Food & Drink Wednesday, November 25th

Riverside Inn chef Andrew Link gets hands on

Chef/gardener is not a job description you would expect to see advertised every day.

But the role is very much a reality at the 16th century Riverside Inn in Aymestrey, near Leominster.

Chef Andrew Link and his team are more than hands on when it comes to growing their own produce at the black and white venue which has more than its far share of rustic charm.

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Andrew Link at work in the pub's garden.

Not only does its garden provide unusual produce for the plate it also has its own orchard and beehive.

“The chefs tend to the garden here so I am head gardener as well as head chef,” said Andrew. “Everything in the garden is grown by us.

“In an average week I would spend 10 hours in the garden and it’s similar for the others that work here.

“When you have seen something grown and have looked after it you are less likely to waste it. You tend to have an ownership over it.”

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A butterfly enjoys the garden at The Riverside in Aymestrey.

Andrew describes their approach to gardening as ‘experimental’.

“Some years we will grow a random plant and find it has an amazing flavour so we carrying on growing it,” he says.

“You learn from your mistakes and from what is successful.

“We will grow high yield plants or quirky ones such as borage, Jerusalem artichokes, and lemon verbena.”

Andrew offers Herefordshire Live a sample of the latter to inhale – the overwhelming aroma, not surprisingly, is reminiscent  of lemon but the exercise proves that produce could not come fresher - grown as it is in the pub’s own small polytunnel.

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Pumpkins are kept in the pub's greenhouse.

As we walk around the garden we come across a healthy specimen of Good King Henry. This, Andrew says, makes for a good alternative to spinach.

“In terms of nutrition it’s very high in iron. It’s perennial which means we keep picking it all year long and it keeps coming back,” says Andrew.

Andrew has firm Herefordshire roots having grown up on a farm in Lingen before moving to Leintwardine.

“All of my family are food producers so that is where my ethos is from,” says Andrew. “This has made me want to produce food as well as cook it.”

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A view of the pub from the garden.

Andrew’s uncle is a bee keeper in Shropshire – something that has inspired him to keep his own hive which has been in place for two years.

“It’s fascinating from a chef’s point of view,” says Andrew, “as the flavour of the honey changes throughout the year.

“The garden project is about being sustainable. It provides the bees with a food source and we have found that planting near them gives us a higher yield.”

At first Andrew found the process of going into the hive ‘terrifying’. After he tells us that he became the recipient of more than one sting we decide to keep our distance from the hive. Fortunately the experience of keeping the native British honey bee has improved with time.

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 The pub is located in north Herefordshire, near Leominster.

“Now I can go in the hive and the bees are not too bothered,” says Andrew. “The majority of times I can go in there and inspect the hive and it’s fine.

“We are still learning but it’s a very useful part of the kitchen/garden aspect.”

The honey has been used to make honey oat, soda bread, dressings, and even honey ice cream.

“We use it where we can and last year we had 35 to 40 pounds of honey from the hive,” said Andrew.

He believes the county should no longer be reticent when it comes to securing a place in the national spotlight for the quality of its food and the way it is cooked.

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The Riverside is located on the banks of the River Lugg.

“I feel the Marches area has got the best produce in the whole country,” said Andrew. “It seems to be getting better and better.

“I think the county is very under-represented. Herefordshire does not sing and dance about what we have got.

“In the last eight years or so there seems to have been more artisan producers coming through.

“For instance, we have four houses in the village that supply us with eggs. They are all organic and great quality.”

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