“I came to Devon to be with Guy,” explains Geetie Singh-Watson. “I had no intention of coming here at all. My heart was in Wales, which I absolutely love. But I love Guy more, so I came here to be with him.” Geetie and Guy Singh-Watson are in their farmhouse kitchen where Guy – creator of the veg box delivery company, Riverford – is preparing lunch: chopping and blending celeriac soup and assembling a simple radicchio salad.
Guy recounts the afternoon they fell in love in a field of bitter leaves. “It was 10 years ago in October and we were wandering around the farm. We found ourselves in a field of radicchio and that was it really. It was all over.” Beyond their shared love of bitter leaves, the couple share what Geetie describes as an “obsessive determination to reshape the entire planet.”
Geetie is an ethical entrepreneur. In 1998 she opened the pioneering organic pub, The Duke of Cambridge in north London. In 2009 she was awarded an MBE for services to the organic pub trade. Last year, she opened The Bull – an award-winning, organic inn that occupies a sunny corner of Rotherfold Square in Totnes. “We both want to use our businesses to prove that you can operate a successful business on a human level and on a compassionate level,” explains Geetie. “And we are prepared to go to considerable lengths to do that.”
Geetie purchased The Bull in 2017 and worked with a local architect to restore the centuries-old building. “It was really grim, really rundown and probably quite dangerous,” she recalls. They set about stripping back the tired interior to its bare bones before carefully piecing it back together again. “We have kept beautiful patches of old wallpaper, and I was adamant that none of the lathe and plaster should be touched unless it was absolutely necessary,” Geetie explains. “My sense of stewardship to this building is huge.”
From the storied, upcycled interiors, to the “radically ethical” restaurant and bar, every aspect of this business has been obsessively thought-through. I ask how the challenges of running The Bull compare to those she faced over two decades ago at the Duke: “At the Duke, I had to teach the staff the very basics of sustainability,” Geetie explains. “They didn’t know what organic meant, why recycling mattered, or why a fish policy was important. Now I barely have to do that training, which is incredibly heartening.”
Similarly, her customers’ preconceptions have dramatically altered. When Geetie first opened the Duke, the word organic wasn't used to describe her offering. “I knew that the actual punters would be put off by it,” she recalls. Today, the message is loud and clear. There is a blackboard in the bar with her “Nine No-Bull Rules to Dine By” chalked up. The customers “totally embrace it.”
Until legislation and governance catches up with what Geetie perceives as a “sea change” in the desire for sustainable practices, she has reconciled herself to what she calls “the conscious compromise” – an acute awareness of the decision-making process and the impact it has on society. “This was my complete indoctrination, growing up,” Geetie explains. “Indoctrination is a powerful word, but actually, there are some things that absolutely need to be drummed into us – including the fact that our behaviours have a wider impact.”
Geetie grew up in the 1970s on a rural commune in Herefordshire. Her childhood was shared with a tribe of other children. “It was a genuine commune,” she explains. “We had a big shared kitchen and we had supper every evening together with 30 of us sitting around a table.” When she wasn’t at school, she was to be found in the vegetable garden. (Her nickname was “the rabbit”, such was her love of raw leaves and legumes.)
Geetie moved on from the commune when she was 16. “I left with very few qualifications, but I had masses of confidence,” she reflects. “I knew how to think critically and to challenge preconceptions. I knew how to collaborate, how to communicate, even how to lead. All of that came from communal living.” It is this grounding that motivates her to “reshape the planet.”
Guy’s soup is ready. Before they tuck-in, I ask Geetie to recount a perfect day at The Bull: “I’d begin by picking some flowers from the organic cutting garden at the farm. I’d arrange those on the tables before holding a quick team meeting. Then maybe I’d do some detailing in the rooms. There would be a buzzy breakfast with a combination of guests and walk-ins. It would be a bright day, with tables outside on the square under the cherry trees. There would be lots of lovely smiley guests coming and going for lunch and dinner. Oh, and organic cocktails in the evening. Our bar team is incredibly good at cocktails ...”
From the outset, The Bull has made no claims to perfection. It is a work in progress – continually striving for minimal environmental impact and inclusivity. “It is as much a local pub as a tourist destination,” says Geetie. “I’m so proud of that, because that is really quite hard to achieve.” Beyond being a beautiful place to stay, it is a business conceived for the local community, the suppliers and the staff. “If the people you work with go home happy, then their partners are happy, and their kids are happy. That impact is huge.”
Pickled Pear, Radicchio, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad
This has to be one of my favourite salads at this time of year. Seasonal ingredients that meld together so beautifully. It’s a very relaxed dish that needs little thought once you have the hang of it. The quantities can flex to taste so easily. Pickle the pear for an extra special dish, or leave the pear fresh for a more simple version with a fresher lilt.
2 large pears
250ml red wine vinegar
250ml red wine
125g caster sugar
1 bay leaf
½ tsp peppercorns
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp fennel seeds
1 cup of olive oil
2 dessert spn sherry vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
A pinch of salt
1 large head of radicchio
150g strong blue cheese (we like to use either Bishop’s stilton or Beenleigh blue)
Start with your pickled pears. Peel your pears, cut them in half and remove the core. Combine vinegar, wine, sugar, and spices in a pan and bring to the boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Take the liquid off the heat and drop your pears in, cover with a cartouche or a lid and allow the liquid to cool with the pears in it to lightly poach them.
Lightly toast the walnuts in an oven at 180 degrees for about 6 minutes until gently browned, (don’t take them too far, over toasted walnuts go bitter). Allow to cool and then break them up a bit, keeping them chunky.
Tear your radicchio into pieces, wash and dry.
Once pears have cooled, remove them from the liquid and slice each half into 6-8 pieces. Don’t throw away your pickling liquid, it will last up to a month in the fridge and you can use it another two times before it has had its day. This dish also works really well with fresh pears.
Whisk the vinegar, mustard and salt together, then slowly drizzle the oil in, whisking until emulsified.
Now assemble. Put radicchio and pears into a mixing bowl, crumble in your blue cheese. Toss the salad together until everything is evenly mixed and dressed.
Portion into bowls and scatter the walnuts over the top to finish.
Interview by Nell Card.
Photographs by James Bannister.
For more information and to book a meal or stay, see The Bull Inn.
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