Plump brown hens cluck contentedly in a fox-proof field by the car park and pens of ducks and rabbits line the pretty courtyard where we’re about to eat.
We are lunching at a restaurant on a farm - the perfect combo if you’re watching your food miles and like to support local producers.
The eaterie, off Mansfield Road, which links Rother Valley Country Park with the A57 to Junction 31 of the M1, is not the latest bid to breathe new life into a farm handed down father to son for generations. Aston Springs Farm is spanking new, just two years old but already with a name for its venison, rare breed pork, free-range eggs, poultry supplies and point-of-lay chickens for budding hen-keepers. Plus there’s a family farm trail through fields and woodland.
The latest addition, which owners Emma and Ken Swain, who also have a farm and fishing ponds at Killamarsh, have named Aston’s Restaurant, is further proof of their modern business savvy.
The restaurant is their first, but a little triumph. It takes up one corner of the courtyard complex, beautifully-built just a few months ago; a farm shop occupies another and the rest of the buildings form a mini farmyard petting zoo.
It’s so pretty inside the cafe - think farmhouse-style tables and chairs, clotted cream paintwork, tan leather sofas and cheery paintings of chickens. But it’s such a beautiful day, we can’t resist one of the three parasol-shaded benches in the flower-filled courtyard. Each table is topped with a little bucket in which herbs grow. Nice touch.
The menu looks just as attractive. There’s a breakfast selection, plus interesting paninis and unusual sandwiches (e.g. pulled pork, rare breed Berkshire sausage) on hand-cut bread, some glorious-sounding salads, afternoon tea at £10.95, handmade cakes and a quality kids’ menu from £1.95.
There are also calamari with lime mayo (£6.25) a traditional ploughmans or chicken liver parfait with salad, chutney and bread (£5.95) on the specials board.
The three of us are torn, but finally settle on a stupendous sandwich of home-made fish goujons with tartare sauce and watercress (£5.95). It’s massive - each crisply battered goujon of soft, creamy white flesh looks like a small fish.
Quantity is equally matched by quality, as it is in the salads. Mine is £6.95, a thick slice of lightly toasted goat’s cheese on a vibrant tossed salad laden with fresh beetroot, walnuts, cherry tomatoes and pine nuts. Husband’s £7.45 Caesar salad topped with two thick slices of hand-cured bacon, peppery black pudding and perfectly poached eggs from those brown hens is equally well-made. Every ingredient is top-notch and in plentiful supply.
Puddings are equally lovely; we wolfed down a light raspberry roulade filled with cream, and a tall glass of rhubarb mess, a tangy take on the cream, meringue and fruit Eton combo on the menu thanks to a local gardener, who trades his rhubarb for used coffee grinds.
A pot of Teapigs tea is a reasonable £1.80 and traditional ginger beer and elderflower cordial are £1.75 each.
Occasional Saturday bistro nights started this month and are already sold out until September. I’m not surprised.
BY JO DAVISON
WHERE AND WHEN
Aston Springs Farm
Contact: 0114 2876699
Details: Open daily, 10am-4pm
My star ratings out of five: