Messums: the art of food

Charlotte Roberts-Barr suggests a long weekend in the Nadder Valley, Wiltshire, for those choosing to stay in the UK this year. Known as the ‘Cotswolds of Wiltshire’, this area offers outstanding gastronomy for those choosing to visit. Charlotte pays a trip to Messums and shares with us their ‘art of food’

With so much emphasis on holidaying in the UK the last two years, I would like to draw your attention to the little known Nadder Valley in South Wiltshire. Many who have suffered the pain of the A303 westbound venturing to Devon or Cornwall would do well to note this much closer destination, with its thatched local Chilmark stone cottages, rolling valleys, river walks, forests, and military history.

Nestled within the valley is the large village of Tisbury, just under two hours from London Waterloo, and it is here that Plaice Farm can be found, where something uniquely individual that is evolving into one of the most talked-about dining venues of Wiltshire.

Messums Tisbury was founded and pioneered by Johnny Messum in 2016. Formerly of Messums Art Gallery London, Johnny wanted to bring to Wiltshire an innovative and inspirational arts centre that would offer a unique and creative environment for artists and collectors. Plaice Farm, a former dairy farm with a backdrop of the rolling hills of the valley, was acquired as the site for this exciting venture and was completely refurbished in 2014. Set around a large courtyard with two barns, one housing The White Gallery and the other, the Tithe Barn, home to events. The artwork and sculptures on display are inspiring and regularly change in keeping with the evolving themes at Messums. The Tithe Barn is an architectural masterpiece of stone and timber under a traditional thatch roof, the barn suffered a fire in 2020. But from adversity, there is often growth, and from the flames Johnny decided to bring an additional element to Messums – The Mess Restaurant.

Opened in April 2021, The Mess offers varying dining options from light lunches served Thursday to Saturday and family lunches on a Sunday where the traditional roast is adapted to a fresher style; as my daughter eloquently said: “it’s familiar but tastier!”. 

Central to this are the Friday Lates – dining under the stars within a canopy studded with twinkly lights in the heart of the beautiful courtyard. The Messum’s team had worked with Galapagan Chef Ana Ortíz before at their Long Table events in the barn, and she was a natural choice for Johnny. 

Anna’s style brings familiar foods with a twist and the Friday Lates herald South American flavours from local, seasonal produce. Her ethos is around food, family, and socialising in an informal setting where people can share amazing food in a relaxed atmosphere. The Mess is ‘kitchen led’, rather than ‘front of house led’, and Anna steers the life of The Mess with the help of three other chefs. 

The Friday Lates really provide an insight into Anna’s cooking style – fire cooking with outstanding flavours in a delightful, informal setting. The menu choice of three different starters, mains, and deserts provides a surprisingly wide-ranging selection. I chose the cod ceviche starter with sweet potato crisps and olive oil – it was incredibly fresh and packed with zing and zest, leaving the palate awakened. For the main course, I had to choose the rib-eye steak with chimichurri. Steak is such an easy meat to cook badly, and I do confess to being one of the fussier steak eaters, but needless to say the steak was cooked to perfection, the quality of the meat was superb, and it had been well rested before plating. The roasted vegetable salad side was fresh and full of texture while the butter and rosemary new potatoes were very flavoursome. The chocolate crémeux dessert was superbly creamy and very indulgent! 

I was so impressed I attempted to book again for the Friday Late the following week; however, that particular night, the first ‘Messitval’ was taking place – think fire cooking, music, and dancing. Of course, I decided to attend! Messtival was a truly unique event, attended by 350 people, and the furthest attendee I found had ventured from the edge of Scotland, indicative of the super reputation Messums’ was building. There were a variety of bands playing, the light guitar music to supper was delightful and the late-night dancing ran into the early hours of Saturday morning within The Tithe Barn. I am assured further Messtival’s will be ensuing!

Having only recently discovered Messums, I was concerned The Mess was only a summer venture as all the dining is predominately set under the canopy. However, such has the success been of The Mess that Johnny is moving the restaurant into The White Gallery during the colder months, itself a stunning setting enabling you to dine surrounded by unique pieces of art. The Long Table dining will be back, offering an opportunity to enjoy guest speakers over superb food, all while making new friends in this very special restaurant. 

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