Tag Archive: Featured

  • Great Food Club Awards 2023/24 – The Winners

    The Champions

    Restaurant of the Year – full details
    The Monk, Quorn, Leicestershire

    Pub of the Year – full details
    The Red Lion, West Deeping, Lincolnshire

    Food Producer of the Year – full details
    Stonehurst Farm, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire

    Drink Producer of the Year – full details
    Tynt Meadow Trappist Brewery, Mount St Bernard Abbey, Coalville, Leicestershire

    Shop of the Year – full details
    The Cheese Shop, Nottingham

    Café of the Year – full details
    The Harley Cafe, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire

    Bakery of the Year – full details
    Harrison & Griffiths, Arnold, Nottinghamshire

    People’s Choice Award – full details
    The Forge at Glenfield, Leicestershire

    Food Heroes of the Year – full details
    Jane Tomlinson, founder, Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, Lincolnshire
    Sara Barton, founder, Brewsters Brewery, Grantham


    How the winners were selected
    We asked GFC’s members and readers to nominate “one independent food/drink business that has brought you the most joy over the past 12 months”. Over 6,000 online votes were cast during May and June 2023. The overall vote winner was named People’s Choice Award Champion. We then chose the shortlist using three measures:

    • Votes cast (multiple votes from individuals were discarded)
    • The popularity of social media activity during the past 12 months
    • Our own knowledge

    You can see all shortlisted businesses at the ‘full details’ links under each category listed above. Once the shortlist was created, our judges selected the winners.

    The judging process
    To make their decisions, our judges visited or tried the food & drink of every shortlisted business. They ate – anonymously where possible – at all the pubs, cafés and restaurants.

    Ineligible businesses
    Businesses that won GFC awards last year were not eligible to be shortlisted this year. Our aim is to showcase a broad range of independents and by not allowing a single business to win an award two years in a row, we go some way to achieving this aim.

    Click here to see the 2022/23 winners.

  • Food Heroes of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/4


    Chosen by our judges:

    Jane Tomlinson, founder, Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, Lincolnshire
    Sara Barton, founder, Brewsters Brewery, Grantham


    Selected by the GFC team:

    Jane Tomlinson, co-founder, Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, Lincolnshire
    Sara Barton, founder, Brewsters Brewery, Grantham

    Matthew O’Callaghan, founder, British Pie Awards & Artisan Cheese Awards
    Stephen Gould, MD, Everards of Leicestershire

    This year, our judges chose two winners of our Food & Drink Hero category – both pioneers in their respective areas: Jane Tomlinson and Sara Barton.

    Nearly 25 years ago, Jane Tomlinson saw an opportunity to cut through the confusion created by misleading pork labelling in the UK. Juggling the demands of farming and a young family, she relentlessly worked to establish Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, a business focused on quality, animal welfare, honesty and reliability.

    Jane Tomlinson with her son, George.

    Her holistic approach extended to the community, as she singlehandedly set up six farmers’ markets in Lincolnshire to provide an alternative to supermarket chains.

    Fiercely independent and driven by a need to make informed choices, Jane’s entrepreneurial spirit has made a significant impact on local food access and animal welfare. She is a beacon of hard work and dedication, illustrating what can be achieved when passion meets purpose.

    As a result, Redhill Farm Free Range Pork has bagged numerous awards, including being a past double winner of the GFC Food Producer of the Year. The pinnacle came when they won the Great Taste Awards Supreme Champion 2020 for their free-range pork shoulder, standing out among 13,000 entries.

    Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

    For over two decades, Jane and her husband Terry have focused on ethical farming with unparalleled animal welfare standards. This meticulous approach translates into exceptional-quality pork, as attested by renowned chef Michel Roux Jr.

    Their on-farm butchery, bakery, and smokehouse exemplify craftsmanship, proving that quality is no accident but a result of deliberate effort and skill.

    Sara Barton, the trailblazing founder of Brewster’s Brewing Company, has been a force of innovation and inspiration in the brewing world. With a master’s degree in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University, Sara took the bold step to establish her own brewing company in 1998, at a time when female representation in the industry was scant.

    Brewster’s Brewery, located in Grantham, Lincolnshire, is a testament to Sara’s commitment to quality and innovation, producing a wide variety of craft beers such as Hophead, Marquis and Decadence.

    Her impact on the industry extends beyond her own enterprise. In 2012, she became the first woman to be awarded the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Brewer of the Year Award, followed by the 2019 Institute of Brewing and Distilling Brewer of the Year honour. Additionally, she initiated Project Venus in 2011, a collaborative group dedicated to supporting women brewers.

    Sara also has the distinction of being named ‘All Party Parliamentary Brewer of the Year.’ She helped to revive the term “brewster,” an old English word for a female brewer, bringing it back into the contemporary lexicon. Beyond the brewery, Sara extends her passion for brewing into the community with Brewster’s pub, The Marquis of Granby in Granby village, Nottinghamshire, and offers canned beers through her brewery shop and online platform.

