How garden to table dining was born at Babington House
With an emphasis on local ingredients – many sourced directly from the House’s Walled Garden – we go behind our UK rural retreat’s seasonal and sustainable approach to food
Tuesday 30 May 2023 By Chloe Lawrance
At Babington House in Somerset, no two daily menus are ever the same. And that’s down to its ‘garden to table’ ethos, which prioritises sustainability, high-quality local produce and a seasonal approach to dining. In part, this is driven by the Walled Garden, an acre-large Victorian garden nestled in the grounds of the House, in which an ever-evolving rotation of herbs, fruits and vegetables are grown.
‘It’s a chef’s dream’, says Babington House’s General Manager Neil Smith, who began his Soho House career as the Commis Chef, working his way up through the kitchen to Head Chef, before taking on the role of leading the team two years ago. ‘We work very closely with the gardener throughout the seasons, asking “what are we going to grow? What do we want to see on the menu?” We don’t use any pesticides, so everything is organic and freshly picked each morning. Produce is brought to the kitchen and used for that day’s service.’
For ingredients that can’t be sourced from the Walled Garden, Smith and the team work closely with local suppliers to find the highest quality meat, fish and cheese, leaning on seasonality to dictate what lands in the kitchen.
‘We buy the whole animal, break it down in-house and use every part of it. For example, we’ll buy the whole lamb and then use the legs for one dinner and the shoulder the following night. After that we might use the trimmings and off cuts to make a delicious lamb ragu, and the bones for stock,’ Smith explains, ‘This helps out the local producers and it’s much more sustainable. But it also keeps the thrill alive for our chefs; they’re engaged and constantly learning, perfecting their craft. There’s not many kitchens these days that will teach you how to butcher, how to fillet.’
With all this to consider, curating the changing daily menus is a creative and collaborative process. ‘Our head chef Dionas Frank and I will take a walk through the garden, and talk to suppliers and local producers to work out what’s going to be coming in. At that point, it’s just about creating the most amazing dishes using the most amazing produce,’ says Smith. ‘For me, it’s not about six or seven ingredients with foams and everything – it’s simple food done really well, using the best produce. That’s the way it should be.’
A summer of supper clubs
With fresh and delicious dining playing such a big role in what makes Babington so special, this summer the House will play host to a series of exciting supper clubs. In celebration of 25 years since Babington House first opened its doors, guest chefs will use ingredients sourced directly from the Walled Garden to curate unique and memorable menus – with each dinner served in the scenic backdrop of the garden itself, too.
In July, chef Ana Ortiz of Day Into Night will be hosting a special soiree, and our series of supper clubs will be rounded out with a dinner created by the team from Lyle’s in Shoreditch, led by James Lowe, in August.
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