Live Mendips Review
I was as keen as mustard to visit the Canteen at Yeo Valley HQ when I found out they were open to all comers, not just their staff. What, I wondered, would their specials be? Cheese on toast followed by milk pudding? Joking aside, I do enjoy the yoghurt which is just as well as I had been eating it like it was going out of fashion.
Buying their yoghurt, milk or butter you cannot fail to have noticed their loyalty scheme - Yeokens - which I had been saving to bust the myth that there is no such thing as a free lunch. This is the reason I had been eating pots and pots of their yoghurt.
Set high in the Mendips, tucked away above Blagdon, a walk up the steep hill from the village centre would sharpen any appetite. Arriving at Yeo Valley HQ on a windy weekday we had a fine aspect over the lake, the pretty village, the airport and out over the Bristol Channel.
Opening out from a dark red corridor to a large bright room with a breezy view of the valley where much of its food is from, the Canteen is set firmly in its rural community yet inside it has a vibrant feel of an inner city restaurant. The look of the place inside is colourful, with a focus on fun and funky. Colanders are used as wall lights, silver birch treetrunks support shelves, and fish hang from the ceiling presumably reflecting the lake below.
Every table seemed reserved and the place was busy. As nosiness is one of my many failings and one of my hobbies is people watching, I passed time trying to ascertain the Yeo Valley workers from the business clients, and those, like me and my dining companion, who were having a free lunch.
After I had checked out the rest of the eaters - there seemed to be a staff zone of smart thirty and forty somethings in smart workwear. The table close to us were clearly corporate customers and spoke Dutch which could be as cosmopolitan as it gets out here. Other clientele were mostly older with a sprinkling of younger couples, who I suspect like us, had saved their Yeokens. The Canteen is only open for lunch on Monday to Fridays, so naturally the place attracts those free on a weekday: stay at home mums, people who have retired or those wanting a working lunch.
A pleasantly vague member of staff brought us the menu, and some sourdough bread. I rarely eat bread so when I do it has to be good. I'm a big fan of sourdough, and their’s was absolutely up there with the best I've tasted. It's crisp crust was chewy and the perfectly textured inside had a slight tang with a lovely holey texture. Spread with a thick layer of their Yeo Valley butter, I could quite happily have eaten just that for lunch with my delicious red wine.
Our orders were taken by another friendly waiter, who was efficient without being officious and knowledgeable when we needed him to be. I like a short menu. Less choice shows a confidence in the food from the chef that the food is good. An overly long menu always worries me, it can be a bit try-too-hard, wonder how long how much food is wasted, or how long less popular dishes are sitting around in the fridge. The choice were simple, canteen food: fish and chips; burgers & risotto.
As we had skipped breakfast, and we were hungry we both decided to have a burger. The beef was from Holt Farm, a mere stone's throw from Blagdon and the home of the family who own Yeo Valley. Gilding the lily, we added bacon and cheese too.
When it arrived my high hopes weren't disappointed. The burgers were the best tasting, full of flavour and teetered precariously in a brioche bun with sweet and tangy pickles. The mayonnaise they brought with the fries was reassuringly yellow, as if it had been homemade with golden yolks. The fries, served in a flowerpot-style container, were just as they should be and sprinkled with shards of sea-salt.
Too full for pudding, I plumped for coffee instead and the end of the dark cherry red. I had hoped my dining companion would choose a chocolate brownie that I could try but he demurred. We lingered over our drinks, enjoying the buzz for which we usually would have to travel to Bristol or Bath.
Tucked away in the corner there are large fridges stuffed to the ginnels with yoghurt of every flavour. Other dairy products are available, so for a change, I bought frozen yoghurt, at half the price of the supermarket.
The Canteen is not what you expect, tucked away on a windy Somerset hillside, and it feels like a ‘find’. Lots of other people had found it now too, and seem to be happily eating free main courses. I would definitely return and pay full price to eat here (and in fact I might have to as the yeokens scheme may end soon) and I’m thinking of trying their pop-up supper club. To have an eatery like this on my doorstep which serves good quality food that is cooked well is a treat not to be missed.
Canteen at Yeo Valley HQ open Mon - Fri from 12-2, Booking essential www.yeovalley.co.uk
Lunch cost of around £13 for two glasses of wine & coffee not including two free burgers at £9 each
Reviewed by the Live Mendips Editor in March 2016