Financial Times: Tom Adams and April Bloomfield reveal their rural retreat
By John Sunyer
The feted chefs have culinary New York and London at their feet. So why is their new project a tiny guesthouse in a remote corner of Cornwall?
It takes not insignificant effort to find. Winding lanes dissect thickly wooded hills and empty valleys. Sheep and cows roam free and dew-soaked fields unfold with little human interruption. Mobile phone reception is patchy; GPS doesn’t work. For a short time we are lost.
A break in the trees finally reveals our destination: a pretty courtyard of stone barns with turquoise wooden doors and a farmhouse covered with climbing roses and ivy. Unlikely as it might seem, this 66-acre farm near the Cornish village of Lewannick is where two of the world’s most talked about chefs, Tom Adams and April Bloomfield, are launching their latest project this weekend. Feted by critics and popular among famous clients, they are credited with helping to transform the London and New York restaurant scenes by replacing “fine dining” — ornate, aloof and pretentious — with something much more exciting, simple and fresh.
Coombeshead Farm, a six-bedroom guesthouse in deep countryside miles from Cornwall’s well-known beach destinations, seems a bizarre next step.
“Friends and other chefs say we’re crazy,” says Adams, “but this place is f****** badass. It blows my mind.”
Adams, 27, is the founder and chef at Pitt Cue — the name combines Pitt, the Hampshire village where he grew up, and an abbreviation of the word “barbecue”, his favourite cooking method. What started as a food truck beside the Thames in 2011 soon found a permanent yet tiny home in Soho, and became London’s go-to place for a protein-heavy fix of smoked pork, ribs and brisket (even the mash potato has bone marrow in it). The no-booking policy resulted in long queues at the dark, boozy restaurant and today there is a new, bigger Pitt Cue further east.
Adams is a man in love with pigs. He has one tattooed on his arm and subscribes to Practical Pigs, official magazine of the British Pig Association. His business partner April Bloomfield, meanwhile, has perhaps done more to promote nose-to-tail cooking than any other chef since Fergus Henderson. Her brawny menus, not for the faint of palate, teem with trotters and terrines. At Coombeshead Farm, even the home-made lavender and bergamot soap contains pig fat. “It’s good for your skin,” Bloomfield insists over the phone from New York.
Born in Birmingham in 1974, Bloomfield grew up on a diet of fried egg and sausage sandwiches. She moved to America when she was 30 and now holds a Michelin star at two of her six Manhattan restaurants, The Spotted Pig and The Breslin, and counts Jay Z among her best customers (though Lou Reed, she confirms, was the only person allowed to have his burger with onions).
Bloomfield met Adams at Pitt Cue four years ago. She was eating lunch there alone. “Tom recognised me and came over to say hi. I told him his kitchen was even smaller than mine at The Spotted Pig, and from there we hit it off and started meeting for beers. After all, we both like to talk about pork.”
For many chefs, I venture, the great hope is to own one restaurant and then roll it out into a chain, empire-building as fast as possible. Bloomfield demurs: “Coombeshead Farm is a business, sure, and it has to make money. But Tom has the same mind-frame as me. We want the same things. Chefs like us dream of being in total control of their product, to know exactly where it’s from and what’s in it. I’m not interested in rolling out ‘my brand’. Any project I take on, I have to be passionate about.
“When Tom called me to say he’d found a farm and did I want in, I could sense he was grinning at the end of the line,” she continues. “I’d actually been looking for my own farm in upstate New York for years but couldn’t find anything quite right. So a month later I flew to England and that was that.”
Adams, meanwhile, says he was tiring of London. “I was exhausted. And I had a gut feeling about this place. Plus, I’m from a family of farmers. Greenery is in my blood.”
Adams and Bloomfield have converted what was a rundown dairy farm into a pretty guesthouse, where visitors will eat at one long feasting table in the dining room. From its stone floors to its low, beamed ceilings, there are original features everywhere, while furnishings in the cosy rooms are contemporary, simple and smart — light grey walls, white linen sheets. Wild flowers dress the corridors, the odd stray chicken, too.
Outside, they’ve installed a beehive. “Our white beekeeping suits arrived last week. Soon we’ll be able to start making our own honey and use the wax for candles,” Adams says on a tour, occasionally reaching down to pick up plants from the ground — on one occasion some spindly pineapple weeds growing between paving stones — that he will later use as garnishes or in salads. “Fully farm to table’s the aim. We want to make everything from scratch.”
The surrounding gardens have been landscaped and vegetable plots created. During my visit, they were building a large outdoor firepit and wood oven. Much more is planned: when everything is up and running the outbuildings will provide spaces dedicated to experimentation for themselves and fellow chefs; butchery, butter-making and baking workshops will be offered to members of the public. A much larger restaurant is planned. A peacock has been ordered — “Not to eat but to look at,” says Adams. And what he calls “my babies” are on the way.
The “babies” are his mangalitzas, a rare Austro-Hungarian breed of pig, whose meat offers dark ruby flesh with marbling as silken as any Ibérico ham. So prized were they in the 19th century, they were apparently traded on the Vienna stock exchange alongside gold. The beasts — around 100 of them, with woolly coats similar to that of sheep — will roam free, get belly rubs, feast on peaches and courgettes. “They haemorrhage my bank account,” says Adams of the high production costs. “But you have to treat them right, with respect.”
Unlike most restaurant kitchens — hot, shouty and stressful — the chefs’ workspace at Coombeshead is quiet, flooded with sunlight and homely (they even cook on an Aga). Guests are encouraged to walk freely around the kitchen to watch their food being prepared up close and chat to the four staff, who are all in their twenties, and have a drink with them — a bit like being round at a friend’s house.
It’s time for dinner. I am joined in the garden by members of the Adams family and a group of London chefs, all in their twenties and thirties, who are good friends with Adams and are here to put the operation through its paces before its public opening. We sit around a giant barn door acting as a makeshift tabletop. Adams’ mum tells me about the first time her son butchered a pig. “Then he cooked it straight away, right there and then,” she says.
First up: nibbles. There’s duck liver pate served with wild garlic capers from the garden — “Peppery for a good kick,” says Adams; slices of mangalitza lardo with fresh sourdough bread; gem lettuce and cod’s roe.
The meat flows. We move inside to the feasting table for duck and shiitake sausage with brown butter. Then short rib, shallots and Béarnaise. There are baked beets, broad beans and bronze fennel for sides. Some nettle kraut, too. For dessert, strawberries and rhubarb cheesecake with blackcurrant leaf and crumble. All in, honest and heavy yet fresh; up there with the best meals I’ve had.
Coombeshead Farm pulls off the trick of coupling the highest quality with considered informality and relative affordability. “People want to strip away fuss and just eat great produce,” Adams says. “I like the kinds of restaurants that bake their own sourdough bread, cure their own meat or churn their own butter. It’s all about having control of the produce.”
For Adams, Bloomfield’s return to Britain is “a kind of homecoming”. “It’s also overdue,” he says. “She’ll be over as much as possible.”
Which, according to Bloomfield, will be every couple of months. “I’m ready to get stuck in, whether I’m in the kitchen or weeding or feeding the pigs. It’s been a dream of mine for a long, long time,” she says. “You can’t create this kind of place from scratch. You feel instantly connected and instantly relaxed. It’s like a little piece of heaven. It has good bones.”
John Sunyer was a guest of Coombeshead Farm. It costs £160 per night for one person, or £275 per night for two people sharing a double room, both including breakfast and dinner; discounts apply for multiple-night stays.
Photographs: Howard Sooley
This article has been amended because of editorial errors in the original