    It is her innovative approach, dedication to the craft, and pioneering initiatives for women in brewing that make Sara Barton our deserving joint-winner of the Food Hero of the Year trophy.

    The other finalists

    Stephen Gould

    Stephen Gould, managing director of Everards, has led this family-owned business since 2005. In that time, he has overseen the brewery’s expansion and transformation, including its move to a new state-of-the-art facility at Everards Meadows.

    Beyond his business acumen, Stephen is highly regarded for his progressive, positive and supportive relationship with entrepreneurs, particularly in the pub sector. Through joint-investment initiatives, he has helped breathe new life into community establishments.

    Additionally, his creation of the Everards Community Fund shows a commitment to local initiatives and charities. Recognised as one of the UK’s kindest business leaders by the Women of the Future Programme, Stephen’s contributions make him a worthy finalist.

    Dr. Matthew O’Callaghan

    Dr. Matthew O’Callaghan, chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association and a food historian, is a compelling finalist for our Food Hero of the Year trophy.

    Matthew O’Callagham (centre). Photo: Pierate

    Awarded an OBE for his services to the food industry and small businesses, Matthew has been transformative in elevating Melton Mowbray to the “Rural Capital of Food”. His leadership in securing Protected Geographical Indication for the iconic Melton Mowbray Pork Pie helped not just to preserve its heritage but also to revitalise a rural economy.

    Matthew organises a raft of successful food events in Melton Mowbray including the East Midlands Food Festival, the British Pie Awards, PieFest, the Artisan Cheese Awards and the Artisan Cheese Fair.

    His efforts are not just about food but also about community development and economic revitalisation.

    The British Pie Awards

  • People’s Choice Award: Great Food Club Awards 2023/24

    The GFC People’s Choice Award is the annual gong that goes to the business that garnered the highest number of votes overall during the public voting phase of the awards.

    This year, The Forge at Glenfield, Leicestershire – a large, buzzing and professionally run independent pub – smashed the popular vote. As part of The Beautiful Pubs Collective, The Forge has long set the gold standard for relaxed but polished pub experiences. With a focus on impeccable service, attention to detail, and staff professionalism, it’s no wonder the pub received the highest number of votes from our community.

    Celebrated for its balanced seasonal menus, heavenly Sunday roasts, and bustling Saturday brunches, The Forge was recognised by Observer Food Monthly as one of the UK’s best places to drink in 2022. The lush garden becomes a social hub in the summertime, an extension of the welcoming atmosphere that defines The Forge.

    Marking its 15th anniversary as the founding member of the Beautiful Pubs Collective, the pub is currently undergoing a comprehensive refurbishment. After a brief temporary closure, it will soon reopen its doors, rejuvenated and ready to serve its customers in newly invigorated splendour.

    From pulling the perfect pint to whipping up a frothy cappuccino, The Forge continues to excel in crafting exceptional experiences.

  • Bakery of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/4


    Chosen by our judges:

    Harrison & Griffiths, Arnold, Nottinghamshire


    The top public vote-winners:

    Harrison & Griffiths, Arnold, Nottinghamshire
    Olivia’s Bakery, Loughborough, Leicestershire
    Pasticceria Lorena, Wilford, Nottinghamshire
    Chloe Gourmet, Leicester

    The winner is Harrison & Griffiths of Arnold, Nottinghamshire – a baker of extraordinarily good Caribbean cakes.

    This family-run bakery boasts many years of combined baking experience and has won plenty of acclaim, even gracing the shelves of Harrods with their Caribbean Fruit Cake.

    Their signature rum cakes are culinary marvels – moist, light and intoxicatingly delicious, encapsulating the essence of quality baking. Beyond these, they offer a range of custom-made special occasion cakes.

    Their commitment to customer satisfaction is evident, not just in their exquisite cakes, but also in their impeccable service. Recently, they even clinched Aldi’s “Next Big Thing,” promising to supply at least 30,000 of their delectable cakes.

    Harrison & Griffiths is a unique bakery. Try their cakes, and you’ll know they deserve every accolade coming their way.

    The other finalists

    Olivia’s Bakery, Loughborough, Leicestershire

    Since its 2018 launch by Jose Diaz Hernandez, a seasoned pastry chef from Spain, Olivia’s has been delighting customers with artisan baked goods and top-notch coffee sourced from Monsoon Estates.

    Named after a once-stray cat from Madrid, Olivia’s offers an array of treats, from delectable cinnamon buns to versatile pullman loaf sandwiches. They also cater to various dietary needs with gluten-free and vegan options.

    Expanding their reach, Olivia’s now also brightens up Outwoods Country Park in Charnwood, offering treats to fuel your woodland adventures.

