Rich’s is a farm, a factory, a visitor attraction, and a great value family restaurant that feels as if it’s been transplanted from Bavaria.
Rich’s has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
My dad isn’t a committed cider drinker but, having grown up on the Levels, he sometimes gets the taste.
When I was young, he’d often turn up with a plastic jerry can of Rich’s medium to take to a barbecue or party.
Recently, he’s been a bit under the weather, and it was touch and go whether we’d be able to celebrate his birthday at all.
Then, last week, he decided he wanted to go to Rich’s for lunch.
It’s been a while since I was last there and what I remembered was a barn, piles of apples on the ground in the car park, and a kind of canteen in a Portakabin.
“OK, fine,” I said, with a baffled shrug.
As it happens, it underwent a refurb in 2020, and that canteen is now a substantial restaurant with (counts on fingers) seating for about 150 people.
When we entered, Jess immediately said, “This feels like a German beer hall.”
And she was right.
Not a historic one – the kind you find in a post-war block, or out in the sprawl, or in a neat little village.
It’s something to do with all the polished wooden surfaces, perhaps.
Or the pervasive smell of roast pork.
Or the people: there were plenty of sturdy looking country folk digging into heaped plates.
If it wasn’t Bavaria of which it reminded me, then it was one of those diners Guy Fieri visits on Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives. The type of place that “cranks out” hearty meals to the delight of contented regulars.
Good cider, as far as we can tell
I’m vaguely aware that Rich’s isn’t considered to be in the top flight of scrumpy producers. Its reputation is for being accessible and commercial, without the challenging funk and dryness of some competitors.
What I do know is this: Dad was delighted with a pint of their Golden Harvest at 4.5%. It’s a bright, ever-so-slightly fizzy Thatcher’s competitor but with less sugar than the bigger brand and an extra dimension or two.
I found Vintage (7.2%) good for a half, with some toffee character and sherry notes.
Jess, who has the driest palate in the family, went for traditional dry scrumpy at 6%. It’s still clearly a farm product but with the mud scraped off its boots.
And get this: all of those were about £3.80 a pint, with even Vintage only creeping up to the round £4.
Boak & Bailey eat big dinners
Having got used to increasingly stingy portions in pubs in the past year or two, and based on the prices on the menu, we over ordered for the table. And, again, were transported to Bavaria.
A ploughman’s lunch (£14.95) was served on a hunk of wood the length of a cricket bat, with enough cheese for the whole table. A portion of lasagna (£12.50, I think) seemed to be… a whole lasagna. And the small carvery plate (£10.95) was, in fact, a large carvery plate.
Oh, yes: we wrote about carveries recently, observing their disappearance. At Rich’s, which is pleasingly behind the times, the carvery lives on, seven days a week.
When was the last time you got presented with the bill in a restaurant and felt compelled to check with the waiting staff that they hadn’t forgotten something?
An overwhelmingly filling lunch for six, with drinks and a couple of desserts, came to £120.
Now, we’re not restaurant reviewers, but the point is that this really brought home how diminished the offer has become in towns and cities.
Rich’s has some economic advantages, of course.
First, they own the land on which the sprawling restaurant sits. Planning permission was presumably the main challenge.
And, secondly, they produce the core product themselves, on site, with no middle men or delivery costs.
Thirdly, Rich’s received a grant from the European Fund for Agricultural Development, which contributed to development of the restaurant, farm shop and museum. Presumably nicking in under the Brexit wire.
What can publicans do to compete with that? Not much, really. Taprooms might get closer – but we won’t hold our breaths for a carvery at Lost & Grounded just yet.
And, yes, thanks for asking, Dad had a great time, even if he was a bit knackered after all the excitement and the challenge of a large-small carvery plate.
Rich’s Cider Farm is in Watchfield just outside Highbridge at TA9 4RD. The website has menus.