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olive’s 10 best British food trips of 2015

From English vineyards and gastropubs to the best foodie enclaves in Wales, Cornwall and London, here are 10 of the best foodie trips we took around Britain in 2015

An English Vineyards Roadtrip

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English wine is booming. We toured some of the best of England’s vineyards this autumn, starting with Hush Heath Estate and Winery in Kent. Dedicated to making world-class sparkling rosé, Hush Heath centres around a Tudor-frame manor house with gorgeous gardens and acres of ancient orchards and woodland. Visit the winery shop to enjoy an self-guided exploration, or book for a guided tour (six people minimum) for £15. Eat pumpkin gnocchi with sage and slow-roasted tomato sauce at the estate’s own Goudhurst Inn, drink a glass of Balfour Brut Rosé 2010 and stay over in one of the Goudhurst Inn’s stylish bedrooms.

In West Sussex we visited Kingscote. Not just a vineyard but a full-on countryside experience founded by the late Christen Monge, Kingscote promises clay-pigeon shooting, fishing, and a cookery school as well as vineyard tours and tastings (we liked the Fat Fumé, a lightly oaked bacchus). There’s a tiny coffee shop serving Kingscote’s own coffee in the on-site wine and artisan food store but for a full meal, or an overnight stay, try nearby Gravetye Manor where a set 2-course lunch is £25.

In Gloucestershire, you can taste, trek, eat and sleep at Three Choirs near Newent, one of the longest established English vineyards. Most visitors book ahead for a guided tour with tastings. Take a seat among lots of local regulars to eat charred wood pigeon breast, carrot kimchi and pickled oriental mushrooms, followed by Herefordshire 28-day-aged porterhouse steak with either bordelaise sauce or wasabi and miso butter at the vineyard’s restaurant, and wash it down with the Siegerrebe 2012, a spicy, fruity dry white.

Back in Kent, one of the best-known English vineyards, Chapel Down recently expanded its site to a huge 325 acres. It’s open all year to visitors, and offers packages and gift experiences with tutored tastings. Alternatively, just go and pick up a treat from the terrific wine and fine food shop. You can feast on hmemade duck ham with spiced plums, or Kent-coast cod with cauliflower couscous, at Chapel Down’s smart restaurant, the Swan (to drink we recommend the 2014 Flint Dry, a fine alternative to sauvignon blanc). Sissinghurst Farmhouse, home to Chapel Down’s CEO, is also a charming B&B with brass beds and rural views, from £150.


York

Leeds has developed a devoted culinary following in Yorkshire, particularly for its street food, but wander down one of York’s higgledy-piggledy back streets and you’ll find a new crop of artisan producers and young chefs putting the city’s food in the spotlight. Take chef Joshua Overington. Recently returned to his hometown after stints at Ledoyen in Paris and The Waterside Inn at Bray, his six-course seasonal tasting menu at intimate neighbourhood bistro, Le Cochon Aveugle, is one of York’s best-kept secrets. Think carpaccio of octopus, 12-hour short-rib with homemade black pudding, and charcoaled crème brûlée with ice cream and crunchy rosemary sugar.

Elsewhere, the unassuming Italian, Le Langhe, is worth a visit for the game ragu alone – a rich, meaty sauce but one that doesn’t overpower the delicate fresh pasta it’s served with. In the on-site deli, locals fill their baskets with Italian cheeses, charcuterie and fine wines.

For produce sourced a little closer to home, join York’s recently launched food trail Treks in the City, to visit artisan breadmaker Phil Clayton, local coffee roasters York Coffee Emporium, and Sarah Puckett, who makes her Puckett’s Pickles within a mile of York Minster, before enjoying a specially designed menu at The Star Inn The City. Don’t fancy a tour? Many of these producers can be found at York’s Shambles Market (Parliament Street), which re-opened after a £1.6 million refurbishment earlier this year. Or book a trip to coincide with the York Food and Drink Festival, which runs in June and September.

Double rooms at Hotel du Vin cost from £149, room only. More information: visityork.org


Cornwall

Padstow? St Ives? Port Isaac? Rock? The most difficult part of planning a foodie weekend in Cornwall is deciding where to start. To make it easy, set your sat-nav for the Roseland Peninsula, a wild-edged tangle of meadows, hedgerows, villages and coves that form a gnarled triangle of land on the opposite side of Carrick Roads waterway from Falmouth.

