The Spa Spy blog

Fork to Spa

The Spa Spy muses on home-grown ingredients in spa kitchens and treatments.

I was at a new spa recently whose kitchen garden was a thing of beauty, with rhubarb and fennel encased in a topiary of rosemary and bay. On various dishes in the spa café were little blackboards with 'From the Garden' written in chalk.

A spa garden is a beautiful thing, but the latest trend is to literally bring the garden produce into the spa. At the aptly named Secret Garden Spa at Congham Hall in Norfolk you can have a facial or massage using some of the 400 varieties of herb plucked from their quintessentially English herb garden, which has decorated many a garden calendar.

Congham Hall

Congham Hall

Any spa café worth its (sustainable) Himalayan salt will already have a fork to fork garden to plate menu.

Bamford, one of the first, is part of the Daylesford Organic Farm cookery school and shops, created by the original Green Goddess herself, Lady Caroline Bamford. It’s part of the wellness ethos – sustainable organic ingredients on the plate, in your skin and hair is a thorough holistic approach. You can book in a B Whole – Cooking and Spa Day here for a mere £185 for yoga, cookery school and a massage.

Things have come a long way since my Uncle Ernie’s wonky potatoes and carrots saw him and Aunty Doris through various winters of discontent. So, how did the humble allotment move from a thing of ridicule to the pinnacle of good taste?

Lime WoodGreenhouse

Greenhouse at Lime Wood

For a start, it is now called a kitchen garden. Rather than a patch of dirt near a train track, it is usually found within a romantic walled garden with greenhouses in a stately home. Produce won’t be limited to runner beans, but include lemongrass and trendy celeriac. The greenhouse or garden will also dictate the menu since it cannot be freeze dried and shipped from Spain.

At Herb House, you can eat and drink the gardens in their ultimate clean eaterie Raw & Cured, after a spot of yoga on the rooftop herb garden – as you do. It’s a shame they too don’t use their own herbs in the treatments, but no doubt that will soon be on the menu if the eco elite get wind of the notion.

Herb Garden at Lime Wood

Herb Garden at Lime Wood 

The freshness of garden ingredients, as any self-respecting vegetable or herb gardener will already know, is particularly powerful. It’s hard to go back once you have sampled the menu at somewhere like Chewton Glen or Rudding Park, especially if you had a tour of the garden beforehand and inhaled the aromas you are about to eat (and slightly nicer and less traumatic than picking your live lobster before it is plunged into boiling water…).

At Mallory Court, you can enjoy a Mindful Garden Walk which takes you around their stunning kitchen gardens before enjoying a garden risotto in the café, with flowers plucked from the rose garden.

There is a sense of living in the past, of course, and an element of romantic escapism – well, this is a spa, not a kitchen sink drama (that trend has yet to take off). But it is also about thinking of the future: in this unstable world, connecting with our surroundings, limiting our carbon footprint is more than a fad, it’s an urgent necessity.

It’s great that our UK spas are embracing nature while maintaining a passion for great food and treatments. But we need to go further: introduce some old-fashioned herbalists, people who can forage ingredients specifically for our needs from the garden and woods, which can be made into a poultice or massage oil – ideally without toads and bats. A kind of posh modern gastro-witch. I’m sure Lady B knows a few…