In 2001 James Lohan and his then girlfriend (now wife) Tamara Heber-Percy, had a disastrous stay in an unmentionable hotel in the Lake District. Spotting a gap in the market, they set up a new type of hotel, B&B and self catering guide book; one that told the whole hand-picked, personally selected truth, and nothing but. The Mr. and Mrs. Smith guide was born, in print and online at www.mrandmrssmith.com.
In it you can find really pretty, inexpensive, homely, small family run self-catering cottages to stay at one end of the budget spectrum, or chandelier twinkling, champagne sparkling, tartan rug covered castles at the other. The barrier to entry is simple: you can only be included in the list of 350 personally vetted hotels if your establishment is truly special or outstanding, really gives genuine customer service and delivers honest value for money.
The Foodie Bugle Reporters have been using the guide for a decade, and have never once been disappointed. 50 000 members of the Mr. and Mrs. Smith Club cannot all be wrong. We would not place our hard earned money, holiday entitlement and trust elsewhere. We did a couple of times, sadly, and had a cross cadenza moment on each occasion.
So when we launched The Foodie Bugle magazine, we turned to the team at Smith HQ to spill the foodie beans: where do they all love to source, buy, eat and enjoy food in the UK? Would they tell us their foodie secrets, their favourite butcher, delicatessen, farmers’ market and cafe? Like all enthusiastic gourmets, they could not keep a secret, and to help us relax after all that foodie enjoyment, they have even thrown in their personal top tips for staying the night locally.
Mr & Mrs Smith’s Top 10 UK foodie finds, written by Sarah Jappy, Editor of the Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s guides.
Mr & Mrs Smith love great hotels – we’ve got a website (www.mrandmrssmith.com) and eight guidebooks to prove it. We’re equally passionate about great food (that’s where hotel restaurants come in handy). To celebrate the second installment of The Foodie Bugle, the boutique hotel experts have swapped hand-carved beds for handmade breads, and mini-breaking for, erm, baking. Drum roll please: here are Mr & Mrs Smith’s top 10 culinary finds, dotted around the UK. Of course, you won’t want to lug your groceries home with you, so we’ve even suggested a local hotel for each tip-off.
Best for: buying meat and fish
LONDON: THE GINGER PIG
Lovers of Babe look away now – this is the carnivorous connoisseur’s first port of call. The Ginger Pig acts as both farmer and butcher: raising its sheep, cattle and pigs on the Yorkshire Moors, ensuring that they have the loveliest of lives before ending up on your plate. The producers are firmly established on the culinary scene, with outposts in Hackney, Marylebone, Borough and Waterloo. Come here for flavour-packed sausages, unusual cuts and dry-aged steaks.
Top tip: Be a butcher for a day with a Ginger Pig beef class. (We did: http://blog.mrandmrssmith.com/2009/03/beef-butchery-class-london-activities/.)
Stay at: Town Hall Hotel & Apartments, near the Hackney branch (www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/town-hall-hotel-and-apartments).
CAMBRIDGE: RIVER FARM SMOKERY
How to jazz up a food item in two words? Add the phrase ‘hot smoked’ to it. Hot smoked chicken, hot smoked duck breast… we’d even put aside our fear of finless fish to sample hot smoked eel. River Farm smokes all creatures great and small in its brick kilns. As well as supplying culinary heavyweights (The Ivy, Hotel du Vin, Smiths of Smithfield etc), the farm has a shop – both on site and online.
Top tip: Team hot smoked duck breast with fruity vinaigrette and rocket for a show-off salad.
Details: River Farm Smokery, Cambridge, Wilbraham Road, Bottisham, Cambridge, CB25 9BU; 01223 811382; www.riverfarmsmokery.co.uk
Stay at: TheVarsity Hotel & Spa, a 20-minute drive away (www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/the-varsity-hotel-and-spa).
LAKE DISTRICT: YEW TREE FARM HERITAGE MEATS
Just like The Ginger Pig, this farm believes that the happiest animals are the tastiest animals, and rears its breeds accordingly. Pigs, sheep, cows and game grow up on the Lakeland fells, fattened on herbs and grass; posthumously, their long hanging times result in sublime cuts of meat. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall can’t get enough of the Herdwick hogget, apparently…
Top tip: Yew Tree does a fine line in hampers. Order the Cooks Delight Beltie Box (£65), which includes rump, brisket and stewing steak.
Details: Yew Tree Farm, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8DP; 015394 41433; www.heritagemeats.co.uk
Stay at: Samling – it’s about 15 minutes away by car (http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/samling).
Best for: buying groceries
This Tetbury deli is so laden with treats, you can almost hear it groan (in an Italian accent). Shelves are crammed with gourmet groceries, both local and European: handmade Florentine pasta, golden olive oils, prune and walnut cake, Luscombe juices, top-notch champagne, and so on. There are some stellar antipasti and a well-travelled cheese counter, hams galore and a rainbow of cured meat. Pull up a chair and eat in, or take a pre-prepared meal home with you.
