Barry the alpaca was born while we were at Bishops Court Farm in Dorchester, joining the close knit herd (see what I did there) and settling into life at the working farm.
We were dining in the Snug Cafe at the time, working our way through the sharing plate menu with great speed and gusto.
It’s a curiously enticing set up, while definitely a work in progress. The farm was bought by local businessman Kevin Ives just before the pandemic, who aimed to make it an eco and community hub with a cafe, livery and equine arena.
There are plans for a bigger restaurant as well as a working farm, the produce being used on site, as evident in our lunch and huge picnic and seating areas were being assembled when we arrived.
The 70 alpacas are very much a pet project and being carefully reared until their wool is top notch, and there is also a little farm shop in the cafe selling the farm’s produce as well as other local suppliers goods – the honey is staggering!
Claire Andersson is running the culinary side of things, she of Skogen Kitchen fame in Oxford, bringing in new head chef David McCleary, who’d worked at The Crazy Bear and the Red Lion and The Chequers in Britwell Salome, while implementing a farm to table ethos.
Opening in time for Easter, they were overwhelmed with visitors but are now keen to spread their net a bit more widely.
“We have been given free rein here which is nice,” Claire says looking out through the plate glass windows onto the farm beyond. “And while we want the villagers to enjoy it, we also hope to encourage people and their families to visit, take a look around the farm, go for a walk or a cycle, bring the dog, visit Wittenham Clumps, eat at The Snug and to get our name out there.
There are already plans afoot to open in the evenings and really let David’s skills fly, as well as talk of pop-ups, guest chefs, and even a Christmas market, but for now it’s brunch or lunch in the converted barn with its scattering of outdoor tables for the sun-lovers.
And what a lovely menu! We worked our way through it, starting with the huge juicy baked shell king prawns with garlic butter and sourdough bread (from The Natural Bread Company) (£9.50), then the plump burrata with a tomato salad, confit garlic, pesto and sourdough toast (£7), nibbling on the seared beef carpaccio, parmesan and rocket and Ogglio olive oil (£11), sharing the Thai spiced salmon and pollack fishcakes with a home-made sweet chilli sauce (£9), before engulfing the lemon and herb ricotta, minted pea and broad bean salad with croutons (£7).
But if there was a dish of the day it was the slow-cooked farm lamb shoulder croquette with Bombay potatoes, mint and yoghurt, the meat flaky and soft and then compressed into its crispy croquette – absolutely divine.
Those wanting something simpler can enjoy everything from a bacon sandwich to home-made granola with farm honey and summer berries or the tasty looking sandwiches.
We also had to try the cheese sharing board, simply because the fromage is local, hailing from Nettlebed Creamery and Norton & Yarrow, and served with local honey, chutney, apple, celery and sourdough crostini (£12.50), which was well worth a dabble.
Chased off with a white chocolate cheesecake, we were then invited to come and meet Barry, born moments before, so excitedly wound our way through the farm to the alpaca pack.
And of what a tottery ball of delight he was, carefully protected by the whole herd, under the watchful guide of Graham Smith. The three Als were also in evidence – Al Pacino, Al Capone and Al Murray (born last year), while this year’s bumper crop all begin with B.
It’s an ambitious project going on at Bishops Court Farm, but with Claire, David, Graham, Kevin and all the other wonderful staff there, the signs are already extremely promising. In the meantime get over to The Snug and try David McCleary‘s tempting tucker.
Bishop’s Court Farm, Dorchester, Oxfordshire, OX10 7HP. The website is a work in progress https://www.bishopscourtfarm.com