How local sourcing helped to transform The Wheatsheaf at Dallington
A brick wall dotted with colourful wellies marks the entrance to The Wheatsheaf’s pub allotment in Dallington, Northampton. The boots look vibrant and quirkily remind customers how important local sourcing is to this village pub. “Beans, lettuces, pumpkins, squashes, rhubarb – we grow them all in our allotment!” says business owner (and now head gardener) Victoria Tendall, who runs The Wheatsheaf with her husband Sam.
Over the past three years Victoria and Sam, with the help of head chef Luke McEnroe and the wider team, have transformed The Wheatsheaf into a dining destination. In so doing they have also managed to retain the pub’s essential character as a proper community hub: a balancing act that few pubs pull off so well. The key has been to forge close ties with the village and to allow the bar area to keep its ‘pubbyness’ while at the same time enhancing and smartening the dining area. Each section is as important as the other: “We’re proud to be a proper pub that serves great food. We definitely don’t want to become a pure restaurant,” says Sam.
If it’s being a proper pub that’s made The Wheatsheaf a hit with the village, then it’s the local sourcing and solid cooking that have turned it into a dining destination. In 2015 this handsome thatched pub was shortlisted in the Best Pub category in the Great Food Club Awards. Last year it was a finalist again – this time in the Carlsberg Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards’ Best Food Pub category. And this year it is shortlisted for a Muddy Stiletto ‘Destination Pub’ Award. TripAdvisor reviewers agree: at the time of writing The Wheatsheaf was ranked second out of 423 eateries in Northampton (it was well below 150th when Sam, Victoria and Luke took over in 2014).
“When we arrived at the pub we had a firm plan to source our ingredients locally,” says Victoria. “We’ve stuck to that – and even gone further by growing our own food in our allotment – and it’s paid off.”
How, though? Surely not all, or even most, customers obsess about food miles. “It’s true that not everyone notices our local sourcing policy,” replies Sam, “but provenance isn’t just a marketing gimmick. It’s about flavour, too. For example, we get our meat from the Butcher’s Block in nearby Billing. Their steaks and sausages are so much more flavoursome than anything you get from the big catering companies. And the stuff we get from our allotment is obviously fresher and tastier than supermarket-type produce, too. The allotment’s also good for the business because we save costs on both food and fresh flowers.”
The rest of The Wheatsheaf’s fruit and veg comes from Perkins Fresh Food of Northampton, but the local sourcing policy doesn’t end there. The core beer range is brewed up the M1 in Leicester by Everards (who, as owners of the pub, support and work closely with Sam & Victoria in everything they do). Wines come from Amps Fine Wines of Oundle, who have teamed up with The Wheatsheaf more than once to run special wine dinners. And Northampton’s Beer Guerilla supplies interesting brews for the pub’s weekly Beer Club nights.
So, for Sam and Victoria, local sourcing – and home growing – is good for business, good for flavour and good for bolstering reputation. It has another benefit, too. “You get the personal touch from local suppliers,” says Sam. “You get to know them, you build relationships and that gives a sense of community, which at the end of the day is what a good pub is all about.”
So when you visit The Wheatsheaf, look out for those colourful wellies on the wall. They’ll remind you that some of the food you’re about to eat came from the pub allotment, and that the rest was sourced from nearby. They’ll also remind you that this is a pub run by people with a passion for doing things well.