A little ferry runs to the latter from St Mawes, the peninsula’s largest village, but we stay put, drawn in by spectacular gin thyme cocktails – a mix of local Tarquins gin, tonic, lemon and sugar syrup – and delicately spiced kedgeree at The Idle Rocks. The sunny terrace here is the perfect spot for brunch, right above the water with wide-angle views of the surrounding harbour. At its newer sister, The St Mawes Hotel, plates of charcuterie and slow-roast pork with house slaw head up a more casual menu, but our toddlers have discovered the original hotel’s playroom. No chance of lunch at The St Mawes now, or at the neighbouring Tresanton.

Eventually, we make it higher up the peninsula to The Rosevine hotel. Treading a deft balance between family friendliness and grown-up indulgence, we enjoy perfectly pink roast lamb while the boys squabble over who has the coolest highchair.

Five minutes along the road from here is the Michelin-starred Driftwood, where chef Chris Eden serves hay-baked cabrito kid with goat’s curd, pomme dauphine, turnip and spiced granola.

It’s the peninsula’s more rustic food that draws us in, though. Over a long weekend we manage to work our way through chicken and ham pies at The Roseland Inn, take-away wood-fired pizzas from Slice and peppery sausage rolls from the Hidden Hut after a swim off Porthcurnick Beach.

Our base is the aptly named Mermaid Cottage, a triumph of elegant styling and practical comfort a few minutes’ walk from Porthcurnick. The kitchen comes with everything from Oxo measuring jugs to a Nespresso machine. We make the most of it for a last supper, stocking up on Da Bara sourdough (dabara.co.uk), fresh mackerel, greens, lemons and Rodda’s Butter at nearby Curgurrell Farm Shop. Forgoing the cottage’s large dining table and slick Eames chairs, we eat out on the deck, pairing our Cornish haul with views of the salt-slicked English Channel.

Mermaid Cottage sleeps 10 and starts from £1,217 for a long weekend. More info: roselandpeninsula.com


The Isle of Mull

Beyond the cities, it’s Skye or Fife that most people turn to in search of a Caledonian food trip, racing towards the reassuringly reliable kitchens of The Three Chimneys, Kinloch Lodge or the Peat Inn. Don’t overlook Mull, though. Easily reached from Glasgow via the Oban ferry, it is one of Scotland’s largest and most dramatic islands, with mountains, lochs and white-sand beaches providing a rich haul of local produce, from hand-dived scallops to cheek-tingling cheddar cheese.

Base yourself at Tiroran House Hotel, a small country house in the west of the island where chef Craig Ferguson presents an impeccable menu of seasonally changing dishes, often peppered with foraged ingredients.

Head south-west to Ninth Wave housed in a 200-year-old bothy near Fionnphort, the ferry port for trips to neighbouring Iona. Here chef Carla Lamont grows her own vegetables while husband Johnny catches lobster. Or seek out The Crofters’ Kitchen and Garden at nearby Ecocroft, where you can help yourself to fruit, vegetables and herbs from the garden, as well as soups and cakes, leaving what you owe in an honesty box. The same system works if you buy mussels from the side of the road at Inverlussa Marine Services.

The island’s main town, Tobermory, is famous for its rows of multi-coloured houses. Here, at Café Fish, much of what’s on offer comes fresh from the family fishing boat. Take a seat on its outside terrace to watch sunsets over the Sound of Mull as you tuck into a haddock, salmon and mussel tom yam, or a shellfish platter. If you’ve got room, head out to Sgriob Ruadh farm to pick up some Isle of Mull cheddar. Or summon the boat at Ulva Ferry and hop across to the far-flung Boathouse tearoom for locally grown oysters, home-baked bread and cakes.

Double rooms at Tiroran House cost from £180, B&B. More info: holidaymull.co.uk


The Vale of Glamorgan

We’ll let you into a secret: five minutes off the M4, near Cardiff, is a beautiful Welsh vineyard with its own cookery school, woodland walk, two restaurants, and rooms to stay in. Llanerch Vineyard serves tranquillity with the best of local Vale of Glamorgan produce: eat huge portions of Duffryn Bach lamb rump in its formal restaurant with a glass of soft Cariad rosé – the tables overlook the vines it came from. If you’re staying, pay extra for a smart ‘superior studio’ as standard rooms are fairly basic.

