I get to eat at some pretty amazing places in this job. I’ve dined in restaurants that tower metres above London, digesting my dinner as I take in the city sprawling below. I’ve descended staircases and drunk too much wine in dinky little caves that seem to defy the laws of engineering. I’ve eaten by the sea, metres from the snow and at the foot of mountain ranges that seem to rise for eternity. And yet, nothing has quite amazed me like walking through a curtain of smoke in a pitch black forest and emerging into a clearing filled with blazing bonfires that seemed hazy with a filter, as if it was simply a figment of my imagination.

It wasn’t until a man who was dressed fully in black and seemed to appear out of thin air pressed a glass of champagne into my hand that I realised what I was looking at was real. This oasis of sorts was somewhere on the 8,000 acres that make up Wilderness Reserve, an expansive property near the coast in Suffolk that is home to a series of cottages and one manor house that can be rented separately or in their entirety to create your own country estate that sleeps 100. And now, it’s also home to one of the country’s most exciting food-focused getaways, YOXMAN.

Currently operating over two weekends in 2024 – a winter edition in January, and a summer one lined up for the warmer months – the YOXMAN events take over the Wilderness Reserve for three days. It goes a little something like this: you gather up a group of friends, book one of the many Wilderness Reserve properties for the weekend that YOXMAN is on, and then you barely lift a finger once you’ve arrived. With three Michelin-starred chefs cooking across the weekend (the January edition has Tom Aikens, Alex Dilling and Raymond Blanc on its lineup), all you really need to bring is an empty stomach.

We had been brought up for a little preview of the event, specifically for an inside look at what guests can expect from Tom Aikens’ fireside feast. And so I found myself clutching a glass of champagne for confirmation of reality, my brain unable to fully comprehend what I had walked into. But I’ll try and summarise it as best I can for you here. A series of bonfires dotted around the glade provided light in an otherwise inky blackness. Some were for show; others served as cooking vessels. One had a series of ducks hanging from a cage, slowly cooking in the flames, another had a grate set atop it, studded with enormous, pearlescent scallops in their shells. To my left, a great canopy tent was illuminated by candle-lit tables. To my right, like a beacon in the darkness, a tiny, vaulted-roof cabin was strewn with naked bulbs and just big enough to hold a long dining table that was set for dinner. I still can’t be certain any of it was actually there.

View on Instagram

Except, I suppose it was. Because there was Aikens himself, crouched over a fire, delicately brushing flavour over the half moons of cabbage that sit atop the grill. After whetting the whistle with a cocktail of Talisker 10, Cocchi Torino and orange bitters we got to try those scallops, and that cabbage and the duck. It was all wonderful; heady with the lick of smoke and somehow delicate, a finished product you wouldn’t expect to emerge from boisterous bonfires in a woodland clearing so dark the lack of light almost felt tactile.

The ability to cook so thoughtfully in a space about as far from the sterile rigidity of a Michelin-starred kitchen as possible is a testament to the talent of Aikens, but also to the success of the event itself. YOXMAN promises incredible food in unbelievably beautiful settings. It swaddles you in the peace of Wilderness and promises you a complete escape from real life. Why would you want crisp tablecloths and sous vide machines when you can get those down the road in London? This is all about showcasing the raw talent of chefs. Stripping away the pomp and circumstance and basking in the power of good food.

The following morning, after blowing the cobwebs away with an extremely frigid dip in the Wilderness lake followed by warming hot toddies by the fire, we were treated to a feast of epic proportions in the Clockhouse, before being whisked back to London, and I realised in the past 24 hours I had barely had to think about anything beyond whether I wanted a spicy margarita or another glass of wine after my meal. Such a short period of time had felt like forever; immensely entertaining and entirely relaxing in equal measure. I suppose an entire weekend would feel like a lifetime.

Prices for the YOXMAN experience start from £4,250 for two tickets (one bedroom) and bookings can be made at yoxman.com.