Amanda Nicholls heads to the newly opened Claverham restaurant and finds a menu full of first-class food…
Having put in some seriously hard graft at the likes of Le Manoir and Michelin-starred Bristol restaurant Wilks, former Backwell School student and River Cottage apprentice Jonny Burnett made his first solo foray into the foodie world last month, opening a charming little diner in the old post office of the tiny Somerset village he grew up in.
“…various wooden crates full of cookbooks by his heroes, help create a rustic ambience…”
The paint’s barely dry when we show up for their very first review, seven days after opening – no pressure, then – and the gods are on their side; the spring sun blazing down on us while we wind our way round the country roads towards the sleepiest High Street you’ll ever see. Passing chalkboards scrawled with the day’s specials in the alfresco dining area – beef and parsnip stew with honey-roasted carrots and mash, and chilli squid – we head inside to find an intimate dining space with room to cater for around 30 covers, and a simple, fresh, contemporary look. A couple of crimson feature walls, a counter covered in homemade cakes and Jonny’s fresh baked bread, as well as various wooden crates full of cookbooks by his heroes, help create a rustic ambience, while there’s a nod to the restaurant’s earlier incarnation, and namesake, in the form of little red postbox salt shakers on sun-drenched windowsills, and a large plant sat on a set of old postal weighing scales. Each wall sports bright, suitably seasonal artwork – courtesy of Jonny’s cousin and featuring beloved local spots like the bluebell woods at nearby Wrington.
“Since I fell into cookery at school – all the other subjects were already taken – and realised I loved it, I’ve always wanted to open my own restaurant serving locally sourced produce here in my hometown, and funnily enough, I always wanted it to be in this building, which was a café before I got a bit of money together and took it over,” Jonny explains as we settle down beside the whitewashed front windows.
“There’s not a lot around here in terms of really good foodie spots and this place is an 18-second walk from my house, just round the corner from my primary school too – it’s nice having so many people I know coming in, and Claverham and the surrounding villages have so much to offer – I’m thrilled to have the chance to help put them on the map.”
“The fish falls away perfectly at the touch of a fork..”
Jonny’s a friendly lad, clearly focused and quietly driven, so we decide as he dashes off to bring us out a dish of piping hot pig’s cheek with white onion purée, red vein sorrel and a round of British black pudding for us to try before we tuck into the chilli squid special and a wheel of irresistibly soft, mild and creamy goat’s cheese, stuffed with pieces of fried walnut for extra texture and served with red onion and apple jam and a tomato salad. As the restaurant fills up for lunch, we overhear the next table praising the cauliflower cheese soup, and the Post Box scotch egg – soft-boiled Claverham egg wrapped in sausage meat, stuffed with apricot and parsley, dusted with bread crumbs and served with homemade chutney – and curse ourselves for not ordering the latter too.Reluctantly eschewing the potato and aubergine curry (veggie and gluten-free) with homemade sag aloo spuds, my companion plumps for the thick slices of home-cooked ham and two giant duck eggs, sunny side up, stacked on a wooden board along with a generous fistful of skinny fries standing in a charming white and blue enamel beaker – and sings its praises between every mouthful. Meanwhile I side with the battered cod – huge hunk of – with homemade tartare sauce, fries and salad. The fish falls away perfectly at the touch of a fork while the light, citrusy sauce, with its fresh caper chunks, makes for a pretty divine plate fellow.
It’s wholesome, and while prettily presented, not prententious in any way. For example, rather than getting a thimbleful of the ‘refreshing lemon posset’, it’s more like a small bucketful of the uber-ambrosial stuff. Refreshing it is too, practically melting away on the palate. We have one to share, and pair it up with the tip-top Post Box chocolate lava cake with a subtle hint of orange and a berry coulis.
The menu here changes daily, and there’s an array of breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as lighter bites including freshly made sandwiches. Ingredients come from the surrounding area – Jonny certainly concurs with the back-to-basics River Cottage ethos – and include meat from his Yatton butcher and eggs from the village. He’s also hoping to get an allotment arrangement sorted, he tells us.
And the evening offering looks an elegant affair, with options including king scallops with herb-fried potatoes, apple purée, bacon and white wine sauce; carrot and paprika soup; and pork schnitzel with black pud, roasted carrots, duck egg, mash and cider gravy.
With smooth, genial service and well-executed fare, this is a chef with real potential, who has pulled off his first project with aplomb. Oh, and did we mention that he’s only 19? If he’s managing to produce food like this at this tender age, we reckon the future looks pretty bright…
The Post Eatery, 2 High Street, Claverham, BS49 4NA; 01934 834667; @postboxeatery