Best British food trips of 2016
From country hotels with roaring fires and quaint B&Bs with breakfast hampers to the best foodie enclaves in Wales, Scotland and London, here are 10 of the best foodie trips we took around Britain in 2016
THE NORTH: A Grand Foodie Tour of Yorkshire
Wind along country lanes between picturesque villages such as Helmsley and Pickering in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, to find chefs using an abundance of local produce. A 2.5-acre allotment in picturesque Oldstead provides The Black Swan with the ultimate kitchen garden. Everyone from head chef Tommy Banks to the owners of this Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms mucks in to tend Minnesota midget melons, oyster leaves that taste of the sea and myriad other fruit and vegetables.
Bag a table by the window overlooking the vast kitchen garden while Tommy and his team work away in the open kitchen preparing ingredients picked that same morning. Courgettes are harvested just a week after flowering so they’re still small and crisp enough to use in a sea trout dish, beetroot steak that had been roasting in beef fat on the grill since 8am that morning, and Tommy plays with jelly and ice cream in a stunning woodruff ice cream dish, served with wild strawberry jelly and popping candy, almond and shortbread hundreds and thousands.
Stop over at Helmsley to stock up on locally brewed craft beer, preserves and local honeys and teas from Taylors of Harrogate from Hunters of Helmsley. This corner shop is so much more than a deli. Punters queue at a hole in the wall to wait for scoops of locally made Brymor ice cream (or, in winter, to enjoy hot, deep-filled topside of beef sandwiches, made to order). Head on for afternoon tea (with Yorkshire tea, of course) at The Vine House Cafe set in Helmsley Walled Garden, a five-acre idyll blooming with fruit trees, peonies, clematis, cornflowers and much more.
Make a detour and pass by pop-up residency Horto at Rudding Park. In a space more design-conscious than the rest of the hotel – dark grey walls, black Modway stencil chairs, rustic wooden tables, pot plants in tiny copper pots and a huge graffiti artwork – chef Murray Wilson (newly poached from olive’s other favourite Harrogate dining room, Norse) and his proficient young team serve a seven-course tasting menu that lets just-picked ingredients shine (the focus is on the hotel’s kitchen garden).
Start with a trio of ‘snacks’ – a tiny pot of whipped mozzarella, beef tartare rolled in a nasturtium leaf and celeriac and a silky sliver of pickled, barbecued mackerel served with a rhubarb granita and little balls of compressed cucumber. The standout dish, however, is Whitby crab with broad beans, pea sorbet (an intense hit of fresh-from-the-kitchen-garden flavour), buttermilk and horseradish granita, pea water and chive flowers.
CENTRAL: Central Cotswolds
"The Cotswolds is all your chocolate-box fantasies rolled into one – honey-hued cottages, gardens brimming with hollyhocks huddled around duck-paddled ponds. The names are as pretty as the scenery: Moreton-in-Marsh, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold. Even the local rare breeds (Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs) have a bonny ring. This is Cider with Rosie country: a bucolic idyll packaged for tourists who traipse here to mooch around antique shops and take afternoon tea.
It’s quintessentially quaint. It’s also unexpectedly vast. Count the Cotswolds’ counties: Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, plus corners of Wiltshire, Somerset, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. From north to south it’s a 100-mile schlep. Off-the-beaten-track is a concept the Cotswolds lost long ago, but its central belt – a lopsided oblong with Burford, Cheltenham, Stroud and Lechlade at the corners – does fly slightly below the radar."
LONDON: Green Rooms, Wood Green
The gritty north London neighbourhood of Wood Green hasn’t traditionally been an obvious first port of call when choosing a London base but that may be about to change. Set in what was formerly the offices and showroom of the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company, Green Rooms hotel opened in June following a ‘rough luxe’ revamp by London-based architects SODA.
There’s substance behind the stripped-back style. As an arts-led social enterprise that supports the local community, the hotel has been designed to offer affordable accommodation for artists, actors, musicians and other creatives visiting or working in London. Anyone else is welcome, too, at a slightly higher rate.
The restaurant is simple in style, with a smattering of salvaged, mid-century British furniture illuminated by bare filament bulbs. It is also social enterprise-orientated, an incubator project running free pop-up residencies for would-be restaurateurs, supported by Hartwright, Bredenbeck and Johnny Smith, who took The Clove Club from supper club to Michelin-starred restaurant.
The vibe is back-to-basics with style (there are bedrooms, studio apartments and two dormitories). Don’t expect those depressing youth hostel-style shower pods in the shared bathrooms; these ones have antique tiles on the floor, beautiful old period doors and swivelling, art deco-style soap dispensers. In the bedrooms, mattresses are good quality, furnishings are sparse but pretty and frills extend only to a few coathangers, a travel kettle, a small range of London Tea Company teas and Climpson and Sons coffee. It’s deeply refreshing to have all the excess stripped away and a form of hospitality that focuses on the essentials, in such an inspiring way.
