Arriving in Nailsworth, the pretty Cotswold town that sits in the “bowl” of the Stroud valley between Bath and Cirencester, an imposing glass fronted shop stands in front of you, its black awning marking the corner of the town where all roads meet the A46. A blackboard announces “The Oyster Bar”, and as you push open the door your first sight is ice, fish and shellfish. Your second is a beautiful, boxed array of fresh fruit and vegetables and the third is shelves and shelves of the best larder ingredients imaginable. You have arrived at William’s Kitchen, or “The Gloucestershire Food Hall” as some of my friends refer to it.
William Beeston has been in the catering business since 1975, but he says he still gets a buzz every time he opens a new box of fish. Deliveries come from the Rungis market in Paris twice a week, and, when the season allows it, he sources ingredients locally. The shelves of risotto rice, artisanal coffee and biscuits, Navarrico beans, Lick the Spoon chocolate, Fine Cheese Company crackers, Franchi vegetable garden seeds, Guerande Sea Salt, Gloucestershire ales and Mediterranean olives are testimony to a man who loves his food and knows his customer base’s requirements. This is the foodie heartland valley, and all greed stops here.
A customer comes to collect a box of lobsters she ordered for a party. Another customer is comparing cheese notes with a salesgirl, and as a couple of girls are shelling prawns to use in the ready made salads a third customer is ordering coffee and biscuits in the café section.
William marches between the kitchen, the telephone and the door, chatting, helping, serving and cooking, juggling the many balls that need to keep moving in a private food business. Beneath our very feet the river swirls its way past us on its way to Frome, a glass window showing its foaming journey.
The oyster bar section looks out on bustling Nailsworth, as mothers dash past on the school run, cars circle round looking for scarce parking and the first of nearby Hobbs House Bakery’s customers leave after their breakfast.
If you are ever in this area, do stop for a visit. You will not believe that a food hall of this calibre exists outside London. “I live in the kitchen” says William, “At least six days a week.” Looking at what he has prepared for lunch, I can well believe it. We chat about the Peck delicatessen in Via Spadari in Milan, and he confesses he has never been, nor has he ever been to Venice. I advise he needs to take time off, go and take a look. His food hall would not look out of place in either of those two places.
Website details: www.williamsfoodhall.co.uk