It's a rainy Wednesday in May, a fire is burning in the grate and I'm sampling a spectacularly delicious lunch in an idyllic Wiltshire farmhouse. As working days go it could be worse.
Bread & Flowers, just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire, is a completely different catering experience. The food, courtesy of Martin Simcock is out of this world, yes. But there's a different attitude at work here, an atmosphere of leisurely indulgence, of slow, hedonistic food with a rock n roll edge. Let's start with the location for alongside catering at outside events weddings, parties, festivals (more of which later) Martin and Bee Simcock have turned their farmhouse into a unique party venue. Drinks in the drawing room (with roaring fire) and then a choice of dining rooms - one with a huge long table and old masters on the wall, the other, which I fell in love with, the converted dairy, white walls, stained glass windows, a monastic feel. Parties of 8 can also take over the walk-in larder, the walls lined with bottles and jars and hanging saucepans - it's a brilliant space (pictured below). And there's a saddle stone barn across the way for bigger parties of up to 100. Martin, who describes himself as a 'foodaholic', spent 20 years running the successful, fashion label Georgina Von Etzdorf (her designs were worn by everyone from Princess Diana to the Rolling Stones during the 80s and 90s). From fashion to catering was not such a huge leap, he says, both jobs require managing huge numbers and water-tight organisation and nowadays he sometimes combines the two. Last month Bread & Flowers catered the launch of the new Osprey shop in Regent Street (below). A self-taught cook, Martin's passion is for creating for gutsy, earthy food with Spanish, North African and Middle Eastern influences but with local produce like New Forest wild mushrooms or Poole Bay clams. What he loves most is cooking for real foodies, whether it's a wedding party or a boutique dinner for six. Twice a year he hosts a guest chef night at Longford Farmhouse with menus created by cooks such as Rose Prince or Diana Henry. During the day the chefs prep and cook but on the night Martin takes over the stove, leaving them free to wander amongst the guests talking food. It's an original idea and a complete haven for foodies and this, I think, is what sets Bread & Flowers apart. The vibe is relaxed and laid back, the focus tapping right into our obsession with great food. This year Bread & Flowers pitches up at the brand new Somersault Festival in North Devon, orchestrating long table banquets from the West Country's best known chefs including Andy Appleton of Fifteen Cornwall, Nathan Outlaw and Matthew and Iain Pennington of The Ethicurean. Working closely with the chefs to deliver their specially devised menus, Martin and his team will be serving lunch and dinner to 250 guests. The idea of the feasts, spot on for a festival, is all about sharing, platters of beautiful-looking food, pitchers of ale, bottles of rose, an upbeat convivial, spirit. Today we're sampling a couple of the dishes - a knockout salad of marinated strawberries, chargrilled endive and labneh cheese from The Ethicurean and then a Jamie Oliver seafood risotto. Have to say both are sensational. Before I head back out to the rain, I have a nose around, checking out the various dining areas. I love the idea that you can mix up your guests, some in the larder, some in the dining room, some in the dairy and then switch everyone over. It's also BYO here with no corkage and Martin suggests dropping your wine off the day before so they can get it to exactly the right temperature. Think we might have found the perfect party venue.