Heather Farm , Horsell Common, GU21 4XY
The upside: Delicious, locally sourced and well executed food
The downside: If it’s busy service can be slow because everything is made fresh to order!
The flipside: A lot of the food here comes from the proprietors own farm and is picked within hours of arriving at your table!
Newly opened in January 2016 this venue is located just outside Woking in Surrey. Woking isn’t a particularly attractive town although improvements to the centre recently have improved it dramatically. However just a five minute drive away takes you into some quite spectacular countryside and Horsell Common is no exception. A new wetlands centre opened with a café on January 9th and news spread fast of its peaceful atmosphere, dog friendly policies and its wonderful café. The area around the wetland has been set up with decking and paths making it easy for buggies and mobility scooters unless their has been a lot of rain as it gets muddy. I enjoyed it so much that I have been back three times mainly because the setting and the food is fabulous but also because I have been trying to interview Chef Aneke Spacie. Busy managing a young family, a new eaterie opening at the Lightbox Gallery in Woking and her current café we had to resort to a telephone conversation in the end, which filled in the gaps.
Like you, I am used to going to some pretty gorgeous places here and abroad only to find the café serves mediocre food, fizzy drinks and deep-fries anything unfortunate enough to make its way into the kitchen. Not here though – the food ethos, menu and hospitality is as close to my idea of a perfect venue as you can get. Organic, locally sourced, thoughtfully cooked and presented, it’s delightful, refreshing and sustainable too. Before children came along this highly skilled chef built up an enviable CV working for McClaren, the Ivy, British Airways, Harrods and Sotheby’s. Running her own catering company in Surrey she built on this experience and a successful pop up at the Lightbox last year sealed a contract to take over the catering there too.
Waters Edge Dine is Aneke Spacie’s first solo restaurant and within just a few months she has a hardcore following of diners who love the menu, cooking style and dedication to healthy sustainable eating. Here the mantra is to buy food with thought, cook with care, use less wheat and meat, buy local, serve just enough and create minimal waste. Food is presented in such an attractive way too and whilst it’s not fine dining London style you have a sense that your meal is going to be really good for you (tea time cakes not included here).
On my first visit my daughter came with me and at this point it was just to get a sense of what the venue was all about. It was just after 3pm and although the kitchen had just closed for the lunchtime service we were still able to order. Choosing a spicy Welsh rarebit with a free-range hen’s egg and then a couple of mugs of tea we took a seat. When the food arrived it was on a wooden board which looks great but isn’t practical as the runny egg without some control would have rolled right over the edge. I happen to think plates are really the obvious choice as they retain their heat and control the food. However in the subsequent visits I have made here it is the only criticism I could possibly muster up in addition to the fact that as seating is limited inside they could particularly in poor weather outgrow their space fast.
A week later after deciding to write about Waters Edge I took a fellow writer for lunch. He was over from Taipei where we had worked together and it was the perfect venue. We had a barmy English summers day to share and it was a far cry from our last lunch together eating stinky tofu in Shenkeng, a suburb of Taipei where one street of restaurants is dedicated to the consumption of fermented tofu. This time our menu was based on good nutrition, provenance, budget and balance and we loved it. I had pan fried wild mushrooms on toast (£7.50) with Parmesan, truffle dressing and wild rocket while Richard had the house burger (£10.50) with cheddar (Wookey Hole) smoked bacon, salad and tomato relish with home fries. Aneke bought the food to our table on this occasion and shared some useful information with us (if I had realized she was so busy I would have delved deeper). Some of the mushrooms had she told us come from the farm, which they top up with those from their local vegetable supplier, the truffles were from the estate (Surrey surprisingly is not bad for truffle hunters) and the meat from a local farm. We loved our food as both dishes were satisfying, delicious and had an understated feel good factor. The setting of course overlooking the wetland adds to the overall sense of wellbeing. Nearby diners had selected roasted pork belly and a huge bowl of soup, which looked exceptional too. Next time.
To finish we ordered drinks and cake. They have a substantial range of home-made and bought in sweet treats here (from a local bakery) such as chocolate dipped flapjacks to large cutting cakes. Choose from red velvet, chocolate with salted caramel, carrot and coffee. Gluten free options include orange and polenta cake too. For children there is also an option to buy and decorate your own gingerbread person with a plate of sprinkles and writing icing. Coffee here is barista style and tea comes in large mugs with a tea-bag, which you can recycle in the glass jar provided. What a great idea.
If you are interested in how the Wetland Centre came into being you can find out more about the Horsell Preservation Society, their other sites and the fantastic work they do here www.horsellcommon.org.uk.
Its child friendly here too with buckets of crayons, a lego corner and teepees to set up outside. For dogs water is provided and towels for those that end up in the water! Dogs on leads are allowed inside but must be kept on a tight leash by owner. As this is a wetland to encourage wildlife there are strict rules for dog walking on the site. Please check the website before you visit if you are bringing a dog with you.