    Pasticceria Lorena, Wilford, Nottinghamshire

    Talented baker Lorena Moloney of Wilford, Nottingham, creates stunning celebration cakes and traditional Italian pastries, elevating them with Italian liqueurs and sumptuous creams, creating “small bites of heaven” that are both light and decadent.

    With Italian roots and a love for Italian food, Lorena operates from her five-star hygiene-rated home kitchen, staying true to family recipes passed down through generations.

    She also offers an exclusive Italian Pastry Club for regular pastry boxes. Using premium Italian ingredients, baking passion and creative flair, Pasticceria Lorena delivers an authentic Italian experience.

    Chloe Gourmet, Leicester

    Chloé Gourmet on Leicester’s Cank Street is a bakery and café and the brainchild of Assia Bettat, known professionally as Chloé.

    She evolved from baking for friends to opening her own spot, featuring an open kitchen where scrumptious creations like almond croissants and Paris Brest choux buns are crafted.

    Beyond pastries, their croque monsieur takes you on a mini French holiday with a single bite. The café’s ‘Royale’ is a luxurious blend of chocolate mousse, almond praline and a biscuity base that leaves visitors swooning.

    A must-visit for authentic, high-quality French treats.

  • Restaurant of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/24


    Chosen by our judges:

    The Monk, Quorn, Leicestershire


    The top public vote-winners:

    The Monk, Quorn, Leicestershire
    The Kedleston, Quarndon, Derby
    Lake Isle, Uppingham, Rutland 
    Ember, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire

    The winner is The Monk – a fun and buzzing restaurant set in a 16th-century thatched cottage.

    The Monk stands out as the Restaurant of the Year for 2023/4. From the outset, you’re met with excellent hospitality, and the quirky interior design under the ancient building’s low ceiling adds a layer of uniqueness to this historic venue.

    Moving onto the food, the restaurant offers well-priced menus without skimping on quality. Our meal was excellent from start to finish: a summer peach and almond salad set the tone, monkfish with rustic chips delighted the palate, and a blueberry and mint tart rounded off the experience nicely.

    Owner Simon Grayson, who manages the restaurant with his wife Carla, is a wine authority. He’s so knowledgeable that he has even prepared wine menus for establishments run by his friend, renowned chef Marco Pierre White. Rest assured, the drink options here are carefully selected.

    The menu offers a broad range of options. It keeps evolving, featuring dishes such as dry-aged beef fillet to beetroot and blue cheese risotto.

    If you find yourself in or near Quorn, securing a table at The Monk should be high on your list. It offers an exceptional and memorable all-round dining experience.

    The other finalists

    The Kedleston, Quarndon, Derby

    The Kedleston is a Georgian country house near Derby, a past winner of Channel 4’s Four in a Bed. Dining there during the judging process provided a serene Tuesday retreat. Run by sisters Sally and Helen, the venue exudes quality and hospitality. We were welcomed into the bright, contemporary garden room, adorned with slate-tiled flooring, wooden furniture, mirrors, and foliage. Although the menu didn’t push culinary boundaries, it was reliably good and generously portioned. The standout dish was the green gazpacho, its taste heightened by prosciutto. The venue’s lovely grounds added a layer of enchantment to an evening that blended the old and the new.

    Lake Isle, Uppingham, Rutland 

    Dining at Lake Isle in Uppingham was a showcase of culinary craftsmanship. The Cromer crab mousse was a revelation, and the sesame miso aubergine with halloumi fritters didn’t disappoint. The chocolate, cherry and pecan praline delice ended the meal on a decadent note. With a well-curated wine list and a relaxed atmosphere, the restaurant proves why it holds two AA Rosettes. A dining experience that aligns with the “what grows together, goes together” ethos, Lake Isle is truly a sanctuary for food and wine lovers.

    Ember, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire

    Our dining experience at Ember was wonderful. This award-winning spot was buzzing even on a weekday, confirming its status as a destination restaurant. The smoked chicken taco and hay-smoked carrots were sublime, showcasing unique BBQ flavours. Perfect for groups, the atmosphere was electric. The burnt Basque cheesecake was the cherry on top of an unforgettable meal. Ember is a must-visit for anyone seeking a culinary adventure.

  • Shop of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/24


    Chosen by our judges:

    The Cheese Shop, Nottingham

    The finalists

    The top public vote-winners:

    The Cheese Shop, Nottingham
    Essen, Beeston, Nottinghamshire
    The Mediterranean Deli, Wistow, Leicestershire
    Stoughton Grange Farm Shop, Oadby, Leicestershire

    The winner is The Cheese Shop in Nottingham, one of the region’s most-loved independent food shops, adored by everyone from Michelin-starred chefs to householders with a passion for cheese.

