Looking for UK staycations? Want to know the best towns for foodies? Check out our guide for the 10 must-visit UK towns that every foodie should visit…
There’s a food revolution underway in the seaside town of North Berwick, just half an hour from Edinburgh by train along the East Lothian coast. Millennials priced out of the city have de-camped to the coast bringing with them a demand for flat whites and sourdough – which they get at Steampunk Coffee Roasters and the Bostock Bakery. The croissants at the latter are so good that NOMA’s René Redzepi sent his pastry chef from Copenhagen to learn from Bostock’s Ross Baxter.
For seafood, try Lobster Shack – a seasonal operation on the harbour that cooks its catch from the neighbouring Firth of Forth Lobster Hatchery between Easter and October; the lobster and crab bisque is exceptional and the Shack is licensed so you can order a glass of crisp white to go with it. A blustery and beautiful walk out of town brings you to shipping container turned coffee shop DRIFT, perched on an outcrop above Canty Bay; sit in and order the bacon and egg sandwich with herby aioli. Stay just out of town, in Gullane, at The Bonnie Badger, Tom and Michaela Kitchin’s restaurant with rooms.
Abergavenny Food Festival takes place each September and is one of the most creative and dynamic culinary gatherings in the UK, also one of the longest running (2019 is its twentieth year). Regulars come for talks by Diana Henry and Bee Wilson, Dinner Party masterclasses with Rosie Birkett and Elly Pear, vegan BBQing tips from Matt Pritchard, debates on sustainable farming, a children’s cookery school and outdoor feasts based around wild cooking. Beyond the festival, you’ll find a quiet market town packed with independent shops like The Angel Bakery, which serves seasonal fruit pastries and perfect artisanal baguettes. Pair one of the latter with a ploughman’s hamper from The Marches Deli (it includes three Welsh cheeses, local chutney, Cradocs crackers and Welsh ale).
The top table in town for breakfast and lunch is at The Kitchen at The Chapel where soda bread is baked each morning and might be served with pumpkin, butter bean and olive oil soup and a local craft cider, while the Walnut Tree Inn is just outside town. Stay at Old Lands in one of three pretty holiday cottages set within converted stables and barns on an old family estate. There’s a walled garden and an on-site micro farm shop and guests can book children into Forest School, go on a nature walk or take a rowing boat out to an island on the estate’s lake.
The Lancashire market town of Clitheroe, in the Forest of Bowland, is the hub of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley. You’ll find a heaving cheese counter at Holmes Mill, Clitheroe’s monumental new food hall, and regional produce galore at Booths. Dip into independent food shops, such as Cowman’s Famous Sausage Shop, which sells over 70 varieties.
Then go for a walk on Pendle Hill, followed by lunch at the Assheton Arms in Downham, where the menu changes every day. Stay over at Freemasons At Wiswell, just south of town. As well as a new chef’s table experience the dining pub has recently added bedrooms; enjoy Herdwick lamb with aubergine and miso purée, and a superlative vanilla slice, then stumble into bed. Or head half an hour out of town to remote Dale House, a 400-year-old farm. One of its owners used to work as a chef for the Roux brothers so expect standout breakfasts and sumptuous (zero-mile) dinners, such as venison haunch steak with blackberries followed by homemade eccles cakes .
There’s so much going on in Yorkshire’s food capital of Malton right now. First, there’s the much-hyped Talbot Inn that reopened earlier this year following a re-design by ex-Lucky Onion founders, Georgie and Sam Pearman. Part traditional coaching inn, part boutique hotel, the Talbot (like much of Malton) is owned by aristocrat Tom Naylor-Leyland and his glamorous wife and Vogue-contributor Alice. Together they have put the town on the map, making it the mini-break destination of the moment. But those serious about their food won’t be disappointed.
Over the past four years 26 food and drink businesses have set up shop here. Many cluster around Talbot Yard – a former stables – which now houses an artisan roaster, Roost, the Bluebird Bakery, the Groovy Moo gelateria, macaroon-maker Florian Poirot, the Rare Bird Gin Distillery and a butcher, Food 2 Remember. Join a food tour, often led by Tom himself and new this autumn are Gin Tours on 13 September and 18 October.
Other dates for the diary include the Malton Harvest Food Festival (7-8 September), and the monthly food markets on 12 October or 9 November. These events will bring together the wider area’s exceptional producers’ including Malton Cider, cheese from Botton Creamery, chutneys from Sloemotion and lots more.
Almost as far southwest as you can get in England, Porthleven is a pretty Cornish port that greets you with waving sailing flags and colourful buoys bobbing in the water (and a medley of carefully curated food stalls if you time a trip to tie in with the annual Porthleven Food Festival each spring). It may be a tiny town, but the food scene is growing at pace here – think Padstow thirty years ago. Rick Stein opened up here in 2014, but he’s not alone.
Current neighbours include Origin, a coffee roasters that started here but now has shops in Shoreditch, Hammersmith, the British Library and Southwark too. Next door is Kota Kai which serves Thai tapas and forms a more relaxed little sister to Kota restaurant, up the road. Run by half-Maori, half Chinese Malay chef, Jude Kereama, Kota (meaning ‘shellfish’ in Maori) serves Cornish seafood with Asian and Kiwi influences; think pan-fried hake, crab ravioli, Cornish mussels and tiger prawns in a vegetable dashi broth or Porthilly oyster tempura with wasabi tartare. Try the tasting menu and then stumble upstairs to bed; the restaurant has two bedrooms above it so you don’t need to leave town. Alternatively rent a picture-perfect thatched cottage on the nearby Trelowarren Estate, also home to the excellent New Yard restaurant.
