Though originally built in the 16th century, the interiors of the National Trust’s Packwood House were extensively restored between the First and Second World Wars by Graham Baron Ash.
The house is renowned for its gardens’ herbaceous borders and a famous collection of yew trees, while the house itself is a fine display of Tudor architecture and 16th-century textiles and furniture. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Garden Kitchen, the café at Packwood House, opened in late 2013 and seriously puts a shift in, operating alongside the property all year round, only closing for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
As the name suggests, breakfast, lunch and a traditional afternoon tea show off the renowned kitchen garden, with ingredients grown just metres away from diners’ plates, an amazing example of field to fork.
But the catering offer doesn’t just end at the café, with some late-night dining and more modern concepts available to the public. For instance, they have recently added a mobile food outlet which serves takeaway speciality coffees, ice creams, cold drinks and snacks.
“This is considered a more informal offer for those wanting to picnic within the grounds, it’s much more of a ‘grab and go’ operation,” explains Simon Wuerth, F&B manager at Packwood House. “There are even additional picnic tables located by our mobile food outlet for visitors to use.”
In addition, throughout December, Packwood offers bespoke Christmas evening tours where visitors are guided through the house before being served a two-course dinner in the café. And the team aren’t afraid to show off their USP, holding regular gardening talks followed by a two-course dinner using homegrown elements. Like with so many heritage properties, if they have the facilities, it is becoming more and more important to use them at every available opportunity.
“We are very keen to cater for evening functions, which we do throughout the year,” Wuerth adds. “We have regular events run by the Women’s Institute, University of the Third Age and Lapworth Ladies Supper Club.”
Surrounded by such luscious greenery and a resplendent Grade II-listed building, customer expectations are already at a high. As visitors tend to come up to spend the whole day at Packwood, every element of their visit needs to be up to scratch – and the food, of course, is no exception.
“Visitors are at the forefront of our minds – ensuring they receive exceptional service and high-quality food made from local, ethical and sustainable ingredients is really important to us,” states Wuerth.
So much so that Packwood is a recipient of the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here Bronze Award.
“As consumers’ expectations continue to grow and food becomes an even more integral part of a visit to a heritage site, it’s really important that the quality is at least on a par with the broader food market,” says Wuerth. “As our proceeds help towards our conservation work, we need to find new ways to attract visitors into our F&B outlets. Without this crucial income, we wouldn’t be able to carry out the important work needed to look after the places in our care for the nation’s benefit.
“Our food is centred on fresh, seasonal, British ingredients and served in a relaxed and informal environment,” he says. “Within our menus, we feature recipes that reflect the spirit of Packwood and that make the most of the abundance of homegrown produce, particularly in the summer months.”
From June, the menu will be enhanced to incorporate more main meals, to provide visitors with more choice, but currently it features a range of favourites, including soups, sandwiches and an array of tempting baked goods.
There’s no theme to the menu as such, Wuerth tells me, they just try to incorporate as much homegrown produce as possible from the kitchen garden.
The catering team also use ingredients from the National Trust’s tenant farmers who grow, rear and produce on National Trust land, as Wuerth explains: “We have just begun to use a variety of potato called Madeleine in our recipes from an award-winning tenanted National Trust farm in Pembrokeshire, which are excellent quality.
“Our eggs are supplied by our tenant farmer at Stourhead in Wiltshire and at Christmas, we use free-range turkey from F. Conisbee & Son, a tenant farmer at Polesden Lacey in Surrey. Their turkey is also a winner of a National Trust Fine Farm Produce Award.”
Like all National Trust properties, Packwood House also makes use of the National Trust Cookbook; however, kitchen teams are also encouraged to create up to 25% of their own menu, depending on the size of the outlet.
“These could be recipes that celebrate homegrown or local ingredients, that reflect the spirit and heritage of their place, or that are regional hero dishes,” Wuerth explains.
With a garden that sits opposite the café, the team base some of their dishes around the fruits and vegetables that they’re able to harvest, in addition to using them in the cookbook recipes.
“For example, rhubarb is now in season, so we’ve created a fantastic rhubarb and almond tray bake,” says Wuerth. “Last year, we used rainbow chard to create a bacon, brie and chard tart and many more recipes were created through the spring right through to the end of autumn.”
Catering is very much a collaborative effort between National Trust sites, Wuerth tells me, with F&B managers throughout the country working closely together to share best practices and offer each other advice on all things F&B-related.
“We’ve also recently held our first annual F&B Festival, bringing all F&B managers from across the National Trust together for two days to learn, share ideas, celebrate our successes and have some fun along the way,” he says.
This year’s festival included workshops on how to maximise the use of kitchen garden produce, how to minimise food waste and how to market food offerings effectively.
Wuerth adds: “Our challenge is to provide a high-quality offer with minimal environmental impact – something we’re excited to be working on.”
The Garden Kitchen sample menu
All served with mixed leaves and coleslaw
Pork and rhubarb sausage rolls
Cheese and onion twist
Jacket potato with cheese / baked beans / tuna mayo
Bacon and sausage sandwiches
Toast and jam
Soups and ‘one pots’
All served with bread
Courgette, garlic and stilton soup
Carrot, orange and mixed spice soup
Tuna, soy and ginger
Black pudding, walnut, Wensleydale and egg
Cakes & bakes
Victoria sponge cake
Oat and coconut cookies
Arnhel de Serra