Many will know Tom Adams as the chef-owner of London’s Pitt Cue, which has become something of a mecca for discerning carnivores. Now, the hard-working chef has opened a rural retreat where he’s living the good life and inviting us to join in too. Coombeshead, a 66-acre farm hidden among the lanes of east Cornwall, is a joint venture between Tom and equally pork-mad April Bloomfield, chef-owner of New York’s Michelin-starred Spotted Pig.
Opened in July, Coombeshead aims eventually to rear and grow all its own produce to offer guests the full farm-to-fork experience. But for now, produce (apart from eggs) is sourced from the trusted farms, butchers and market gardens nearby who have been supplying Tom since he started dishing up ribs from the back of a foodtruck on the South Bank back in 2011.
Come here to chill (there’s no mobile signal or TV), to watch your meals being skillfully prepared by Tom (and April when she’s here) in the flagstone-floored kitchen at the heart of the beautifully renovated Georgian farmhouse, and to try plenty of stuff you’re unlikely to have eaten before.
With just five bedrooms and a communal dining table, staying here feels like being at a stunningly good house party, and your companions could be anything from high-living Londoners in search of a dose of countryside to Pitt Cue groupies and other serious foodies.
As you’d expect, meat is king, especially pigs – curly-haired rare-breed Mangalitzas to be precise – bought whole from local farmer Charlie Hart. Known as ‘the Kobe beef of pork’, Mangalitzas’ high percentage of top-quality fat gives them stacks of flavour, and the pair use every morsel between snout and tail. During my visit we were served pig-skin scratchings and roasted head for dinner, and belly for breakfast.
But beef and duck (from Philip Warren butchers) get a look-in, too, as do local Cornish fish and vegetables, including tomatoes grown by Mark Souter two miles away and greenery from the farmhouse garden and local hedgerows. Tom is also fearless when it comes to pickling and fermenting and uses these ancient techniques in imaginative ways to preserve produce beyond its short seasons. So foods like sauerkraut and pickles make regular appearances, their complex acidity making them perfect partners to fat-rich meats like pork and duck.
As at Pitt Cue, dinner comes in two stages. First, nibbles, served in the sitting room or outside if fine; ours included Cornish-grown padron peppers wrapped with belly pork, assorted pickles and slices of cured Mangalitza.
Then comes the main three-course event, served around the 12-seater table in the dining room off the kitchen. Check out the menu etched on a scroll on the wall (“Individual menus felt too restauranty,” says Tom’s partner Lottie). Ours kicked off with cod’s roe, goat’s curd, pickles, and mussels in cider, followed by a lip-smackingly unctuous roast pig’s head with grilled leeks and fermented gooseberry, baked kohlrabi and dill, and a tomato and herb salad.
Dessert was a cream cheese mousse (made by culturing raw Guernsey cream) with fresh raspberries. It’s all served on Cornish studio pottery, and accompanied by sourdough bread and home-churned butter so knock-out they’re a meal in themselves.
When it comes to wine, Tom is no amateur – he studied wine in a previous life and his brother is a winemaker in France – so the winelist is carefully composed, including several biodynamic wines. Tom has spent months on a farm in Austria so Austrian wines are well represented too. If you’re after something soft, there are super homemade cordials.
For drinks of a more spiritual nature, you help yourself at the honesty bar in the laidback library, including plenty of British gins. There’s also an impressive cocktail recipe book so you can make your own concoctions using the area’s abundant herbs and berries. Favourites include Coombeshead negroni, a fragrant mix of vermouth, Tarquin’s gin, rosehip and orange mint.
There are just five rooms, stylishly decorated with soothing colours, contemporary furnishings, and carefully chosen antique prints and knick-knacks (many gleaned from Tom’s parents’ home). If a superking-size bed is a must, ask for Room 3 or 5. Room 5 also has an adjoining room with bunk beds, making it ideal for groups. Bedding is luxurious and views dreamy (spot Dartmoor if you’re lucky), but this is definitely a boutique b&b rather than a hotel so don’t expect turn-down, room service or hotel gadgetry like TV or minibar.
As always, Tom transforms simple ingredients into something special. No packet cereals here! Instead, there’s homemade granola and bircher muesli soaked in locally pressed apple juice. Top them with homemade yogurt and locally grown fruits (bottled strawberries and stewed rhubarb when we visited) and wash it all down with home-brewed kombucha (fermented tea).
The cooked offering is predictably porky – a slice of melt-in-the-mouth belly and a homemade sausage – plus you get a fried egg from Coombeshead hens, the best hash brown you’ll ever eat, and fermented tomato sauce. If you still have space, there’s sourdough and a daunting choice of homemade preserves whose jars cram the dining room shelves.
If Coombeshead has inspired you to follow the self-sufficiency dream, sign up for its courses teaching some of the skills you’ve seen used in the farmhouse kitchen. Themes range from bread-baking to foraging, butchery and fermenting, and places cost £100pp – check website for details.
Double rooms start from £175 for two people sharing, with breakfast (£185 for superking bed). Dinner is an additional £50 per person.
Written by Clare Hargreaves, August 2016
You might also like
Five of the best places to stay in Cornwall
Watergate bay, cornwall: taste of the bay review plus meet the chef
Best gastro pubs with rooms: The Old Coastguard, Mousehole, Cornwall
Best beachside restaurants and bars in cornwall