In Wiltshire’s pretty Nadder Valley, Tisbury is more village than town yet still packs a punch when it comes to eating and drinking. On its edge the Grade I thatched Tithe Barn has been converted into Messum’s, a contemporary art gallery where the Mess Restaurant offers much more sophisticated fare than your standard museum café – visit on Friday evenings and you can catch an exhibition then dine on a changing menu from the kitchen’s exciting new chef, Ana Ortiz, until 9.30pm.
In the morning Genius Coffea, on the High Street, is the first port of call. For sustenance to go with it, continue on to Tisbury Deli where the shelves prop up goodies from croissants to pork pies. Arguably the best food shop in town is the most aptly named, The Fishmongers; find Cornish mackerel and home-made meals from in-house cook, Ruth. Pick up a bottle to go with your supplies from The Beckford Bottle Shop, where you can try-before-you-buy and get expert advice from staff.
Pubs in the area are plentiful but few focus on food; the exception is The Beckford Arms where you’ll need to book to get ahead of the locals who come for a Beckford Bloody Mary and stay on for Sunday lunch. Pythouse Kitchen Garden should be on everyone’s radar too; not only for the first-rate restaurant but because the company’s new glamping village, tucked away in the orchard, is the perfect place to stay.
It’s over fifteen years since Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall turned the spotlight on field-to-fork dining in Dorset, with the River Cottage, and West Dorset is now a firmly foodie pocket of the UK. Exciting things are happening in the market town of Bridport. A vibey Asian street food joint might be the last thing you’d expect to stumble on up a small-town alley, but Dorshi is exactly that. The name (“Dorset-sushi”) stems from the founders’ days spent doing a roaring trade out of a food truck.
Now in a bricks-and-mortar restaurant the menu is all about dumplings, buns, zingy salads and noodle bowls. Likewise the Soulshine Café is on-the-button with superfood spirulina smoothies, oat milk lattes and a vegan full English on the menu – meat-eaters needn’t worry you’ll find sausage sarnies here too.
For a sweet treat visit Baboo Gelato where the ice cream is award-winning – try the plum sorbet. Just outside the town visit Washingpool Farm, home to one of the region’s best farm shops (it stocks its own veggies as well as other local produce, like North Perrott apple juice and Dorset Cereals. Stay further up the sands at the Seaside Boarding House, a hip hotel with unrivalled views over Lyme Bay, elegant modern cooking and a grown-up line in cocktails.
Dartmouth and Salcome might get all the attention in Devon’s southernly corner, but look inland for fewer crowds and great food spots. Ashburton, on the edge of Dartmoor, is home to the famed Ashburton Cookery School where over 40 classes are offered from a five-day patisserie week to a three-hour Indian cook-to-go and a recently introduced range of Christmas classes, from festive breadmaking to party canapés and chocolate advent calendar workshops.
If you’d rather leave the hard work to the experts, the award-winning Ashburton Deli is the place to go, stocked with the best produce from across the West. Ten minutes’ out of town, meanwhile, brings you to Riverford, the organic farming champions – visit their home turf for lunch or supper at The Riverford Field Kitchen where the set veggie menu is about as close to farm-to-fork as can be. Stay at the Live and Let Live pub where there’s excellent provenance-orientated food and three bright and airy bedrooms.
Kent’s coastal towns are smartening up, luring in a hip London crowd who steer south on fast trains. Whilst foodies still love Whitstable, Deal is the buzzy new kid on the block. Find everything from Kent’s favourite chippie, Middle Street Fish Bar to date-night-dining at Victuals & Co. where the Raid the Larder menu on Sunday evenings is particularly good value.
The Deal Dining Club is an institution and its Friday and Saturday night set-menu feasts always sell out; typical events include a Taste of Kent, with a menu boasting Canterbury cheese puffs, Kentish brown shrimp, local pigeon, home-smoked haddock and rhubarb crème brulee. It’s BYOB so pick up a bottle beforehand at Le Pinardier, a French wine bar and shop with an array of predominantly natural wines.
For something stronger, cross the road to The Rose where the seasonal cocktails are invented by local forager and chef, Lucia Stuart, who also runs excursions such as a Berry Bonanza Wilderness Picnic via The Wild Kitchen. As well as a bar, restaurant and pretty courtyard garden, The Rose has eight artfully-designed bedrooms. It’s worth staying for breakfast – the sourdough toast with pear and ginger jam is scrumptious.
The Suffolk town of Orford may have kick-started its foodie reputation with the opening of the renowned Pump Street Bakery (a visit to its Suffolk-pink premises for breakfast pastries is a must) but the business has recently done a pivot into artisan chocolate-making so save space (and time) for a Pump Street Chocolate Tour to see what goes on behind the cocoa-laced scenes.
Proximity to the shingly coastline means the town is also home to two excellent seafood spots, fixtures since the 1950s – Butley Oysterage, a smart restaurant serving up plump oysters and griddled prawns dripping in garlic butter, and the sister shop, Pinney’s, where you can buy smoked fish, potted crab and angels on horseback to take away. Orford’s pub, the Crown and Castle, promises smart bedrooms overlooking Orford’s 12th century castle, but, better still, there’s the Wash House Studio B&B – stay in a sweet shepherd’s hut or the converted wash house next to the coastguards cottages and wake up to find a breakfast hamper covered with a gingham cloth on your doorstep in the morning.
If you’re visiting in September, Orford also makes a great base for exploring Aldeburgh Food Festival – confusingly not in Aldeburgh town but, rather, at nearby Snape Maltings, the Victorian red-brick malt kilns turned world-famous concert halls that sit amongst the reedbeds on Suffolk’s river Alde. It’s a great setting to learn, among other things, how to make bread courtesy of Marriage’s Bakery Room.
Words by Daisy Allsup
Photographs by Clare Hargreaves, Weekend Journals, Rhiannon Batten, Helen Cathcart, Keiko Oikawa