    Webb Freckingham

    Founded in 2004 by brothers Webb and Rob Freckingham, this central Nottingham store boasts an impressive selection of both British and continental cheeses. Their huge cheese counter is unparalleled, stocked with a meticulously curated selection of British and continental cheeses. It’s a counter that has been recognised at the World Cheese Awards.

    Webb as ‘Dr Cheese’ on Instagram

    The brothers have a keen eye for quality, ensuring products are top-notch, and their regular personal visits to cheesemakers’ dairies demonstrate their passion for their subject, which has afforded them unrivalled expertise in the field.

    Beyond cheese, they offer an array of high-quality locally sourced deli products, including Scotch eggs and bread from Hambleton Bakery. Located conveniently on Nottingham’s Flying Horse Walk, they also house a café, perfect for a post-shopping coffee or lunch.

    The other finalists

    Essen, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

    Essen in Beeston, run by Edward Graham Moore, Sam Skinner-Watts and their team, is an excellent blend of a café and deli. The produce on sale here is outstanding, and the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, suitable for socialising, getting some work done at the communal table, or simply enjoying excellent food and drink.

    They serve high-quality sandwiches, cakes and other delights, featuring bread from local bakery ØKENDE. The shop also hosts regular food events and tastings, adding an extra layer of interest.

    The cheese, charcuterie, and drinks sections are carefully curated, reflecting the founders’ expertise and passion for good food.

    Even though it’s 40 minutes away from our office, we recently found ourselves returning twice in one week, which speaks volumes about its appeal.

    The Mediterranean Deli, Wistow, Leicestershire

    The Mediterranean Deli at Wistow Rural Centre is a brilliant shop. It secured two gold stars in the Great Taste Awards 2023 for its Baklava Cheesecake, a creation of co-owner Sefer Ustabas, based on a treasured family recipe. This follows a previous win for their Pistachio Baklava in 2022.

    The family-run deli is a fusion of local and Turkish culinary treasures (don’t miss their incredible baklava), reflecting their rich heritage and a passion for authentic, local flavours.

    It offers a diverse array of gourmet delights, sourced both locally and internationally, and is recognised for its commitment to quality, locality and flavour, making it a must-visit for food enthusiasts.

    Stoughton Grange Farm Shop & Distillery

    Stoughton Grange Farm Shop & Distillery in Oadby, Leicestershire, is a new addition to the local food landscape, and it’s an excellent one.

    Their own kitchen garden supplies fresh produce, while the butchery counter offers the likes of Fosse Meadows chicken, homemade pies and Launde Farm lamb. Don’t overlook the array of British cheeses at the deli – especially the Sparkenhoe Red Leicester.

    Owner Billy Allingham aims to reconnect people with the quality produce available before the era of global supermarkets. And he’s doing a great job.

  • Drink Producer of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/4


    Chosen by our judges:

    Mount St Bernard Abbey Brewery, brewers of Tynt Meadow Trappist Beer, Coalville, Leicestershire


    The top public vote-winners:

    Mount St Bernard Abbey Brewery, Coalville, Leicestershire
    The Rutland Vineyard, Ketton, Rutland
    Lazydog Distillery, Coleorton, Leicestershire
    Kings Cliffe Brewery, Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire

    The GFC Award for Drink Producer of the Year 2023/24 goes to the monks of Mount St Bernard Abbey, creators of the UK’s only official Trappist Ale, Tynt Meadow.

    Facing challenges in traditional farming, they transitioned into brewing, an art rooted in their monastery’s history. Following extensive research and collaboration with fellow Trappist brewers, they crafted Tynt Meadow – a mahogany-coloured ale with a superb, intricate flavour profile featuring notes of dark chocolate, fruit and liquorice, along with a strong 7.4% ABV.

    Committed to Trappist ale requirements, the monks oversee the entire brewing process, from inception to bottling. Operating on a small scale, their efforts not only sustain the monastery but contribute to charitable initiatives.

    In the vein of Cistercian simplicity, they brew complexity into a product that feels perfectly natural. For their dedication to quality, tradition and the superb flavour of Tynt Meadow, Mount St Bernard Abbey earns this year’s GFC Drinks Producer Award.

    The other finalists

    The Rutland Vineyard, near Ketton, Rutland

    Our judges were captivated by The Rutland Vineyard during their recent visit. Founded in 2021, this vineyard is already making waves in England’s smallest county. The team have selected an idyllic south-facing slope between the rivers Welland and Chater, 70m above sea level with rich Jurassic limestone soil, to plant grape varieties like Pinot Noir Précoce, Cabaret Noir, Bacchus and Ortega.

    Though their first bottles won’t be ready until spring 2024, the vineyard offers an irresistible Tasting Barn with stunning views. Here, visitors can tuck into mouthwatering cheeseboards, wines by the glass, homemade cakes from The Rutland Chef, and coffee from Stamford Coffee Company.

