Finding a really good restaurant is always a delight. Finding a restaurant that’s truly exceptional happens only very occasionally. Flora’s Field Kitchen is situated right in the middle of the organic farm that supplies almost all of the produce that’s served here. Dining is alfresco, the service impeccable and the ambience relaxed. The inventive cocktails are served in mason jars – as is the water – and the food (which is almost exclusively homemade) is simple and excellent.
Flora Farm is only a 15 minute drive from San José del Cabo, the traditional town that served as our base during our recent visit to Baja California (Mexico). Founded in 1730, it retains its central plaza (zócalo) and mission (Misíon San José del Cabo Añuití), which was founded by Jesuit missionary Nicolás Tamaral. It also has an emerging arts district, as well as a developing organic food movement which supports a growing number of restaurants in the surrounding region. Promoting locally grown fruit and vegetables as well as humanely-raised meat, several have developed a reputation for excellence. And although they are less likely to focus on traditional Mexican cuisine (and can also be fairly pricey), I was still keen to try one.
Situated in the Las Animas Valley, Flora Farm is reached along a mostly unmade road that takes you past a cement factory and up a short, steep hill that descends dramatically into the car park. It started in 1996 as an organic farm supplying Flora’s Restaurant (owned by Gloria Greene) in San José. It has developed over a relatively short time into a collection of enterprises that now includes a restaurant (Flora’s Field Kitchen), bar and grocery store, as well as an art gallery, vacation cottages and private homes, which have been developed from farm buildings into luxury accommodation.
Walking towards the restaurant it’s easy to be captivated. The colour scheme – green, yellow, orange and brown – is a perfect match for the surroundings. Herbs and vegetables (including Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, cabbage and eggplant), fill what – at first glance – appear to be flower-beds. The décor is simple, ideally suited to its environment, and characterised by a rustic charm that somehow refuses to be quaint or cute. It also somehow manages to escape being pretentious.
The wooden benches have been carefully painted, and every table is decorated with a jar of flowers, taken from plants that are grown on the farm as companion crops to the fruit and vegetables. The main dining area has a tin roof and the lighting comes mainly from strings of bulbs that hang between the tables. I’m glad that we arrived early – at 5 pm – in order to participate in the farm tour that occurs daily before dinner (reservations required), but it must be absolutely magical to arrive here after dark…
After a warm greeting, we spent the next 45 minutes in the company of Erika (Flora Farm’s events manager) as she showed us around some of the 10 acres that are farmed here, including the main grounds and the chef’s garden (which includes several heirloom varieties). They do not use pesticides or genetically modified seeds, and work the farm mostly by hand. Clearly very proud to be a part of Flora Farm, she tells us about its history and development, including details of the larger (150 acre) ranch nearby, which is where the free-range pigs and chickens used in the kitchen are raised – in partnership with local rancher Guadalupe Espinoza. Erika also takes us to the grocery store where it’s possible to buy recently picked fruit and vegetables as well as freshly baked goods and homemade sauces, relishes and preserves. Erika was a delightful, informative and enthusiastic guide (I was amazed that she was happy to give so much time and attention to just two guests), and her tour was a fabulous way to start our evening.
We began with a glass of sparkling wine, and took our time looking at the menu – choosing slices from the bread basket and dipping them into oil and vinegar as we did so. It’s an interesting and diverse list of options, including wood-fired pizza, home-made sausages and pasta as well as several dishes that include their own organic chicken and pork.
To start I had the organic beet carpaccio, served with fromage blanc and fresh herbs. Beetroot is one of those foods that taste indescribably better when eaten fresh from the ground, and this was no exception – sweet, but typically deep and earthy. The fromage blanc was soft, tart, light and the perfect accompaniment. The radish with rock salt was also good, but I was surprised that the flavour wasn’t even more intense and robust. The tables were quite close together, and our ‘neighbours’ were friendly, but not intrusive. Having arrived later than us, they couldn’t stop admiring our food and wanted to know what we thought before ordering their own. The restaurant was now busy – Erika had already told us that it was fully booked – and the atmosphere was lively. As the sun went down, a band started to play on the hay-bale stage.
We couldn’t resist trying a salad and dedicated the next course to sharing a plate of organic greens, carrots, cherry tomatoes, radish and nasturtium with lemon vinaigrette. It was the most stunning dish that we tried. The ingredients are – of course – exceptionally fresh, and given the overall simplicity of the dish, it’s almost impossible to believe just how good it tastes. I recommended it – without hesitation – to our neighbours.
My main course was a farm raised double-cut pork chop served with a light barbecue sauce. It was a large, generous portion (I did ask for the smallest that they had) and it was cooked perfectly – firm, juicy, succulent. The meal is homely, hearty and comforting. We also ordered ‘elegant pig’ from the family style menu, which consisted of three substantial slices of ham served with parsley sauce, mashed potatoes, carrots and peas. It’s another really good dish, made great by the freshness and intensity of the individual ingredients.
To be honest, we’re a bit full by the time it comes to dessert, but we can’t resist, choosing the carrot cake and a crème brûlée. They’re both good, but it’s the course that I would have been most willing to miss. When the check arrives we notice that they haven’t been included, and point this out to our server who immediately tells us that it’s quite deliberate, and that Erika wanted us to have dessert on the house – a really lovely gesture and a delightful end to a wonderful evening.
This is simple food. But it’s very, very well done. The restaurant has a delightful atmosphere, and the service is great, fantastic even. The surroundings – the farm and gardens – are beautiful. Their foundation is good, sincere, honest. Together, the experience at Flora Farm is really very special – remarkable and memorable – and definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.