South of here, Penarth, a Victorian seaside resort, is by far the Vale’s best town for food. Start with lunch at Bar 44, a modern tapas restaurant where trained ‘hamistas’ carve jamón ibérico perfectly; croquetas are given a Welsh twist with a Cordoba goat’s cheese and sweet leek filling; and chocolate mousse is made impossibly smooth with arbequina oil. Don’t forget the 100% Spanish wine list, or sherries chosen by co-owner and UK sherry ambassador Owen Morgan.

A brisk walk up the beautifully-restored art deco Penarth pier should set you up for dinner at James Sommerin, a Michelin-starred fine dining seafront restaurant manned by its namesake. Welshman James offers a five, seven or 10-course tasting menu, showcasing his delicate style of cooking and love of local produce. Despite the simple name, cod, caper, potato, bread is exquisite; rabbit with cavolo nero and parsnip is some of the richest, sweetest meat we’ve tried; and clever wine-pairing takes an already excellent meal into 10/10 territory.

Double rooms at Llanerch Vineyard cost from £75, B&B. More info: visitwales.com


The Exmoor Coast

Dodge the dodgems at Butlins in Minehead and, as you head west along the Exmoor coast, you’ll be met by a natural playground of moorland, woodland and, at Great Hangman Point, the highest cliffs in the country. On Friday evenings, in-the-know weekenders from Birmingham and London head for Cross Lane House restaurant with rooms, beside a little packhorse bridge in the postcard-cute village of Allerford. Restored with the help of the National Trust, this medieval farmhouse is now home to four well-dressed bedrooms, a smattering of quirky period details (in our bedroom a 17th century wig-cupboard doubles as a shelf for a kettle), and a restaurant as busy with locals as overnighters.

New head chef Rob Blackmore’s menus aim high. Making the most of local suppliers – and an expanding kitchen garden – dishes such as juniper-cured salmon, and lamb cannon with spring vegetables are an elegant match for artful table settings; jewel-coloured water glasses glow under candlelight. Close links with wine merchant Christopher Piper make for an urbane wine list; alongside classic grapes are a Lebanese rosé, a Devonian sort-ofsauvignon and a Somerset pomona. Breakfast caters for those not going for the ‘full Exmoor’; try the silky porridge, fresh figs or local whortleberry (bilberry) jam on toast. Further afield, The Rising Sun in Lynmouth does decent mussels but if you’re visiting on a Friday, stock up on smoked trout terrine, fresh sourdough and homemade cannoli from Minehead Farmers’ Market then head out on a hike.

Alternatively, pick up one of the free walking guides that owners Andrew and Max have put together and stride straight into the salty air from Allerford. A 30-minute ramble through fields and woods brings you to Bossington’s wild pebble beach, but carry on to Porlock Weir for a restorative pint at the Bottom Ship.

Double rooms from £115, B&B (crosslanehouse.com). More info: visit-exmoor.co.uk


Cumbria

The Lowther name is everywhere around Penrith in Cumbria – pubs, village schools, a ruined castle, even a village bears the name. Now, capitalising on its organic estate and gastropub, the Lowther family has turned to hotel-keeping with the opening of Askham Hall. The 12 rooms here have expensive beds and show-off bathrooms but, with discreet staffing (there’s an honesty bar for drinks, no real reception and no morning papers service) and occasional misfires – sachets of UHT milk and instant coffee on tea trays – it’s not a standard hotel. The upside is character – oodles of it. Amid samey design hotels and upmarket chains, Askham Hall stands out. There are secret staircases; its walls play anything but safe with contemporary, avant-garde, paintings; its grade-II-listed garden blooms with established plants, and its views could only be bettered by the National Trust.

A restaurant with some stately rooms might be a more accurate description, because it’s the restaurant that shines. Askham perches tables in a conservatory setting on a floor of colourful encaustic tiles. Food is served on plates made by a potter in the village, and chef Richard Swale packs a lot into the day’s tiny but precision-designed menu.