The breakfast menu is short, simple and cheap: sourdough toast with butter, marmite, peanut butter or jam; croissants; or granola with yoghurt and fruit compote (try the rhubarb and cardamom from the London Borough of Jam). Sometimes there’s Bircher muesli too.
If you want something more elaborate it’s not hard to find. In Turkish-influenced Wood Green you don’t have to go more than about 30 paces to find cafes selling breakfasts of grilled halloumi and spinach omelettes.
EAST: The Wash House B&B, Orford, Suffolk
Welcome to Orford, a little town on the Suffolk coast that’s home to a bakery so good that it once got a mention at The Oscars, a seafood restaurant that’s been selling its own oysters since 1959, a family-run fishmongers with quayside smokehouse and a travelling fish ’n’ chip van that settles outside Orford Castle every Wednesday. Needless to say, we love it.
For a unique, personal and appropriately foodie overnight stay, you can’t get better than The Wash House Studio. Owned by Polly and Mike, the studio is literally an old red brick wash house that’s been stripped of its hand pump (it now sits proudly in the garden) and fitted with a foldaway double bed, ensuite bathroom, small seating area and underfloor heating (compact, yes, but it’s also cosy, warm and stylish).
Polly and Mike make considerate hosts. There were gooey homemade brownies coated in dark chocolate on arrival (you can buy more at the country market in the village hall every Saturday), as well as a hand-drawn map of the town, with all the best bits labelled. There’s a fridge in the shed at the bottom of the garden to use if you like – ideal for chilling wine – and fresh milk whenever you want it.
Then there’s the breakfast hamper. Delivered to your door whenever you want it, elegantly covered in a red gingham cloth, filled with local Cox and Bramley apple juice (from High House Fruit Farm, less than three miles away), yogurt and homemade blackberry and apple compote (using fruit grown in the garden), hard-boiled eggs, croissants, homemade berry jam and sourdough toast from Pump Street Bakery.
SOUTH EAST: Hastings
The new spacious, modern pier at Hastings is definitely worth a visit but, for us, the main attraction is the town’s thriving food scene – especially if you like fish.
We knew we were in for a treat when, despite arriving at an unsociable hour, hosts Sara and Jon brought up a tray of posh welcome snacks: homemade pitta chips, hummus, olives and – as long as you quote ‘olive magazine’ when booking – a mini bottle of ice cold prosecco. Talk about making a good impression.
But it’s more than nibbles that makes The Laindons a favourite B&B in Hastings. Location-wise, it’s ideal – right in the heart of the Old Town, with both the First In Last Out pub (which brews its own ales) and the Electric Palace arthouse cinema a stone’s throw away. The rest of the High Street is a jumble of vintage shops, delis and Georgian Grade II listed buildings, including The Laindons itself, which sits above a coffee bar, No. 23, also owned by Sara and Jon. That means good aromas filling the building every morning.
Breakfast is taken at the back of the house in a sort of suspended conservatory that overlooks the tufty East Hill nature park. The room is cheerily bright, being so flooded with sunlight, and perfectly matched to bedrooms: there are chunky wooden tables and squashy couches for post-breakfast lounging.
Food is elegant and delicious – toasted fruit bread is topped with ricotta, nectarine slithers and almonds; muesli is homemade and packed with coconut, caramelised bananas and lime zest; vibrant jams are made locally by Martha & Ed’s Kitchen; and pear and apple juice comes from Ringden Farm, less than 20 miles away. Don’t miss the coffee – Jon roasts it downstairs and, if you’re interested, he can tell you about the origin of that day’s bean
SOUTH: Hannah's B and B, Winchester
When visiting ‘the best place to live in Britain’, it’s only right to spend the night at an equally perfect hotel. We’d struggle to find somewhere more apt than Hannah’s B&B, a cleverly converted dancehall designed and run by Hannah McIntyre, who lives on the premises. It offers complimentary afternoon tea on the patio, a genius idea and one that encourages guests to treat their B&B like home. If the weather doesn’t suit, take tea in the library instead, complete with cosy log fire and arched bookcase. Hannah makes everything herself, including aromatic honey, lavender and Earl Grey loaf (her own recipe); and raw chocolate brownies.
Breakfast is taken in what used to be a garage – hard to believe, given the platform-raised oak piano in the corner and exposed wooden beams. It begins with homemade granola (“I always serve a ‘starter’ at breakfast,” says Hannah), fresh berries, yogurt and sticky marmalade loaf.
Hannah has an eye for tasteful, contemporary design and has decorated the B&B herself. There are trendy industrial elements to the rooms, including towel racks made from copper pipes and matching copper washbasins. We loved the little basket of easy-to-forget items (like a toothbrush) in the bathroom, too.
