The large but pleasurable task of judging the shortlisted businesses in the 2017/18 Great Food Club Awards is complete. Members of our editorial team have visited each business on the shortlist – from the Bristol Food Tour to Yorkshire Dama Cheese, from the Royal Oak in Evesham to Welbeck Farm Shop near Worksop. We are hugely impressed by the quality and passion demonstrated by each contender.

Before we get to the winners, a quick word on the format. The Awards shortlist was created via online vote throughout summer 2017. Votes were cast mainly by Great Food Club members (they could vote for any independent food/drink business they like) and well over one thousand people took part. Voters were presented with five categories – Producer, Pub/Restaurant/Café, Shop, Street-Food and Food-and-Drink Experience. The top five vote winners in each category made the shortlist. Multiple votes from single IP addresses were discarded.

From there, with 25 businesses on the shortlist, it was over to the Great Food Club writing team. We visited and spoke to each business and judged them to the best of our ability in a variety of areas. We scored each out of either 5, 10 or 20 in each area, and the business with the highest final score won.

Everyone on the shortlist deserves recognition for their fine work. Indeed, every business we recommend on this website deserves recognition: all are listed on merit alone.

Here are the winners, with comments where appropriate.


PRODUCER CATEGORY

Shortlisted businesses
Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, Gainsborough, Lincs
Hambleton Bakery, Exton, Rutland
Harker’s Farm Shop, Clipston on the Wolds, Notts
Freshly Spiced, Nottingham
Yorkshire Dama Cheese, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

WINNER: Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, Gainsborough, Lincs
Redhill Farm Free Range Pork takes its pigs from birth to table. The animals are free range and lead fabulously natural lives amongst the trees and pastures. Redhill Farm demonstrably takes huge care to reduce stress in its animals’ lives, including at the point of slaughter. It does all its own butchery, plus smoking, pie-making, bacon curing and more at its well-specced, modern production unit on the farm. As a result of all this, Redhill Farm Free Range pork is, in our opinion, the best quality pork you will find anywhere. Moreover, rather than chasing commercial success at the expense of animal welfare, this producer has kept its integrity. It has also shown commitment to ‘local’ over many years, selling mainly to Lincolnshire farmers’ markets. Its new butchers shop on Bailgate in Lincoln is a fantastic addition to the city.

The other shortlisted producers
Harker’s Farm Shop on Blackberry Farm, Clipston on the Wolds, Nottinghamshire, focuses primarily on producing and selling its own beef, but also rears and sells its own lamb, pork, goose and duck. The quality of the meat is outstanding and ethical farming (plus a welcoming approach to all who visit the farm and farm shop) is a priority.

Yorkshire Dama Cheese of Sowerby Bridge wowed us with its amazing story. Founder Razan Alsous was a Syrian asylum seeker who made a new life in Yorkshire and launched a cheese business. Unable to use the name ‘halloumi’ following a legal battle with the Cypriot government, she was forced to change the name of her product to “Squeaky Cheese”. Razan is an amazing woman with a fine product and she continues to expand and innovate.

Multi-award-winning Hambleton Bakery of Exton, Rutland, is unarguably one of the best and most successful small independent bakeries in Britain. Its range of artisan breads is very special indeed, baked in its huge wood-fired oven powered by ash and beech logs gathered at local forests. Hambleton Bakery breads are made traditionally using either the sourdough method or the beer barm method.

Freshly Spiced of Nottingham tantalised our tastebuds with its ingeniously devised fresh spice blends, which are created, hand-ground and toasted (where appropriate) by founder Tom Ali, who is following in his grandfather’s footsteps – Tom’s grandfather ran Nottingham’s first spice shop. Cooking with spices can be confusing but Freshly Spiced allows home cooks to make the very best of the wonderful flavours and aromas via Tom’s impressive blending knowledge. His spice creations link to online recipes, which focus on healthy eating. There are also unique blends for making divine hot drinks. If you love cooking with spices then you need to check out Freshly Spiced.


RESTAURANT/PUB/CAFE CATEGORY

Shortlisted businesses
Hambleton Hall, Hambleton, Rutland
The Royal Oak, Evesham, Worcs
The Bewicke Arms, Hallaton, Leics
Nourish at No 44, Belper, Derbys
Kavanagh’s Tea Room, Oakham, Rutland

WINNER: Nourish at No 44, Belper, Derbys
This was a fiendish category to judge, with just two-and-a-half points separating all five contenders. Shading it, however, is this cafe/bistro in the market town of Belper,Derbyshire. The team here show just how much can be achieved by hard work, passion, an eye for detail and a love for well-cooked, locally sourced food. Nourish at No 44 works incredibly hard to beat gravity and rise above the status of generic town centre cafe to become something far classier. And it’s this heroic effort to do something special, and to do it with pride, that convinced us that it should win against some truly brilliant opposition. By day Nourish at No 44 is a pleasant cafe but it’s on weekend evenings that it really shows its quality through local sourcing, impressive cooking, excellent service and a wonderful dining atmosphere.

