The Market House, Altrincham, Greater Manchester , altrinchammarket.co.uk
Other cities could learn a lot from Altrincham. The Market House is a fine idea – a covered hall of multiple, local food outlets and, in the centre, a mass of communal tables to eat, chat and, yes, spot other things you want to eat. To get an impression of what it’s like, think Singapore Hawker Centre with a proper Northern twist.
Ondine, Edinburgh, ondinerestaurant.co.uk
As you’d expect from the country that brought us “schadenfreude” the Germans have a brilliant word for plate envy: “futterneid”. And it’s this that will drive your bill a little northwards at Edinburgh’s elegant Ondine, particularly if you’re sitting at the bar where the contents of others’ plates sparks many a conversation – and much additional ordering.
Riverford Field Kitchen, Buckfastleigh, Devon, riverford.co.uk
“Great food tastes even better when you enjoy it with other people.” There is much sense in this claim on Riverford Field Kitchen’s website. That quest for the best meal ever is considerably undermined when you realise you’ve had terrible nights in brilliant restaurants, and brilliant nights in terrible restaurants. The company, the location, the laughter… they can all be just as important – if not more so – than the food.
Riverford’s schtick is big, shared tables, a single sitting and food served family style. We can’t comment on the quality of the company on any given lunchtime but, given it’s the same people behind the monthly organic box delivery scheme, chances are the food is going to be of a very high standard, not to mention inherently seasonal. It’s also, inevitably, vegetable heavy, but there’s some considerable creativity at play in the kitchen.
During our summer recce, starters consisted of freshly baked sourdough bread, griddled courgettes with slow cooked tomatoes and a basil and pumpkin seed dressing, sugar snaps with radish, fennel, pink grapefruit and mustard, and watermelon, cucumber and Wootton White – their dairy’s very decent take on something feta-esque – with mint, ginger and lime.
The main course brought some protein to the mix – and the beef blade was really jolly good – but unless you’re hugely carnivorous, you could happily give it up for more sides. Chargrilled little gems are way better than “hot lettuce” would suggest. Potato salad – earthy, filling, utterly delicious – came dotted with capers. Summer greens, delightful on their own, were next level stuff with the addition of caraway and pickled nectarines, and beetroot, orange and thyme was just a very good, relatively simple salad.
Desserts are served in the kitchen from a decent selection of seasonal fare, classics and, indeed, seasonal classics: a fresh raspberry roulade let its fruit be the star, while a sticky toffee pudding ticked all the relevant boxes.
Any paranoid concerns that your table companions won’t share are left irrelevant by the portion sizes, which demonstrate the pleasures of quality and quantity, to the extent that takeaway boxes are offered – and should be taken. The concept might put some off but it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying a meal here.