, superlative.

I’m not sure how long these guys are going to be here, but I’m hoping beyond the summer as there’s a wood burner in the yurt that would, I’m sure, keep it wonderfully toasty in inclement weather. And (as much as it pains me to recommend if it means the queues get any longer) this is - in a country that still hasn’t really embraced the joy of brunch properly - pretty much the perfect brunch spot.

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