The other shortlisted eateries
If we were judging the quality of cooking and food presentation alone, then Hambleton Hall in Rutland would win. With one of Britain’s most skilful, respected and consistent head chefs – Aaron Patterson – at the helm, supported by a front-of-house team who deliver the full Relais & Châteaux and Michelin-starred brand of hospitality (while still being wonderfully friendly), this stunning hotel/restaurant with its amazing views across Rutland Water is one of the best in the land. We were blown away by the dishes we tried here – the flavours, textures, presentation… they were nothing short of outstanding.

A trip down to Evesham was made hugely enjoyable by a visit The Royal Oak. This ancient, characterful town centre pub offers locally sourced food several cuts above what one would expect. Our slow-cooked lamb, served on a Sunday lunchtime amid a relaxed, buzzing atmosphere, was prepared to perfection and packed with an incredible, deep flavour. This is clearly a very professionally run kitchen. The service was outstanding, too: friendly and fun, with nothing too much trouble.

The Bewicke Arms in Hallaton is a delightful thatched village pub with its own cafe opposite. The setting is hard to beat: Hallaton is a stunning village and this pub is wonderfully cosy. It has been sympathetically rejuvenated and the dining areas are pretty and carefully designed. A great amount of thought and effort has clearly gone into the Bewicke, making it an idyllic village pub. The food – majoring on traditional pub classics with the occasional twist – is of a very good standard, too.

A new arrival in Oakham, Kavanagh’s Tea Room is set in a charming, ancient building down a little passageway near the town church. It becomes a bistro on Friday and Saturday evenings. We enjoyed a magical and intimate meal one Friday night in a friendly, candlelit atmosphere. The owners have done a superb job reviving this old building and creating such a quirky, welcoming and warm ambience. They have found a talented chef, too. Kavanagh’s offers good, simple food cooked very well.


SHOP CATEGORY

Shortlisted businesses
Farndon Fields Farm Shop, Market Harborough, Leics
Christopher James Deli, Leicester
Waterloo Cottage Farm, Great Oxendon, Northants
Bulwick Village Shop, Bulwick, Northants
Welbeck Farm Shop, Welbeck Estate, Notts

WINNER: Bulwick Village Shop, Bulwick, Northants
In many ways, this is the perfect village food shop, offering high-quality produce, welcoming staff and tasty surprises. The birthplace of The Pickled Village’s award-winning pickles and preserves, it’s enticing from the minute you see the front door, and stays that way all the way to the back of the shop. Alongside more exotic treats are staples like milk, tea, bread, cheese and sweets. Amid the decline of so many village shops, Bulwick Village Shop shows just what’s possible, which is why it wins our award. It’s an example to all that proves there’s life in the village shop yet!

The other shortlisted shops
The term ‘farm shop’ is often misused, but not in the case of Farndon Fields Farm Shop in Market Harborough, which started life in 1983 when owners Kevin and Milly Stokes opened a small shop on their 250-acre fruit and vegetable farm. Today it provides a carefully chosen and interesting selection of foods, supported by fantastic information on all the produce, plus mouthwatering displays. It’s hard to imagine a better run farm shop.

Christopher James Deli in Leicester is a tiny yet charming and characterful food shop. Every inch of interior space is put to good use, resulting in a packed, joyful deli selling an intriguing and high quality selection of sweets and savouries, including interesting cheeses and takeaway foods. It has a loyal following and it’s not hard to see why.

At Welbeck Farm Shop near Worksop in Nottinghamshire, meat is arguably the main attraction. Its butchers are knowledgeable and the quality is superb. The butchery counter showcases the best local pork, beef and lamb from the estate and from local farmers. A full range of game is available, including birds, rabbits and venison from the Welbeck Estate. The sourcing policy focuses on low food miles, artisanal food traditions and rigorous taste testing. The amazing Ottar Chocolates, made on the Welbeck Estate, offer something stunning and different. Beer and bread made on the Estate are on sale here, too. Offering so much ultra-local yet top-drawer produce, Welbeck Farm Shop is unique.

Excellent-quality meat is also the trademark of Waterloo Cottage Farm Shop near Great Oxendon in Northamptonshire. A converted farm barn, this shop now sells lamb, hogget and mutton from Waterloo Farm’s own animals. Waterloo Cottage Farm Shop is built on a dream to produce and sell meat from healthy, well cared for and locally reared animals, and it shows.