    Their approach to winemaking and hospitality makes them a standout addition to the local food and drink scene, and a well-worthy GFC Drink Producer of the Year Finalist.

    Lazydog Distillery, Coleorton, Leicestershire

    Our judges couldn’t help but be impressed once again by Lazydog Rum Distillery, marking its second consecutive year as a GFC Drink Producer of the Year Finalist. Nestled in the Leicestershire countryside, the distillery is helmed by Matt and Lauren Thompson, whose painstaking approach to rum-making sets them apart in the British spirits industry.

    Starting from scratch with molasses, their operation is an artisan labour of love, right down to the hand-labelling and sealing. Their range includes the velvety ‘Signature Silver,’ the complex ‘Spiced’ and an award-winning Sloe Rum featuring locally handpicked sloes.

    Recent accolades include a Gold Medal at the London Wine Beer Spirits Competition, where judges lauded Lazydog’s rum for its smooth palate and intricate notes.

    In a testament to their success, Matt and Lauren have expanded to a larger distillery in Coleorton, making way for increased production and the exciting prospect of rum-tasting events. This powerhouse couple has taken a humble lockdown project and crafted it into a burgeoning rum empire. Their story is a striking example of skill and passion converging to produce exceptional craft spirits.

    Kings Cliffe Brewery, Kings Cliffe

    Kings Cliffe Brewery is our fourth Finalist for the GFC Drink Producer of the Year. Jez O’Neil, the founder, has artfully resurrected a brewing tradition that had been dormant in King’s Cliffe since 1914. He brews three permanent ales – 5c, No.10, and 66° – and the occasional seasonal offering.

    On our visit, we sampled No.10, a delightful session ale that confirmed Jez’s status as a passionate and skilled brewmaster.

    Jez’s creation of KCB has been a joyful journey, enabled by a vacant building and a chance to revive an age-old village industry. He crafts beers true to his own recipes and takes immense pleasure in doing so in his home village.

    Whether you’re a beer connoisseur or simply someone who appreciates an artisan touch, Kings Cliffe Brewery is a Finalist you’ll want to keep an eye on.

  • Food Producer of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/24


    Chosen by our judges:

    Stonehurst Farm, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire


    The top public vote-winners:

    Stonehurst Farm, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire
    Home Farm Produce, Grove, Retford, Nottinghamshire
    March House Farm, Great Dalby, Leicestershire
    Tori & Ben’s Farm, King’s Newton, Derbyshire

    The winner is Stonehurst Farm – a superb family operation featuring a farm shop, teashop, open visitor farm, and a motor museum.

    Conveniently located next to John’s House Restaurant, this farm is managed by the Duffin family. They grow organic bread wheat, heritage potatoes, and seasonal vegetables on-site.

    The farm also rears Aberdeen Angus cattle and sheep, which graze on organic pastures, along with Gloucester Old Spot pigs and free-range laying hens.

    Stonehurst Farm Shop is complemented by John’s House Artisan Bakery, providing fresh organic bread daily. Additionally, the shop offers a range of local products including fresh milk, bacon, ham, cheeses, and beers.

    The Farmer’s Den Tea Shop is run by Tom’s sister, Emily. Michelin-starred John’s House Restaurant is run by Tom’s brother, John.

    Stonehurst Farm is a true family affair and one of the region’s most authentic farm-to-fork locations.

    The other finalists

    Home Farm Produce, Grove, Retford, Nottinghamshire

    Led by Paula, Matthew and their team, this farm-to-fork operation has earned its stripes with a prize-winning herd of Limousin cattle, Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and free-range chickens. But what makes them stand out is the sheer quality and deliciousness of their food, from their home-raised meat to their farm-baked pies and cakes.

    Their exceptional quality was recognised last year when they won three Great Taste gold stars for their free-range pork shoulder and an additional star for their handmade pork pie.

    Committed to ethical practices, Home Farm avoids the routine use of antibiotics and chemicals, allowing their livestock to live in natural family groups. The result is a broad range of high-quality and extremely delicious homemade products – from meats to handmade pies and sausage rolls. Their new farm shop and cafe is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am-2pm, or you can order their produce online. Home Farm Produce exemplifies the true meaning of farm to fork.

    Home Farm Produce also stands as a shining example of sustainable, high-quality, small-scale farming and food production.

    March House Farm, Great Dalby, Leicestershire

    Crowned Food Hero of the Year in our 2020/21 awards, March House Farm Shop in Great Dalby is a beacon for local, sustainable produce. The shop features an outstanding butchers’ counter stocked with grass-fed beef, lamb, and pork, all sustainably produced on the farm.

    Summer brings a vibrant BBQ selection to the mix. Not to be outdone, March House’s homemade meat pies and Melton Mowbray pork pies have won accolades in the British Pie Awards.

