The latest food trend is something that (thankfully) can never be bottled and sold. Take one pinch of birdsong, a sprinkling of grass and lashings of fresh air and you are Eating Outside. A challenge for supermarkets to replicate, yet …… they’ve nailed the smell of bread, so there’s no reason why sandwiches couldn’t be sprayed with a little eau de air avec arbres? I digress, but with the Hidden Hut becoming one of The Times’ sexiest eating destinations this weekend and the camping season almost upon us, it’s hard to deny that fresh air adds a little ‘umami’ to the simplest of dishes.
At Woods Café in Cardinham Woods near Bodmin, a sausage roll for example, is no ordinary sausage roll but a home-crafted package of local pork mince (from Stokeley Farm up the A30) that surpassed any previous notion I had of the snack. Combined with a bowl of soup and it is enough fuel to propel you around the lattice of walks that crisscross around the café and up into the woods. Today, sans walk (guilty pleasure) G had a mug of sweet potato and roasted red pepper soup with a roasted vegetable salad on herby couscous and chunks of feta cheese and I had a bacon and Cornish Blue salad with apple, walnuts and croutons (plus a very healthy side order of sausage roll ahem).
The salads were generous and packed with flavour – the Cornish Blue a little over-powering with the bacon but tasty nonetheless and cleverly toned down by the walnuts and G enjoyed his generous vegetarian option. A trip to the cake counter and my senses got a little over-excited: what does a woman do when faced with brownies, rhubarb cake, chocolate cake (as well as brownies? noo!), black forest gateau and carrot cake? An exhausting array but in the end, it was rhubarb cake between 2 (the sausage roll had nearly defeated me). And clotted cream? Yes please. I lost most of the rhubarb cake to G in conversation with David and Lara, but I know where it lives.
The little café, originally a woodsman’s cottage, is packed on a Saturday. It’s cranny to nook with walkers, locals, dogs, babies and the extended family of owners David and Lara Spurrell, who often help out, creating a cosy and informal setting. The recently married Cornish couple went through an interview process to run the café and only on the day before their wedding found out that they’d been successful. Lara’s first reaction to seeing the place? “It was amazing!”
David, having previously worked for himself in catering, had vowed never to do it again but obviously hadn’t banked on meeting Laura. He now not only owns and runs a catering business but does so with his wife and baby, as well as working part-time as a paramedic. He confesses however that it’s Lara who’s the brains and passion behind the food: “Lara is definitely the food genius. She’s got a natural talent for it.”
Watch out for the savoury cream teas that in Lara’s words “fly out in the summer”, as well as the more traditional jam ones, some decent soups, superlative cakes and homely interiors (most of the soft furnishings have been made by Lara) and delicious soups, tagines and stews on colder days. The latest addition is a yurt behind the café which can be used for weddings, hen parties and general events and will be hosting one of Cornwall’s best-known theatre companies – Bish Bash Bosh – for their last summer performance of The Tin Violin on August 4.
Despite the challenge of the 2010 floods that wiped out the ground floor of the café and which was all too quickly followed by the tragic felling of thousands of diseased Japanese larch in 2011, David and Lara have created their very own home-grown success story down in the Woods. For more on Woods Café, go to www.woodscafecornwall.co.uk or tel 01208 78111.