One of the best meals I had when we first moved back to the UK at the beginning of 2017 was at The Crown at Upton - at that time it was owned by Lewis Spreadbury and Amanda J'Bair. I remember thinking that if all English pub Food was now this good, I was going to be in serious trouble in the weight department. A little like their culinary CV, their food was (and still is) pretty impressive.
Lewis comes from a Hampshire family with a serious hospitality heritage, he has won countless awards across the board (although he's incredibly modest so you have to force it out of him!) and has a distinct style of cooking. He describes his culinary style as "with an influence and ethos of elevated and refined comfort food presented in a modern British way, utilising the very best of British Produce". And Amanda? Well if I told you that she learned her trade at some of London's best restaurants including Mark Hix Oyster & Chophouse, Hix Soho, Hawksmoor, Floridita, The Pigalle Club to name but a mere few, it's no surprise that these two make for a killer winning combo.
It's also no surprise that before they sold The Crown to pursue their catering business Bread & Butter Catering, Lewis achieved a Michelin Bib Gourmand for his food...
Bread & Butter Catering got off to a great start with many a wedding, party and corporate event catered for. On top of this, Lewis and Amanda were kept busy providing consultancy services to the industry including (amongst other things) service development, kitchen assistance, food styling and presentation.
Then, of course, COVID crept in, and whilst certain sectors slowed significantly, the pair decided to breathe life into their newest concept Ex Nihilo meaning "out of nothing" in the heart of the Hampshire countryside (about half an hour's drive from Winchester in Tangley), and the Bread & Butter Kitchen was born. As well as being where they hold wedding tastings for future brides and grooms, this is also now the rather lovely new home to their dining club. Menus here range from the Best of British Tasters to grazing menus or Sunday Lunch Sessions.
We were invited for a special meal at The Kitchen last weekend. Greeted like old friends, I immediately fell in love with the space (The Barn was restored by Lewis and his Dad, and transformed into an intimate dining studio for up to 12 people). It has a definite Scandinavian vibe thanks to the high ceiling, lengthy table, statement chairs, candles, books and artwork (plus gorgeous cutlery - I am always a sucker for that!).
The Kitchen felt like a little oasis of foodie calm, a chef's table aspect with Lewis hard at work alongside you in his state of the art kitchen and Amanda expertly taking care of everything else. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that our afternoon there felt as relaxing as any mini-break (I can just about remember what they felt like!)!
I should point out at this stage, that you are also very welcome to bring your own wine (for a small corkage fee) which is always a bonus, although the pair are very happy to advise you as to what works well should you study the menu in advance and not have any clue. However, there are plenty of other drinks available if you forget that all-important bottle (or three!)...
Our journey into this kitchen of creativity started with a welcome drink of Rhubarb and Raspberry Cider (served with pretty garden herbs and flowers) by The Garden Cider Co. alongside a bowl of giant crispy Maris Pipers with paprika and a cucumber yoghurt dip. I am one of those people that will gladly choose a decent crisp over anything sweet, so reluctantly gave in to sharing with Mr Winchester Eats. Thankfully he was soon talking ten to the dozen about anything food with our gracious hosts, so I definitely managed to eat more than him...
We then had one of the prettiest starters I have yet to consume - a British Summer Garden Salad with whipped feta, Wild Island raspberry vinegar and a tarragon dressing. Packed with light zesty flavours thanks to the vinegar and the tarragon, the taste of the leaves was by no means hidden with peppery nasturtium and super sweet pea shoots. It really did remind me of an English Summer's day (when it's not raining). It was also apparent that the leaves for our starter had been picked not all that long before. Not only is local food with good provenance important to the Bread and Butter pair, but growing a lot of it themselves is too!
Amanda then bought us a beautiful pink gin decorated with herbs and frozen kumquats to go with a delicate amuse-bouche of Chalk Stream Trout Tartar on toasted brioche adorned with caviar and parsley.
Bouches amused there followed a main course of Oaktrack Farm Pork Belly with lavender and herb stuffing (Oak Track Farm is a smallholding little more than a stone's throw away from The Barn - you can't get more local food than that!), Jersey Royals, Barbecued Cabbage, Kale Pesto, Heritage apple and crackling. Lewis explained that the belly cooking process involved confiting, pressing and then crisping the pork. The results were fabulous. I should mention that I grew up with a Dutch Grandmother (still a great cook at the age of 95), but one thing my English tastebuds couldn't cope with was the apple sauce that seemed to come with everything. This was definitely the first time I have ever completely enjoyed apple sauce on an otherwise savoury dish and that should tell you a lot (sorry Gran!).
Dessert was a Lemon Thyme Set Cream topped with New Forest Strawberries and Becky's Beeezzz's honeycomb, delicious and almost too pretty to eat, followed by made on the spot chocolate truffles and a tipsy iced coffee...
There's something nice about going to a restaurant for a special meal, but to have an entire private dining studio to yourselves? As we enjoyed our meal, I found my mind working overtime as to how many dinners we could hold in this perfect space with its perfect food and when would be the first (in a couple of weeks as a matter of fact), and I suggest you gather your friends and family and do the same.
For those of you still not 100% comfortable with eating out, please rest assured that the table alone at Bread & Buttter Kitchen is large enough for you to socially distance properly. If it still feels a little early and you are utterly sick of cooking, you will be pleased to know that Bread & Butter Catering are about to launch a Dine at Home Menu in the next few weeks - a three-course set menu that will change every fortnight. And now I know there's really nothing this pair cannot do...
The Barn, Tangley
Disclaimer - we were very kindly invited to enjoy Lunch at The Barn. As is always the case when I am asked to review somewhere, all words and opinions are honest and very much my own...