River Cottage, Axminster: hotel and farm feast review
Hugh Fearnley-Whittinghstall’s 17th-century whitewashed farmhouse has been meticulously restored and kitted out with cosy luxuries, making the perfect spot to hunker down after a lively farmhouse feast
Looking for places to stay in Dorset? Read our review of River Cottage farmhouse and cookery school, and check out our guide to eating and drinking in Dorset here.
River Cottage in a nutshell
The 17th-century whitewashed farmhouse on the Devon/Dorset border that was first brought to foodie attention by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (it’s at the heart of his River Cottage HQ) has long been a place of pilgrimage for those wanting to learn how to bake sourdough, cure and smoke pork, cook over fire or preserve hedgerow finds. In the past, however, the site was only open to visitors during the day. Now, the farmhouse has been cosily kitted out and opened up to overnight guests, too.
The quintessential countryside experience begins at the tractor stop at the top of the farm. Guests wait beside a wood-burning fire with a mulled cider to be picked up in a trailer for the bumpy journey down to a collection of farm buildings strung with fairy lights. Down in the valley, the hushed air is interrupted only by Red Ruby cows occasionally mooing, the tractor bringing eager students down to the swish on-site cookery school, and, come evening, the chatter of guests sharing stories over farm feasts.
The farmhouse at the site’s heart (made iconic by the River Cottage TV programmes) has been meticulously restored and cosied up; sheepskin rugs warm up flagstone floors, a muted grey palette offsets original beams and squishy sofas sit beside crackling fires, encouraging conversation among guests. Share a bottle of Lyme Bay wine or pour yourself a nightcap from the honesty bar stocked with local spirits – Black Cow vodka, Somerset cider brandy or Conker gin. If you’re still peckish after the generous farm feast, graze on cheese and sourdough left out on the island in the farmhouse kitchen, adding punchy pickled green chillis from kilner jars.
Which room should I book at River Cottage?
The master bedroom is spot-on – sleek, lots of beams, pale hues, and a big bathroom stocked with Bramley products and a basket of fluffy white robes. Soak in the stand-alone tub and take in views of the rolling hills beyond the kitchen garden. The two other rooms, equally as stylish and with timber beds, share a bathroom complete with rain shower and more naturally-scented Bramley products.
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The food and drink
Time your visit to coincide with one of its Farm Feasts (we were there for the Friday Night Feast) for the full foodie experience. The evening kicks off with Kingston black apple brandy and ginger beer-battered parsnips by the fire in a hay bale-lined yurt. Punters then potter over to the barn for homemade sourdough with tahini and dukkah-laced carrot hummus before a four-course seasonal menu.
Dinner usually begins with summer salads or a cold starter but, come winter, you can expect the likes of caramelised roast cauliflower on slow-roasted onion purée with coronation cauliflower stalk. Next comes flaky line-caught hake from Lyme Bay served with buttery carrots and fish trimming stock. Devon red cross jersey beef brisket and marbled sirloin takes the prime spot with carefully peeled Jerusalem artichokes, charred leeks and artichoke crisps on top. For dessert, pastry chef Fay’s rich chocolate tart is pepped up with bay leaf ice cream. To finish, coffee is served with medlar fruit pastels and neat chilli, lime and orange truffle squares.
Breakfasts are equally bursting with home-grown ingredients. On our visit, beetroot tops and curly kale from the garden were joined by homemade baked beans to accompany thick-cut bacon and meaty sausages. For vegetarians, the meat is swapped out for bubble and squeak and large mushrooms. Jars of granola, sourdough and homemade preserves such as medlar jam are laid out on the table, as well as coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
What else can foodies do?
Consult the traditional farmer’s map in the hallway, pull on a pair of wellies and set off to explore the estate and beyond. Breathe in aromas of herbs in the traditional kitchen garden (centred around a mulberry tree). Head up past the polytunnels and greet the pigs before continuing out to Trill Farm, where the chefs at River Cottage source many of the ingredients they can’t grow themselves. As you walk further out of the farm, nature becomes less tamed, with coconut-scented common gorse bushes intertwining with brambles.
This part of the country is one of the richest corners of the UK for food, so make your way around nearby villages, stopping in Lyme Regis for Red Panda’s steaming ramen and bao buns, at Bridport-based Baboo Gelato for artisan gelato, and make the most of the Anchor Inn’s sandy beach setting for fresh fish. The Jurassic Coast is also on your doorstep, with Lulworth Cove’s Boat House Café an hour’s drive away – tuck into crab sandwiches and cream teas overlooking the water. Make it a foodie road trip with our tips here.
Is it family friendly?
Not really. Cots or extra beds can’t be provided so the farmhouse isn’t suitable for children under the age of 12.
Photographs by Matt Austin and Alex Crossley