Often we foodie travellers miss the neighbourhood bistros, bakeries and brewhouses that locals love as we whizz past on our way to the bright lights and starrier restaurants of the big cities, or better-known gastronomic pilgrimage sites. In this new series of dispatches from around the UK and beyond we’ll be putting that right, celebrating the small-town food stars and unsung culinary heroes worth making a detour to.
First up is Totnes, in Devon, where the mung bean- and homemade yoghurt-loving reputation of the locals is being ripped up by an influx of young chefs more interested in craft beers, artisan cheeses and contemporary osteria-style cooking. Here’s where to find them:
1. In a clean and bright first-floor space, Ancona-born Matteo Lamaro creates seasonal Italian dishes in the Curator Kitchen, a modern osteria he launched last year. Amid decor that’s part rustic Italian and part pared-down Scandi (large windows, painted floorboards and menus handwritten on brown paper) Lamaro serves fortnightly-rotating menus that are heavy on produce from the Totnes area, as well as Matteo’s home in Le Marche, where he has built up a network of artisan producers – his ‘Italian Food Heroes’.
Typical dishes include slow-cooked lamb ragu with orange zest served on freshly-rolled fettucini; red mullet and agrodolce lentils jewelled with soaked raisins, toasted spelt and oven-roasted tomatoes; and warming Italian panettone bread and butter pudding with orange caramel sauce and vanilla gelato. The wine list is pretty special too: Matteo is the only business in the UK to serve Col di Corte wines from Le Marche, including refreshing Verdicchio Superiore and Verdicchio Clasico.
2. If you haven’t got room for a more leisurely meal, grab a coffee and cake at The Curator Café, Lamaro’s more casual sister business downstairs. Flat whites, cappuccinos and macchiatos are expertly made with an Adonis coffee machine (using Italian wood-roast coffee from family-run firm, Fazenda UK) and nut-flower and polenta cakes, with seasonal fruit toppings, are a step above the norm.
3. With a staggering range of over 100 craft beers, ales and ciders (from the local area and beyond) lively drinking den The Totnes Brewing Co. has become an unsurprisingly popular gathering point in the town. Most drinks come in 1/3 pints, so you can taste your way through Thistly Cross traditional cider after Glastonbury’s American Pale after Bristol Beer Factory’s Seven without overdoing it. Settle into a booth with a few board games and a pint or two of whatever is on tap that day.
4. If you haven’t got time to sit and enjoy local beers from the South West, The Beer Library next door sells them at retail price, along with Kingsbridge Wine Room wines and artisan whiskies, gin, vodka and rum (their extensive range of miniatures makes this ideal present-buying territory). The focus is on small producers, niche beers and ales, and if you can’t find your favourite, there is a clipboard to write down anything you think is missing and they’ll consider stocking it.
5. Roly’s Fudge has been making crumbly artisan fudge for nearly three decades so they know what they’re doing when it comes to the sweet stuff. Huge copper pans are used to make Roly’s favourite flavours – lashings of Devon butter goes in to traditional vanilla clotted cream, rum ‘n’ raisin is spiked with rich, dark rum for a luxurious treat, and lemon meringue makes a tangy surprise. Buy a slab to snack on, or pretty bags of fudge cubes as presents.
6. Riverford Farm’s organic fruit and veg boxes have become ubiquitous but here you can buy produce direct from the Riverford Farm Shop on Totnes’ high street. Award-winning organic pies make great takeaway dinners to heat up at home – try a traditional beef pasty, homity pie or ham and leek tarts, all handmade in the farm shop kitchen. Add butternut squash hummus with harissa, mixed olives and cured meats to the spread. Or, in season, pick up bergamot lemons, blood oranges and Seville oranges along with jam jars to make your own marmalade.
7. If you have a bit more time, drive 10 minutes up the road to The Riverford Field Kitchen for the farm’s one-sitting feasting lunches around large shared tables. Organic veg is at the heart of each feast, made expert use of in dishes such as mixed leaves with butternut squash, feta and pecans; celeriac, onion and white bean pie; and chicken and pancetta stew with braised fennel and purple sprouting broccoli. Fish Fridays sees Riverford team up with Cornish fisherman Chris Bean to serve catch of the day fish with organic vegetable dishes.
8. Take a walk over the hills to the nearby Sharpham Estate to try classic English wines with intense fruit flavours made from vines grown on steep slopes that overlook the River Dart. Pair with unpasteurised English cheeses made in the former coachyard creamery from Jersey cattle milk and vegetarian rennet (we like the Sharpham Rustic). The tasting tour gives a great insight into English winemaking, and includes a picturesque river walk and a boozy lunch to finish.
9. If you don’t want to take a tour, head straight to Sharpham’s Anchorstone Café instead. A daily-changing menu features dishes like tomato and mascarpone soup, Brixham mussels and ham hock terrine and all can be enjoyed alongside stunning views overlooking the vineyards and the River Dart.
10. If you want to turn your pit stop into a longer stopover, curl up by the open fire or cook in the jazzy tile-floored kitchen at Celia’s House; a quirky, retro-inspired townhouse down a pedestrian lane in the heart of Totnes. Book it through bespoke holiday cottage company Sheepskin Life and you’ll be met with a welcome hamper including The Bay Tree Food Company preserves, granola from Crush, fresh bread and Teapigs teabags. Plus guests can make the most of a wealth of foodie recommendations from its locally-based owners.
Written by Alex Crossley
First published January 2016
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