Canapés of pork belly and an elderflower ‘biscuit’ that tastes a bit like a posh Ritz cracker are fun. And, from oxtail tortellini with broccoli, onions and Hawkeshead beer to roasted duck breast with spring greens, chicory tart, turnip and medlar, every dish includes produce from the Lowther estate or kitchen gardens. Best of all is dessert: a paean to rhubarb, with panna cotta, yoghurt sorbet and a side of pistachio cake.

Double rooms from £150 (askhamhall.co.uk). More info: golakes.co.uk


Shropshire Hills

‘As stunning as the Lake District, just without the Lakes.’ That’s how one local sums up the Shropshire Hills for us, and he should know. When we pick him up, hitchhiking along a road outside the pint-sized town of Bishops Castle, he’s literally fallen from the sky, having just finished sightseeing the county from his paraglider. Dropping him off close to the town’s Three Tuns Brewery, we continue through arches of beech trees and towering, over-ripe hedgerows until we reach our home for the weekend, Little Cwm Colebatch. One of the remote but refined properties offered by holiday cottage company Sheepskinlife, it serves up the perfect mix of chocolate box prettiness (roses around the door, Aga warming the kitchen) and contemporary style (buttermilk paintwork, deluxe mattresses and walk-in rain showers); not to mention killer views over a magical garden to fields and woods.

We’re not here to gaze, though, but to drink. This particular pocket of south Shropshire is home to more than its fair share of small, independent breweries and, on a tip-off, we head for lunch at The Bridges in Ratlinghope, the Three Tuns’ bucolic country tap house. Set by a brook at the foot of the sweeping Long Mynd mountain, inside it’s cosy with cushion-scattered wooden pews and a log burner. Five seasonal beers are on tap, including Clerics Cure IPA, which also features in the pub’s beer-battered fish and chips.

The next morning, we stop off at Bishops Castle Farmers’ Market to buy local Neuadd Fach pork sausages and generously spiced Welsh cakes, warmed on a little portable griddle (£1 for 3), before making our way to Ludlow for a pint of toffee-ish Ludlow Best at the Ludlow Brewing Co. bar. Just out of town is the Ludlow Food Centre, an earnest if slightly sterile showcase for the county’s produce. We’ve had enough booze cruising, we decide. Instead we stock up here on everything we need to make slow-baked sausages in the Aga (including a bottle of Postman’s Knock rich ruby porter from another local brewery, Hobsons) and head back to our country idyll.

Little Cwm Colebatch sleeps 6; rental costs from £785 for 3 nights (sheepskinlife.com).


A foodie pub crawl

In November we ran a feature on the country’s best gastropubs with rooms. Here are some of our favourites. In tiny Sawdon, on the North Yorkshire moors, The Anvil Inn seats 36 and sleeps four in two self-catering cottages – it’s a perfect destination for getting away from it all. A former smithy (hence the bar’s centrepiece being a forge), The Anvil is an atmospheric nook – exposed stone, glowing log-burners, gorgeous lighting – and a family affair. Mark and Alex Wilson cook, and their daughter Sabina is front-of-house. Little wonder it has become a hot destination for Yorkshire foodies and visitors to Whitby, Wykeham Forest or Castle Howard. Further north, the Lord Crewe Arms, in County Durham, has a medieval feel, despite spruce bedrooms and chic styling.This remote 12th-century abbey (later a hunting lodge and manor house) is, with its vaulted crypt bar, rugged stone walls and roaring open fires, a very dramatic setting. Even the prettified upper-floor dining room is suitably dressed with tartans and antlers. Not far from Hadrian’s Wall, this is shooting, walking and cycling country.Grab a table in the Hilyard Room, where Goosnargh chickens and ducks are rotisserie-cooked by the fire. Particularly on a Sunday, whole-table sharing feasts of roast pork, flat-iron steaks, duck fat roasties and endless vegetables give the Lord Crewe Arms a real buzz. Chef Simon Hicks uses plenty of game in November – perhaps Weardale grouse with bread sauce and game crisps – but don’t miss his own ‘Crewe-cured’ salmon, served with black treacle wheaten bread.