    Sustainability is integral to their operation, with solar panels powering the shop and regenerative agriculture practices on the farm.

    Tori & Ben’s Farm, King’s Newton, Derbyshire

    Awarded Farm Shop of the Year in the Great Food Club Awards for 2020/21, Tori & Ben’s Farm Butchery is run by farming couple Tori and Ben Stanley. Their butchers prepare an exceptional range of beef cuts from the farm’s award-winning pedigree Longhorns.

    Lamb offerings hail from the farm’s pedigree flocks of Texel, Jacob, and Portland sheep. When you visit the shop, the team’s dedication to quality food and sustainable farming is palpable.

  • Pub of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/4


    Chosen by our judges:

    The Red Lion, West Deeping, Lincolnshire


    The top public vote-winners:

    The Red Lion, West Deeping, Lincolnshire
    The Royal Oak, Great Dalby, Leicestershire
    The Radcliffe, Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire
    The Stag & Hounds, Burrough on the Hill, Leicestershire

    The winner is The Red Lion in West Deeping – a village pub where the food is local, seasonal and perfectly suited to a rural hostelry – we call it ‘elevated pub dining’.

    “Well, I thought things couldn’t really get any worse,” said chef patron Frazer King. His comment explains why he and his partner Emma took the brave decision to open a pub in the unpromising economic environment of 2021. We should be grateful, for The Red Lion is now a lovely dining pub and a welcoming community hub for the people of West Deeping.

    Frazer learnt his trade working for the likes of Mark Hix in London, before returning home to Lincolnshire and working at local favourites such as The Olive Branch in Clipsham. After taking on The Red Lion, they got rid of the sticky carpet and revealed some of the bones of the handsome old building to create an elegant but cosy pub that is a fine showcase for what they bill as “elevated pub dining”.

    It’s a good descriptor for Frazer’s skilful cooking. On our judging visit, we very much enjoyed starters of crayfish with heritage tomatoes and tender pork belly matched with highly seasonal, plump, pickled gooseberries with wild garlic buds and finely crumbled crackling. Beef cheek was cooked long and slow and with a pleasing smoke that was echoed in the charring of accompanying gem lettuce. A fillet of sea bass was among the best we’ve encountered – delightfully crispy skin with oriental-themed additions of fermented carrots, broccoli and sea arrowgrass dressed in soy and chilli.

    An excellent cheeseboard featured Midlands cheeses including the peccorino-inspired Berkswell and the rich and creamy Rutland Red.

    On the night of our visit, the pub was busy with a quiz night, with many patrons taking advantage of a good value pie and pint offer. Another area of comfy armchairs was booked out for a village meeting. There was still space to relax on a sofa in front of a large inglenook with an impeccable pint of Hopshackle, a fruity ale brewed specially for them in neighbouring Market Deeping, and the equally refreshing Blonde from Nene Valley Brewery in Oundle.

    The other finalists

    The Royal Oak, Great Dalby, Leicestershire

    Village pubs often have the difficult task of having to meet the varying needs of a wide variety of visitors. Our visit to the characterful, low-beamed Royal Oak showed that this is something they are managing to pull off brilliantly. On a busy Saturday evening, the village cricket team were quaffing post-match beers in the garden. Staff from nearby GFC-favourite Vine Farm Dairy were winding down too. Then there were young families with small children eating pub classics, larger family groups clearly having a reunion, groups of friends having a Saturday night out with food, couples having a date night… it was all going on.

    Co-owner Patrick Anderson was everywhere, setting a friendly and efficient tone – changing barrels when necessary, meeting and greeting regulars often by name and with a handshake and taking a lead on table service. This is a pub with a clear understanding of hospitality.

    The beer offering was clearly valued by locals and featured local beers Wranglers and Steeplechase from Melton’s Round Corner Brewing, and award-winners such as Wherry from Woodforde’s in Norfolk and Landlord and Boltmaker from Timothy Taylor’s in Yorkshire.

    The food menu is quite extensive – again responding to a wide range of customer needs. A range of basket meals with fries may suit the casual sharers and grazers, then there’s a good range of pies, burgers and steaks but also specials that allow the kitchen to show a bit more ambition.

    We started with nicely cooked scallops with crushed peas and pancetta and a duck liver parfait with fig chutney. From the specials board, a whole sole was a treat with lemon and capers and some delicious crushed new potatoes, while a “collection of pork” featured belly, shoulder and a lightly-battered, herby sausage along with plenty of smooth mash, fresh veg and gravy. Good hearty pub food.

