Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Published February 11th 2014
No beef with this great produce
I'd heard good things about the food and produce at Hartley Farm. The farm, shop and cafe, lies in Winsley, Bradford-upon-Avon, about 5 miles or a 15-minute drive outside the city of Bath. The same family has farmed the area for five generations. Seven years ago, the shop and café were developed. I made my visit with a local friend on a wet weekday and we arrived late morning to find the café bustling with lots of mums and small children, as well as groups of friends young and old. We'd already decided that we would head for the café first, but you have to walk through the shop to get to it, and your senses and taste buds are put on full alert by all the glimpses of produce you get as you make your way to your table.
The shop and cafe; the large windows belong to the large seating area
The café has two areas. The smaller, slightly cosier one is adjacent to the shop; the other is a larger barn-like room with floor-to-ceiling windows along the longest wall. We opted for the barn, as there was plenty of space for a buggy and a pleasant part-view of some of the farm. With wooden tables and light walls, the décor was functional but still fitting enough for a farm.
We started with drinks. The hot chocolate had a good flavour and the right amount of froth. The coffee at Hartley is seasonal and blended and roasted by the farm's local coffee guru, Jose Melim. I am assured it tasted great. As well as flat whites, cappuccinos and lattes, teas, local fruit juices, ales and ciders are available. Choosing what to eat was an altogether more difficult affair. The specials board changes daily, on our visit it included fishcake with lemon mayonnaise, pancakes with bacon, blueberries and maple syrup, smoked haddock kedgeree, tomato and sweet potato hash with a friend egg and a roast beef sandwich. Other sandwiches and baguettes, the farm's burger, and ploughman's or falafel platters could be found on the regular menu. All of the offerings contain produce grown on the farm or from other farms nearby.
We opted for the tomato and sweet potato hash and the falafel platter. The hash certainly wasn't what we expected. Whilst all the individual ingredients – the tomato, sweet potato, fried egg and salad leaves - were lovely, we didn't think it should have been described as a hash, more a salad. The potato and tomato came in whole pieces, not bound together, and the fried egg and salad were simply placed on top and around the edges respectively.
The falafel came in three balls and was accompanied by pitta bread, aubergine dip, hummus, carrot and honey salad and green leaves. The falafel had a nice curried element to it and the dips were a welcome addition as they gave an extra texture, which was needed. So the presentation and the seasoning of our two dishes didn't inspire me as much as I'd hoped but the portions were very generous and the price was fair. Most of the dishes cost between five and eight pounds and all cost less than a tenner.
Hoping that the homemade cakes would somewhat redeem lunch, we decided to choose a couple of slices to take home. Scones are baked daily at Hartley and the cakes are hand made by their chefs too. In between Victoria Sponge, salted chocolate brownies, flapjacks, cookies and an interesting sounding Guinness cake, we opted for a slice of carrot cake and a slice of Bakewell tart.
The staff offered to hold our packages, as we wanted to explore the rest of the shop. This is where I felt that Hartley Farm really excelled. The cheeses immediately caught my eye. There was an amazing array to choose from and a very helpful lady to guide me as to which were the most local. I opted for a Bath Blue (well, 'when in Rome…') and a Somerset Brie.
The delicatessen counter also contained numerous pies, pasties and other homemade treats. Next, I was straight over to the meat counter, which was bulging with cuts from livestock raised on the farm and offerings from other local farmers. The reason for this is explained on their website; the demand for their meat is so high, they've outgrown what they're able to produce on site. The Aberdeen Angus beef and homemade sausages have won awards, but in the end I chose some lamb, pea and mint slices for the next day's dinner.
Meanwhile, my friend had collected a bag of handmade frozen pastries, some fresh milk and was contemplating purchasing another candle from the shop's collection, despite already having one at home. Before paying for our wares, we spent another happy quarter of an hour or so exploring the mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables, and jars, packets, boxes and bottles of fresh and organic preserves, sweets, oils and pickles that Hartley Farm uses to stock the rest of the shelves and cabinets, so people could easily do their mid-week shop here and never be left wanting.
The fare at the farm shop is of course more expensive than that which you'll find in a supermarket. But it's fresh and it's clear that the welfare of the animals that provide the meat is of extreme importance. It's also lovely to go somewhere where a large proportion of the food hasn't had to travel thousands of miles to get to the shelves. If the weather had been better, I would have gone out to explore some of the farm's 150 acres; see the angus cattle that produce the beef in the fields behind the café, watch the honeybees at work, peep into the polytunnels where the seasonal vegetables are grown, watch the chickens and pigs enjoying their free-range life and catch the scent of the fruit trees. You can do all of that at Hartley Farm.
There's also a pets corner with rabbits, guinea pigs and ducks. You can even use the farm as the start or the end of a walk around the surrounding countryside. I will certainly make the time to visit again if I am in the area. I like what they do and what it's all about. If I return to the café I will simply pick something different to eat. But I loved the shop and the variety on offer there - and I can report that the Bath Blue cheese was tangy and creamy, just the right mix. The Somerset Brie was smooth, oozy and delicious and the lamb slices wonderfully tasty and full of flavour. The carrot cake was moist with generous layers of cream, and the Bakewell tart superior; light, with just the right amount of almond and all the better for having spent twenty minutes in the microwave.