A sumptuous vegan and vegetarian Garden Party blogger event at the Waitrose Leckford Estate, Hampshire, England. Waitrose is the only UK supermarket with its own farm, and the first to have its own vineyard.
Britain’s most pukka supermarket is known for many things. A long association with Prince Charles, carefully selected products for the discerning shopper, assiduously promoting British products, personable service, free (excellent) coffee, and inspiring a certain hashtag.
What is lesser known is that they actually grow some of the whole food products that they sell. In fact, Waitrose is the only British supermarket with its own farm. Imagine having that kind of control and care over staple ingredients.
Over a stunning 4000 acres of prime Hampshire countryside, the Leckford Estate grows a wide range of best-quality produce for Waitrose, including milk, mushrooms, flax, rapeseed (for their cold-pressed oil), corn, apples (for cider), pears, wheat for their range of flours and a vineyard. Yes, they have their own vineyard. The first UK retailer to do so.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a very intimate Garden Party celebrating Waitrose’s passion for producing exceptional food. Vegan and vegetarian food, to be precise. Many of you know that I am a flexitarian (if I had to label myself), but Waitrose knows that I promote healthy plant-based eating, and kindly included me. The day, that I recount in this post, was a summer celebration of healthy, creative food, done Waitrose style.
To be honest, having previously attended events hosted by Waitrose, my expectations were very high. Every event I’ve been to has always thoughtfully, and without fan-fair, offered their plant-based guests utterly delicious vegan and vegetarian options. So, on a recent muggy and shower-punctuated Monday, 11 fellow bloggers, Instagrammers and I were treated to a day devoted to creative, plant-based ways with the Estate’s bounty.
Our #WaitroseAtSource day started at their Farm Shop (as well-stocked and beautifully laid out as you imagine) where we hemmed and hawed about the potential weather conditions, changed into more practical shoes, and debated which lenses to snap on. From there our small group was guided alongside their lushly-planted, 80-metre herbaceous border, and through the nursery home of the National Collections of buddlejas, Clematis viticella, and the Gilchrist Collection of penstemons. Stunning.
Well, I heard it was stunning. As yours truly is still on crutches, and the path was a bit steep, I was driven down to the breath-taking water garden (thanks Carrie!) where the others joined me for a tutored amble around this rarely-opened gem by Colin McIntyre, Manager of Retail, Leisure and Events at Leckford Estate. I remarked that he had the best office in Britain. He agreed.
We carried on past grazing livestock down a meandering, posy-strewn and oak-shaded path to what can only be described as a slice of paradise. I think we all gasped when we saw the soaring canvas tipis, flower-bedecked and alongside a natural lake. Inside was a long wooden table laid with white plates, covetable linens, best wine glasses (plural!), and jugs of seasonal flowers. As we took in the sumptuous, fairytale surroundings we nibbled crunchy-coated mushroom aranicini, prepared with Estate mushrooms. I would have been perfectly happy just sitting on one of the sofas with a Leckford Estate apple juice and sparkling Brut cocktail (luscious!), but we were invited to sit and enjoy a five-course lunch, featuring produce from the Estate. I was almost too excited to eat, but somehow I managed. As we were encouraged to wander from the table to photograph our plates of food with their flowers and covetable props, I had to laugh to myself that only at a food blogger event would you actively be encouraged to leave the table during a meal. Multiple times. 🙂
It was a perfectly thought out and executed meal, prepared and served by the Cookery School team from nearby Salisbury. Each dish, including amuse bouche, nibbly palate cleansers and accompanying vegan wines, was introduced by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic chef.
I can’t emphasise how much care and attention, and indeed, love, went into not only every dish, but the whole day itself. As a way to promote its vegetarian and vegan credentials, this thoughtful event hit every mark with grace, professionalism and true passion for the Waitrose brand.
Although Waitrose holds two Royal Warrants (from HRH The Prince of Wales and HM The Queen), the brand really does have something for everyone, including those who don’t have silver spoons.
But the day didn’t end with the meal. As was hinted at by the flower theme, we were invited to amble down, on a cloud of contentment, to the lake itself where one of their florists braved the heat to help us create a unique bouquet with their British-grown flowers. We all fairly swooned at the sight of so many colourful blooms. (There was one actual swoon as the day was quite hot.) This jolly coda was a fitting end to an exceptional day. We all drifted home, replete and swinging a handcrafted momento.
Unfortunately during my travels back to Edinburgh (planes, trains and automobiles!) my camera took a bit of a knock and the images were damaged. But I had captured some of the day with my phone, so all was not completely lost on that front. Apologies for the under-par visual reportage.
Courgette, Spelt & Cumin Fritter, Parsley & Cashew Salad, Nasturtium Emulsion, Leckford Mushroom Tuille
Roasted Cauliflower, Savoury Maple Granola, Baby Beetroot, Lettuce Puree
Coconut Panacotta, Sour Cherries, Fennel, Clementine, Puffed Quinoa
**Thank you Waitrose, for a truly unforgettable day. Feeling spoiled, inspired and grateful in equal measure.**
Disclosure: My time and expenses were covered by Waitrose, but I was not required to write a positive review. All links included were chosen by me, and are “no follow” in accordance with Google guidelines.