King-size beds fitted with Egyptian cotton sheets, free (yes, free!) Netflix, chunky wooden floors, Hannah’s own fig and vanilla bath products and the slipper bath upstairs make this one of the most luxurious B&Bs we’ve stayed in.
Winchester is a really foodie town (here are our top spots to head to while you're in Winchester). Make sure you take the charming walk to The Chesil Rectory with a romantic, candlelit atmosphere (see how many vintage chandeliers you can count) and a delicate style of cooking. Try vibrant risotto made from local Secrett’s Farm beetroot, crispy but buttery centred rosemary gnocchi and caramelised poached pears balanced on sable biscuits.
SOUTH WEST: The Pig at Combe
Bounce along past thatched cottages, green fields and beech woods in East Devon to the tiny village of Gittisham. Here, down a driveway, is The Pig at Combe, an Elizabethan manor deep within a 3,500 acre-estate.
Pig hotels’ founder Robin Hutson and hotel director Fiona Moores have done away with a traditional reception desk in favour of a glamorous bar with a roaring fire that couldn’t get more hygge. As you enter the room a rack of deep pink umbrellas and garden herb-infused vodka bottles say “welcome, throw off your coats, sink into a red velvet sofa and get going on the cocktails.”
“Alison and her husband David started a business growing oysters and mussels on Anglesey and then opened a sea zoo before turning their attention to salt. It was the zoo’s fussy seahorses happily breeding in these waters that made them realize how pure the seawater was.
They’ve now gone full circle and have started farming mussels once more, on the shore. But it’s salt that has put them, and Anglesey, on the culinary map. Alongside products like smoked water (famously used by Heston Blumenthal and good in a risotto, apparently), Halen Môn salt is now exported to 22 countries and sold by Waitrose, M&S and Harvey Nichols among other stockists, including sixth-generation butcher John Swain-Williams in Menai Bridge.
This pretty, pastel-painted village, linked to the mainland by Thomas Telford’s suspension bridge and the sturdy Britannia Bridge, was for years bypassed by holidaymakers heading for the pier at Beaumaris or the Irish ferries at Holyhead. Today, Beaumaris, a sailing haunt, has a faded elegance – an ice-cream parlour, Red Boat Gelato, with over 200 flavours (Penderyn whisky knocks spots off rum and raisin), but on the foodie front otherwise feels flat.”
"Over a hundred years ago Bennetto Jannetta packed his bags and lefwees4frgtredsxct the little village of Atina, south of Rome, for Scotland. In his pocket was an ice-cream recipe. In 1908 he opened a soda parlour and billiards room in St. Andrews. Four generations later, Jannettas pastel-painted ice-cream parlour is now run by his great granddaughter, Nicola, and her husband, Owen.
While vanilla remains their most popular flavour, the family makes 54 different varieties in small batches from ingredients sourced locally or from Italy. These range from cranachan (based on the traditional dessert) to tablet (a kind of crumbly, Scottish, version of fudge) and even seaweed sorbet, first created for the Crail Food Festival along the coast.
Clutching my seaweed-tinged cone (it may sound odd but it works), I have a choice of beaches to comb in this cobbled coastal town in the Kingdom of Fife, a hop over the Forth Bridge from Edinburgh: East Sands down by the harbour or West Sands, the long stretch immortalised in that sprinting-through-spray scene in Chariots of Fire. Famous for Pringle-jumpered golfers and the red gowns and quadrangles of the oldest university in Scotland, St. Andrews has more recently become a foodie hub."
"Oysters: that sharp shuck exposing glistening flesh, a squirt of lemon, then salty softness – I love them. But, after a spectacular case of food poisoning, oysters no longer love me. So it’s with a masochistic sigh that I approach The Oyster Shed, on Skye’s Minginish Peninsula.
Fisherman Kenny Bain set up Skye’s only oyster farm in tidal Loch Harport in 1981, passing it on to his son-in-law Paul McGlynn. A virus wiped out half the stock in 2011 and almost closed them down until Paul had the idea of setting up the shed and seafood van. Now, freshly-plucked oysters are served in little polystyrene trays with slices of lemon. It’s a no-nonsense, spit ‘n’ sawdust place (there are no toilets – nip down the lane for a dram at Talisker Distillery and you can use theirs) where walkers in woolly hats tuck into lobster and chips, whisky-smoked salmon and crab claws. This is fast food Skye-style: have a cup of fragrant, steaming fish bisque before spearing sweet, pan-fried scallops with a cocktail stick.
The largest of the Inner Hebridean islands, 48 miles long by 25 miles at its widest point, Skye exerts an almost magnetic attraction, its raw grandeur drawing mountain bikers, munro-baggers and filmmakers. The unforgiving Cuillins are the Holy Grail for climbers, while director Justin Kurzel shot much of his recent, moody, adaptation of Macbeth on the island’s storm-lashed Trotternish Peninsula."