Like something straight out of a storybook (Brambly Hedge, anyone?), The Woodland Feast takes place in a private and utterly peaceful stretch of mature Oxfordshire woods. It’s run by Secret Adventures, a company offering unusual, off-beat activities and experiences, and feels accordingly ‘secret’ — the meeting spot is a five minute walk from the nearest post code, so I had to show the taxi driver the google pin on my phone. We rocked up at a tiny, half-hidden car park amongst the trees, having to assure the driver he wasn’t leaving us to fend for ourselves in the wilderness, and eagerly stepped out to greet our fellow adventurers.
The company also runs foraging experiences (read the Muddy review here) in this same spot, but we weren’t there to pick our own lunch — we were there for a refined dining experience. A four-course supper club featuring foraged, seasonal ingredients cooked on an open fire. Yes please!
Fun, and very charming. Once everyone had arrived, we were led along a winding, somewhat muddy trail through the picturesque, ferny woodland. Our destination quickly peeped out through the trees, betrayed by wisps of smoke: a dinky little wooden cabin, and a cluster of long oak tables laid out in front of it. We ooh’d and aah’d at the place-setting, which had bundles of flowers, flickering candles, and heavy-cut glasses. No camping cutlery here! It’s total IG fodder.
After a quick nose around the place, everyone settled in at the tables and fell into easy conversation. It was a good range of people: some young couples who’d made the hike from London, some older people from nearby, all happy to chat as the cocktails and wine were doled out.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The whole lunch was a rather wonderful experience of being constantly plied with good things, without feeling interrupted. On arrival we were given botanical cocktails with Cockburn’s white port and elderflower, dangerously-drinkable and entirely delicious, or a blushing mocktail of berry cordial. The food involved simple flavours to allow the hit of smoke come through — you could see the chef deftly searing it all on the flames as we drank. Our starter was a salt-baked celeriac, roasted aubergine puree, and pool of garlicky red peppers, served with a hot, buttery flatbread straight off the grill. I’ll confess to not being celeriac’s biggest fan, but with the smoky bread and pleasing process of mopping up sauce I could certainly take the hit.
As a vegetarian, my main course was butternut squash with asparagus, blistered tomatoes, and wild mushrooms on a harissa bean stew. The meat equivalent had a piece of chargrilled chicken instead of the squash and tomatoes, and an extra wild garlic dressing. There could’ve been a heavier hand with the harissa (or maybe I’m just greedy!) but the dish was tasty with a good range of textures.
Throughout, we were kept topped up with white or red wine, as well as a carafe of the delicate, not-too-sweet cordial on the table — which I was genuinely struggling not to just guzzle nonstop.
Pudding was a chocolate and caramel torte with caramelised fig and rhubarb blackberry compote. It was sweet but balanced by the dark chocolate, and pleasingly smooth. I especially liked the crackling caramel on the fig, like the best bit of a crème brûlée.
Afterwards, merry and still happily chatting away in our groups, we moved to sit around the campfire. Little hip flasks of port and steaming enamel mugs of fresh mint tea and coffee were handed out, having been boiled in the heavy metal kettles right from the fire. This was just about as charming as you can imagine, and polished off with the homemade marshmallows to toast. (You know, just in case we hadn’t eaten enough.)
OUT & ABOUT
Though it feels secret, The Woodland Feast takes place about a 15 minute drive from central Reading, so you could spend a perfectly metropolitan morning shopping or visiting the abbey ruins or Cole Museum of Zoology. Or, perhaps more fitting for the vibe: it’s five to 10 minutes from the pretty villages of Goring or Pangbourne, so how about a bucolic walk? You’ve got your pick in this part of the country. You could also hire a boat from Streatley, Moulsford, or Wallingford, to admire the scenery from the water. (Wallingford, of course, is one of our Best Places to Live, and boasts plenty of independents to nose through).
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those wanting a taste of wilderness without getting in any way down and dirty. A highlight was the great conversations we had with the other ‘adventurers’, so if the chance to sit and chat with like-minded strangers alongside tasty food appeals, you’re in for a treat.
Not for: If five star toilets are non-negotiable, this might not be for you — it’s a discrete wooden hut and you flush by ladling in some sand. Plus, though all dietary requirements can be catered for, this isn’t a pick from a menu affair, so fusspots might feel out of their depth with what’s put in front of them.
The damage: £70 for four courses, cocktail, wine, and Cockburn’s port, plus a beautifully styled setting.