    The Stag & Hounds, Burrough on the Hill, Leicestershire

    Dom Clarke arrived to take over what was then Grant’s Free House in 2019, bringing with him a track record lauded with AA rosettes and a Bib Gourmand. He quickly immersed himself in Leicester’s food scene, securing excellent produce from local suppliers and doing them justice with very fine cooking. But the pub has remained a pub. Sure, people travel a distance to eat here, but at 5pm you’ll get folk in work clothes arriving for a beer, and walkers with their dogs claiming their reward from a trek on the Leicestershire Round or a tour of the amazing Iron Age hill fort on the edge of the village. There are great local beers on offer here too – on our visit there was Market Pale and Drover’s from Melton’s Round Corner and JHB from Oakham Ales in Peterborough.

    Dom’s menus are short and change weekly, with each dish getting full attention. Typically that means two or three choices on a lunch and early evening menu fixe, and the same on an evening main menu. From the main, we had a starter of duck livers that would have won over most hardcore offal sceptics – soft and melting, delicately flavoured and beautifully served with crispy black pudding. A thick-cut pork chop was superbly cooked, can’t be easy to keep a hunk of meat that moist, and accompanying char-gilled hispi cabbage was a revelation with a rich, umami character.

    From the menu fixe, there was a pretty little bonbon made from featherblade of beef with smooth, lightly smoked mash and watercress, and an immaculate plaice fillet with asparagus. A cheeseboard was well-selected and beautifully presented, and a salted caramel tart displayed first-rate pastry work.

    The service was warm and friendly, too. Overall, The Stag & Hounds does a tremendous job at combining first-rate food with a genuine pub environment.

    The Radcliffe, Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire

    Radcliffe-on-Trent is a pleasant commuter village just to the east of Nottingham. Pubs here have to work hard to keep customers from the nearby big city or more picturesque villages further out. In The Radcliffe, villagers have a lovely pub to drop in to for lunch, to meet up after work or to book for special occasions.

    Set outside the village centre, it nestles comfortably among the local housing. There’s plenty of well-tended outdoor space and there is play equipment for the children. Inside, it’s a smart, modern environment with soft seating and tables for drinkers and a dining area next to the kitchen with its open pass.

    There are four hand-pumps on the bar, with Harvest Pale from Nottingham’s Castle Rock a regular along with well-chosen guests – the excellent Gem from Bath Ales was there on our visit. The wine list offers plenty of choice with some 30 bottles, all of them available by the glass.

    The staff team here are young and enthusiastic, and the greeting and service on our lunchtime visit was exceptionally warm and friendly. They really made us feel welcome and cared for. Substantial doorstep sandwiches are available but we ordered from the main menu, starting with “monkfish scampi” – three generous strips of fish in crunchy breadcrumbs rocking the 70s vibe delightfully. Also, some Black Pudding from Lincolnshire’s excellent Fruit Pig, served with a burnt apple puree, pickled apple and bitter notes from crunchy chicory leaves. Our mains included a perfectly moist and tender chicken breast with an earthy broth of wild mushrooms and plenty of crispy sage leaves, and a filo feta parcel with baba ghanoush and a salad of sweet red peppers. We also treated ourselves to a side of truffle and parmesan fries – a proper decadent treat.

    Part of the Secret Pub Company, which has three other local pubs, this is a well-run local and a big asset to the local community.

  • Cafe of the Year: Great Food Club Awards 2023/4


    Chosen by our judges:

    The Harley Cafe, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire


    The top public vote-winners:

    The Harley Cafe, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire
    Denby’s, Denby, Derbyshire
    Bob’s, Corby, Northamptonshire
    The Side House, Claypole, Lincolnshire

    The winner is The Harley Café on the Welbeck Estate in North Nottinghamshire – a distinguished finalist in the GFC Awards across multiple years.

    This is far from your typical café. Conceived within a building steeped in history, dating back to 1893, it shares its elegant courtyard with the esteemed Harley Gallery and the award-winning Welbeck Farm Shop.

    It’s a haven for those who appreciate culinary creativity and locally sourced, award-winning ingredients, including delicacies from Welbeck Bakehouse and the nearby Stichelton Dairy.

    Head chef Ricky Stephenson and his dedicated team create homemade, innovative dishes, ranging from the classics to seasonal specialities, ensuring every palate is catered to. Whether it’s a hearty breakfast, a late lunch, or a serene coffee and cake moment, the café promises a tranquil experience, away from the bustling crowds.

    The Harley Café not only tantalises the taste buds with its diverse menu but also serves as a gateway to a cultural experience, being situated next to contemporary art spaces and museums showcasing historic art collections.

    Visitors can also indulge in award-winning coffees, ales from Welbeck Abbey Brewery, and a curated wine selection, all served in a setting that is both aesthetically pleasing and historically rich. A worthy winner!

    The other finalists

    Denby’s, Denby, Derbyshire

    Denby’s near Belper has quickly made a name for itself since its 2021 launch. This intimate 26-seat cafe is a finalist in our Great Food Club Awards for a reason.

