Social distancing has become the norm over the last year, as has a newfound appreciation for the great outdoors. So why not go whole hog and embrace those destinations that create a selling point out of their isolation. These restaurants will immerse you in the natural world far from the crowds whilst miraculously remaining within reach of the capital:
Holland and Holland Shooting Ground – Middlesex
A remote shooting range in deepest Middlesex is hardly the sort of place you’d expect to find Tom Cruise’s personal chef serving up seasonal British dishes but Holland and Holland is no ordinary restaurant. Owned by the famous rifle makers of the same name, the company’s shooting grounds and accompanying restaurant are slap ‘bang’ in the middle of a sixty acre oasis between Northwood and Ruislip. Head chef Joshua Hunter also worked for the Beckhams so is no stranger to discerning palates. Grab a seat outside on the wide sunny terrace and allow mixologist Palo Santos to rustle you up one of his head-popping signature gin, ginger and red wine cocktails. Listen out for the distant crack of gunfire as you order your tartar of fallow deer or the succulent fifty-four day-aged Huntesham farm middle white pork croquette with pickled walnuts.
Joshua is known for his excellence with game, so don’t miss out on a perfectly pink grouse leg with truffle oil. The breast of red-legged partridge with creamy white onion puree pairs well with a glass of Luigi Bosca Malbec while the dark chocolate crème brulee is silkier than a grouse’s breast feathers. There’s a fine selection of Bordeaux from the celebrated Chateaux Rauzan Segla and Canon on display right next to the cigar room, oh and for a fee you can test out your shooting skills.
The Cock Inn – Mugginton
Perched atop a pretty hill in southwest Derbyshire far from the hordes of hikers in the nearby Peak District, the Cock Inn has been a popular hideaway since the 18th century when the place doubled as a turnpike for carriages heading to Manchester. An old spit and sawdust pub right up until 2006, the ancient timber framed building has been thoughtfully updated and now includes a stylish glass extension with stunning views across the lilting dales.
The Inn has been ahead of the curve when it comes to social distancing offering diners the option to eat at one of several hexagonal garden pods that cater for groups of up to six. Starters include skewers of Derbyshire beef and grilled halloumi with mint and cucumber yoghurt followed by Barnsley lamb chop and boozy black cherry tart. End with a brisk walk to the nearby village of Mugginton with its magnificent hollowed out yew tree dating back to Saxon times.
Native – Essex
Wild food pioneers Native are in the process of relocating from London to the barren beauty of Osea Island off the Essex coast. This exciting new venture will allow head chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes, who trained under Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall at River Cottage, to take full advantage of the bio diversity of this hidden corner of East Anglia. Dining times are dictated by the tide so you’ll either travel to the island by boat or via an ancient Roman causeway. On arrival, join Ivan and his friendly team for snacks and aperitifs around a campfire on the beach (weather dependent).
The tasting menu, served in a converted World War I torpedo store, tells the story of the Island and its intricate ecosystem. The menu combines seasonal produce gathered fresh from the shores, waters, fields and forest around the island with the innovative dishes Native have been rightfully acclaimed for. Their Blackwater oysters are smoked over an open fire while the locally line-caught wild Bass is served with fennel and lavender fresh from the Osea allotments. Puddings include foraged sea buckthorn gathered from the shore and wild berries plucked from the fields. There’s an excellent range of organic, biodynamic and low-intervention wines available by the glass and bottle. This enchanting Essex enclave is barely an hour’s drive from London but feels a million miles away.
The Pig – New Forest
The Pig, set deep within the spooky confines of the New Forest, a couple of miles outside Brockenhurst is owned by Robin Hutson, legendary chief executive of the Home Grown Hotels group and one of the most powerful men in hospitality. He and his team are committed to providing homegrown and local produce, never sourced from more than twenty-five miles away. Indeed, head chef Wally Tucker takes enormous pride in his impressively stocked kitchen garden. Although officially a hotel those who work here prefer to call the place a ‘restaurant with rooms’, so don’t expect the usual generic ‘country house hotel’ stylings.
The Conservatory restaurant places you in full view of the verdant surroundings from where many of the greener ingredients are sourced – the veg in the ‘Gardener’s Autumn Vegetable Pie’ will most likely have been picked that morning. Mains include whole Poole Bay plaice, Longwood Estate Partridge with Celeriac Puree and Brixham Scallops with padron peppers and pickled shallots. Take a stroll through the pretty gardens, say ‘oink’ to the resident pigs and treat yourself to a post-meal massage over at the Shepherd’s Hut treatment room.
The Beacon – Tunbridge Wells
Set in seventeen acres of lush grounds in Kent’s verdant Happy Valley district The Beacon offers two dining areas overlooking three expansive lakes. The newly opened Garden Bar has great views over the Kent countryside and there’s an impressive bar menu that includes crumbed duck leg, sweet potato, poached eggs with feta and pomegranate and a tangy mandarin posset. Over in the main restaurant the set menu includes venison tatar, confit egg yolk, nasturtiums and grilled artichoke and a rich salted caramel and hazelnut éclair. The pretty town of Royal Tunbridge Wells is only a five-minute drive away – perfect for afternoon tea and a gentle stroll.
The Feathered Nest – Burford
Located at the end of a narrow winding lane on the edge of the tiny Cotswold hamlet of Nether Westcote, the Feathered Nest offers a limited but stylish menu. Popular with walkers – the Oxfordshire Way and Diamond Way hiking trails are nearby – the restaurant’s best tables are out in the garden with 180 degree views across the honey-hued Cotswold countryside.
Chef Matt Weedon has earned multiple accolades including Michelin stars at two of the restaurants he headed so you know you’re in safe hands. Order a starter of crispy buttermilk chicken with smoked garlic and harissa aioli and watch the sun go down. Mains include roasted halibut, soft shell crab with tomato, chargrilled lettuce and chorizo oil. For something a little heavier, go for the potato gnocchi with brassicas, truffled leeks and cauliflower. Owner Adam Taylor took over last year and is proud to offer one of the largest choices of wine in the county, twenty-five of which are available by the glass. On Wednesdays and Saturdays cock that pinky finger and settle down to a traditional afternoon tea with a range of sandwiches, cakes and scones all served on a silver cake stand of course. How very Cotswolds.
Sole Bay – Southwold
For a small charge, a traditional rowing boat, based on the Suffolk punt design, will ferry adults, children, dogs and bicycles across the mouth of the river Blyth to the small collection of timber fishing huts that make up this delightfully rough and ready seafood restaurant. Fishermen Sam and Deano are out in all weathers stocking up the fridges with freshly caught haddock and cod. Locals come for the lobster and crab seafood platters and deep fried oysters in batter. Order a plate of plump golden kippers straight from the smokehouse and enjoy views of the sleepy harbour. There’s an adjoining fish and chip shop and a well stocked counter serving catches of the day. The smart seaside resort of Southwold is a twenty-minute walk along the wide pebbly beach.