STREET-FOOD CATEGORY

Shortlisted businesses
The Garage Bakehouse, Market Harborough, Leics
Nanna Mexico, Cambridge
Homeboys, Nottingham
Vivia Crump, Rutland
Steak & Honour, Cambridge

WINNER: Steak & Honour, Cambridge
This category was also a challenge to judge, with each shortlisted business impressing. In the end, though, Steak & Honour won through thanks to doing what it does to near perfection and with a flourish. This minimalistic burger restaurant (it has vans, too) in central Cambridge takes the humble burger and hones it, hones it again, and then delivers something close to the ultimate meat-in-a-bun experience. On our visit, we wolfed down a perfectly cooked medium-rare burger (beef sourced from The Art of Meat in Cambridge). It was topped with jalapeño peppers and other good stuff, and placed between a halved brioche bun (baked by Dovecote Bakery in Cambridge). Unlike some brioche we’ve tried, the bun was not too sweet. We loved the carefully chosen range of canned craft beers on sale, too. With Steak & Honour, less is more: it is simple but devastatingly effective!

The other shortlisted street-food purveyors
The Garage Bakehouse
in Market Harborough is a very cool little bakery housed in an old garage with a counter looking out onto the street. Its breads and cakes are of the utmost quality and on our judging visit we enjoyed a sublime cheese toasty on sourdough with chilli jam. We tried a sausage roll and one of their trademark Marmite swirls for good measure, which were also good. The Garage Bakehouse came close to winning: again, this business is simple but magnificent.

Homeboys of Nottingham serve Asian street food. On our visit we tried one of their Taiwanese fried chicken sandwiches at Nottingham Street Food Club at the Victoria Centre. We were impressed by the incredibly succulent chicken and crisp, nicely spiced batter, presented carefully. Homeboys are clearly passionate about what they do.

Vivia Crump of Oakham is primarily a chutney maker but also makes top quality sausage rolls (laced with her chutneys) and quiches, which she sells on her market stalls. The meat in her pork and chicken sausage rolls is sourced from Joseph Morris of North Kilworth in Leicestershire and is top quality. Eggs are from Tilton on the Hill, also in Leicestershire. Her chutneys add real sparkle to the sausage rolls.

Nanna Mexico (of Cambridge and Norwich) focuses on burritos, “big ass burritos” according to the T-shirts of the people who served us in one of its two Cambridge outlets! We enjoyed our visit here, too.


FOOD-AND-DRINK EXPERIENCE CATEGORY

Shortlisted businesses
45 West Gin School, Nanpantan, Leics
Hobby Cooks, Northampton
The School of Artisan Food, Welbeck, Notts
The Bristol Food Tour, Bristol
Seasoned Cookery School, Catton Hall, Derbyshire

WINNER: The School of Artisan Food, Welbeck, Notts
The sheer quality of teaching and equipment, alongside the passion and skill of the tutors, are the major reasons behind our decision to award the School of Artisan Food this title. Students are able to visit The School and leave with a deep knowledge (and appreciation) for their chosen subject, whether that is baking, cheese making, butchery or one of the less hands-on courses. The School of Artisan Food is a beacon for the transmission and continuation of valuable food skills and provides a satisfying, educational experience for those who attend.

The other shortlisted providers of food-and-drink experiences
Making gin at 45 West Gin School in Leicestershire is a fantastic experience that marries education with fun. Guests leave with a bottle of gin made to their very own recipe, produced using a desktop mini still. They also gain impressive knowledge of the gin-making process.

Spending a day on the Bristol Food Tour was one of the highlights of the judging experience for us. We walked through Bristol, hopping from foodie hotspot to foodie hotspot, guided by a knowledgeable guide. We soaked up the sights, sounds and flavours of this vibrant city, with its flourishing independent food scene, and enjoyed every minute and every mouthful. Highly recommended.

Seasoned Cookery School at Catton Hall in Derbyshire is a pleasant, spacious cookery school located in an old building on a country estate. This is a very professionally run cookery school with top-notch kit and good, clear, fun teaching.

Finally, but by no means least, it was fantastic to spend some time with Anita Chipalkatty, the woman behind Northampton’s Hobby Cooks, which she runs from her own large and beautifully kitted out kitchen. Anita’s knowledge of Indian food, its spices and its culture, was a joy to behold. We found her kitchen tips – and the vibrant chickpea curry we made under her guidance – hugely valuable.

Congratulations to all shortlisted businesses and special congratulations to the winners.