In the Somerset village of Mells, close to arty Frome, The Talbot Inn is a pretty country pub that ticks so many boxes it’s in danger of getting repetitive strain injury: honey-coloured stone walls, mismatched wooden tables, brass-buttoned chairs, low-ceilinged bar, open fires, cobbled courtyard and a secret garden. And while it’s possible to drop in for just a pint and a posh sausage roll, it’s a destination retreat as much as a village boozer.

Swedish head chef Pravin Nayar’s local, sustainable, smartly assembled but fuss-free food has won the pub a Bib Gourmand. Go on Friday or Saturday evenings for shared suppers cooked over a wood fire (suckling pig, barbecued pulled pork baps, Longhorn forerib on the bone) in the pub’s barn-like grill room, or book a table in the pub’s cosy warren of dining rooms any day of the week for chicken liver parfait with kohlrabi, apple purée and toast, whole Cornish mackerel with warm vegetable salad, or superb steaks served with grilled pimiento, chimichurri and chips.

Further west, at Mousehole in Cornwall, The Old Coastguard has one of the best sea views in Cornwall, with a bar that opens onto a huge summer terrace. Head chef Matt Smith uses great local ingredients for dishes such as Newlyn crab with gazpacho and fennel cracker; Primrose herd pork loin with pea and pancetta risotto and mustard crème fraîche. There are also bar snacks including ’nduja scotch eggs, and pork crackling with apple and mustard sauce. The fishing village of Newlyn is two miles away and supplies most of the fish. Meat is from local butcher Harveys, veg and fruit from local farms, and cheese from Mounts Bay Dairy.

Finally, in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire’s top foodie enclave, Downham is special. Its landowner, Lord Clitheroe, has banned road markings and satellite dishes to preserve this unspoilt hamlet. The pub, The Assheton Arms, is a warren of low ceilings and beams but, with its smart fabrics and on-trend fish cookery, it’s contemporary, too. From here, guests can walk in the Trough of Bowland, visit Skipton, or just eat. The Ash is the boutique Seafood Pub Company’s flagship venue, and chef Antony Shirley is renowned for his pub staples (fish ‘n’ chips, fish pie) and daily specials, such as grilled plaice caught by day boats on the Fylde coast, served with Jerusalem artichoke purée, charred leeks and a honey-saffron dressing. Local grass-fed beef and game is also huge here. Try chargrilled venison with cottage pie, parsnip mash and spiced cashew sauce. In the tap room and snug, folk chat over tip-top real ales (Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker is a favourite), and classy G&Ts made with small-batch gins, such as Caorunn (flavoured with foraged botanicals).


Marylebone

While Shoreditch’s new neighbourhood restaurants and Maltby Street’s gin and street food may challenge it in the hip stakes, Marylebone is London’s loveliest food hub. Why? Despite being central (the nearest tubes are Bond Street and Marble Arch), it lacks crowds, has its own farmers’ market, is home to such wonderful specialist food stores as The Ginger Pig and La Fromagerie, and promises cafés and restaurants as diverse as Antipodean Providores, Peru’s Pachamama and Jason Atherton’s Social Wine & Tapas.

The Marylebone Hotel is tucked off Marylebone High Street, which means its bar is pleasantly buzzy rather than stressfully busy, and is a meeting spot for Londoners as well as visitors. Check into the Marylebone Suite with its wonderful terrace overlooking the rooftops, and outdoor fireplace. Décor is both smart and quirky (fluffy lamps with webbed feet) and foodie touches include Rare Tea, coconut water and pastries from neighbouring bakery La Pâtisserie des Rêves.

The hotel’s 108 Brasserie turns out decent steaks and burgers but there are on-trend surprises, too: octopus carpaccio, lamb breast with a punchy salsa verde, and grilled pineapple with coconut sorbet, chilli and lime glaze were all hits. Breakfast ranges from avocado on toast, ricotta pancakes and cold-pressed juices, to substantial full English with Clonakilty black pudding.

The hotel is part of the Doyle Collection hotel group so there are Irish touches on the menu. On our visit we begged the chef for his Guinness bread recipe, but were told it’s a closely guarded secret.  It’s an exceptional bread basket, with the soda bread and Abernethy butter handmade by a family-run company in county Down.

Doubles cost from £246, room only, the Marylebone Suite £1,500 per night, including breakfast & complimentary mini bar (doylecollection.com).


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