Food’s editorial director Jo Rees shares her three favourite discoveries of 2023, including a trip to a private island in the Caribbean and a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Cotswolds
The Village at The MOKO Collection, British Virgin Islands
In April I spent a week on a private island (pictured above) in the Caribbean with a crowd of American tech entrepreneurs. I appreciate that sounds ludicrously swanky, so here’s the background. My colleagues at Salt Media had previously created branding and a website for The Collective at Woolsery, the Devon project of San Francisco-based entrepreneurs Michael and Xochi Birch. The couple were so pleased with it they asked us if we’d do the same for their estate on a private island in the BVI. The Village is one of four exclusive holiday homes in The MOKO Collection which have recently become available to rent for uber-luxe group getaways. Michael and Xochi suggested that, in order to get under the skin of the experience, my husband Nick and I go out to join a crowd of their friends and acquaintances who were congregating at the estate for a trial group-week.
As you might imagine, it was pretty special: all turquoise water, soft white sand, luscious dinners, partying, sailing and SCUBA diving. So, if you’ve got cash to spare (around $20,000 a night to hire the whole estate) and want to gather a group of friends for an incredible house party at an estate with its own waterslide, club-level sound and light system, plus a DJ booth hidden beneath the ground that dramatically rises through a cloud of dry ice, this is where to do it.
Bybrook at The Manor House, Castle Combe
In May I visited Michelin-starred Bybrook restaurant at The Manor House to review it for Food Magazine. I’d been to the grand Wiltshire pile a few times in the past for Trencherman’s Guide launches and to review it for Food and Trencherman’s, so I was au fait with the 14th century building’s old-school glamour and upscale country vibe (read: I packed a posh frock). However, I’d never eaten at the current incarnation of Bybrook, which is currently in the care of exec chef Rob Potter.
On finding out that Bybrook is now a tasting-menu-only experience, I switched my dress to one with plenty of stretch in the waist and steeled myself for a long dinner of one rich course after another, and a sleepless night of tossing and turning. However, my preconceptions – based on 20 years of reviewing restaurants – were smashed as I floated through the most delicate and contemporary tasting menu I’ve ever encountered. Read the low-down on what made it so exquisite.
Howie and the Flowers
It’s obviously bad mannered to be ungrateful when you’re given flowers, but a blue forecourt bouquet or standard bunch of chrysanthemums and carnations isn’t worth the effort of all the unwrapping, stem trimming, leaf thinning and vase hunting. So I was blown away by an unusual bouquet I was sent in October, created by Howie and the Flowers in north Devon.
The team craft uber-seasonal arrangements from British flowers and local foliage they’ve grown and foraged, tie the bunches of blooms with silk-velvet ribbons and present them in vintage vases so the lucky recipients don’t have to do anything other than find a suitable home for the lovely creations.
Sustainable (they don’t use flowers flown in from overseas) and unique (each curation is composed of whatever’s in season), the bouquets are naturally elegant and leave the bog-standard competition for dead.