Top tip: Buy your bread here – it’s freshly baked on site each morning.
Details: Quayles, 1 Long Street, Tetbury, Gloucestershire, GL8 8AA; 01666 505151; www.quayles.co.uk
Stay at: Rectory Hotel, a 15-minute drive away (http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/rectory-hotel).
GLASGOW: HEART BUCHANAN
A deli with a difference, Heart Buchanan does a fine line in exotic produce – well, exotic for Glasgow, anyway. Despite its petite size, this shop-cum-café packs a lot in: toothsome tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, ambitious sandwiches (pastrami, emmental, mustard and saurkraut is a former favourite) and Continental treats – try the ‘traditional French breakfast’: fresh bread, yoghurt, saucisson, and a hunk of dark chocolate. This café has a community feel, organising food-focused events.
Top tip: Sign up for a bread-making class at the café.
Details: 380 Byres Road, Glasgow, G12 8AR; 0141 3347626; http://heartbuchanan.co.uk).
Stay at: 15 Glasgow, less than 10 minutes away by car (http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/15-glasgow).
DUBLIN: FALLON & BYRNE
To call Fallon & Byrne a shop would be to do it a grave injustice: this mini culinary kingdom encompasses a wine cellar crammed with 600 varieties, an airy food hall stocked with enticing produce, and a relaxed restaurant that champions quality ingredients and sensitive cooking. Expect dishes cooked with a deftness of touch: oysters with pine nuts and bacon, crab ravioli with a tomato and wild garlic broth, and silver bream with sweet potato, cauliflower puree and pink grapefruit.
Top tip: Team a mellow merlot with some charcuterie in the wine cellar, and treat a loved one to a hamper.
Details: 11–17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, +353 (0)1 472 1010; www.fallonandbyrne.com
Stay at: Morrison Hotel (http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/morrison), a short stroll from Fallon & Byrne.
Best for: eating out
DORSET: HIVE BEACH CAFÉ
How much do we love this café? Let us count the ways. We love it for its fresh, line-caught fish, each one tagged with the name of the fisherman that plucked it from the waters. We love it for its just-baked scones: great mounds of feather-light loveliness, served with jewel-coloured jam and lemon-yellow clotted cream. We love it for its cosy interior; after blustery sea walks, stepping inside is like being enveloped in a favourite auntie’s hug.
Top tip: Stock up on coffee here – the café imports its beans from a family-run business called Dibercafe, in Barcelona.
Details: Beach Road, Burton Bradstock, Bridport, 01308 897070; www.hivebeachcafe.co.uk
Stay at: The Bull Hotel, a short walk away (http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/the-bull-hotel).
This Earth-loving little hotel is family run, and boasts a characterful restaurant and a cutesy café-deli, CoCoes. Plenty of the restaurant’s ingredients are grown on site (eggs are pilfered from the hotel’s hens); anything extra is sourced from trusted local producers. The afternoon tea (an indulgent spread showcasing boozy poppy-seed cheesecake, moist chocolate fruit cake and lavender shortbread) is also pretty special.
Top tip: If you’re enjoying drinks at the bar, order ‘jam toast’ – beef dripping-slathered toast sprinkled with sea salt, served with beetroot, vodka and horseradish chutney.
Details: 4 Ash Close, Swaffham, PE37 7NH, http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/strattons
Stay at: Strattons of course –the hotel has 14 rooms to choose from (we like the brazen Red Room best)
KENT: OSTERIA POSILLIPO
Posillipo’s owners, childhood friends Espedito Tammaro and Enzo Esposito, came to London from Naples in 1992. From humble beginnings selling bread rolls on the streets of London, the two friends have come far, recently opening their third restaurant, in Faversham. The original restaurant is in Broadstairs; there’s also a Cambridge outpost. Expect sublime Italian cuisine (the Posillipo pizza has a tomato base, topped with king prawns, octopus, mussels, clams and squid) and lush wines. Service is genial and generous.
Top tip: Try the seafood pasta – utterly divine.
Details: 14 Albion Street, Broadstairs, CT10 1LU, 01843 601133; www.posillipo.co.uk
Stay at: The Reading Rooms, a 15-minute drive away (http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/the-reading-rooms).
Best for: a Saturday morning
EDINBURGH: THE FARMERS’ MARKET
Every Saturday from 9am until 2pm, stallholders tout their wares along Castle Terrace, in the shadow of the castle. Whoever sells you their goods is likely to have produced them too, so they’re well equipped to answer any questions about your cheeses/chocolates/chutneys etc. A quarter of the market is dedicated to meat – pick-up something you’ve never cooked before: rare-breed pork, venison, ostrich, wild boar and water buffalo.
Top tip: Study the market’s website for some devilishly good recipes – we stumbled upon notes for venison satays with miso dipping sauce, and a tablet apple crumble.
Details: Castle Terrace,www.edinburghfarmersmarket.co.uk/
Stay at: The Rutland Hotel, an easy stroll from the market (http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/us/luxury-hotels/the-rutland-hotel).