    Owner Lou Knight and her team offer a comprehensive menu, from hearty all-day breakfasts to sumptuous lunches. Their coffee, freshly ground from local suppliers, is a hit, as is their selection of teas, shakes, and smoothies.

    What sets them apart is their commitment to local produce: the meat is supplied by family who are local butchers, ensuring peak freshness. Manager Jodie complements the menu with her irresistible cakes, scones, and pastries.

    With its bright and welcoming atmosphere coupled with warm service, Denby’s is a must-visit for food lovers.

    Bob’s, Corby, Northamptonshire

    Bob’s Café in Corby is more than deserving of its finalist spot in our Cafe of the Year Award. Locally loved and revered for its excellent customer service, this eatery hits all the high notes.

    Owners Chris and Keely, Corby natives, have curated a menu that’s a feast both for the eyes and the palate – from creative dishes like Bang Bang Chicken and Bao Chicka Wow Buns to a top-notch coffee selection.

    Their breakfast special, the “Half Monty,” is a triumph of flavours featuring two varieties of sausage, several bacon cuts and Stornaway Black Pudding.

    It’s not just the food that sets them apart; their commitment to sustainability is evident, as all their packaging is either fully compostable or 100% recyclable.

    If you’re in Corby, Bob’s Café is the place to be for a meal that’s both tasty and community-minded.

    Bob’s owners, Chris and Keely

    The Side House, Claypole, Lincolnshire

    Set in a century-old caretaker’s cottage in Claypole, The Side House Coffee Shop is a treasure at the Lincs/Notts border and a deserving finalist in our 2023/4 Café Awards.

    Owned by longtime friends and village locals, Suzanne Stapleton and Kate Sharp, the café beautifully blends modern amenities with historical charm. The menu boasts an array of unique offerings like Bacon, Pear & Cheese Sandwiches and Smashed Avo & Chilli on Sourdough, not to mention the whiskey-embued Irish Barmbrack served with mature cheddar. Beyond food, they offer 200 Degrees coffee and an extensive range of other beverages.

    With a commitment to local and seasonal produce, the café even recycles its coffee grounds into village allotments, later receiving homegrown produce in return. Complementing the eco-friendly theme, all packaging is sustainable.

    The café, which also offers catering services, has turned a once-unloved building into a welcoming hub, complete with a shared garden and abundant outdoor seating.

  • Restaurant 263 Review: “Affordable Fine Dining” in Leicester

    When it comes to fine dining, Leicester has been something of a graveyard of ambition. But chef Keith Sadomba’s Restaurant 263 has now spent over a year delivering on its mission of affordable high-end food.

    This chef previously held the reins at Leicester’s White Peacock. Several of his team from there have stuck with him through some highly-rated pop-up events as we came out of lockdown and now to this elegantly simple venue on Highcross Street. The offer is a range of seasonal tasting menus, which come in at £38 for six courses on a Friday and Saturday night or £45 for eight. A parallel vegan menu is available, as is a wine pairing at £30.

    We had heard reports of inconsistency. Brilliant on one visit, a bit chaotic on the next. On our Saturday visit, we did fear the worst when, bizarrely, a gin and tonic was served with no ice. When questioned, our server just said they didn’t have any. The manager rescued the situation with a mercy dash to a neighbouring pub, and fortunately, things started looking up immediately. Amuse-bouches all impressed, including a delicate cornet of butternut puree, delightfully savoury yeast tartlet and parmesan-topped sweet potato. Subsequent highlights included beautifully-presented celeriac, tender halibut with samphire in a foaming sauce, intensely-carrotty carrot topped with goat’s cheese and crunchy buckwheat. Lamb was more medium than medium rare but was full-flavoured and well-matched with crispy layered potatoes and asparagus with black garlic. My favourite of the night was the optional additional course of seared scallops with slow-cooked beef, wild garlic buds and a herbed crumb.

    Not everything served up matched the fairly minimal descriptions on the menu, but that didn’t bother us excessively. Dishes were attractive, well-executed and featured appealing combinations of taste and texture. It’s good to see that, in a low-key style, ambitious cooking is still alive in Leicester.

    Restaurant 263
    76 Highcross Street
    Leicester LE1 4NN

  • Best Country Pubs & Restaurants in Leicester, Nottingham & Beyond

    Editor’s Note:

    We’re passionate about sharing your culinary discoveries. This week, we’re spotlighting two establishments that have captured your hearts – The White Horse in Stoke Albany and The Duncombe Arms near Ashbourne (see below).

    Share Your Culinary Adventures:

    Your recommendations are the lifeblood of our community. They help us highlight exceptional places to our readers and social media followers. If you’ve discovered a hidden gem, perhaps a country pub near you or a standout among restaurants in Leicester, please share it with us.


    Matt, Founder, Great Food Club

    This Week’s Culinary Highlights:

    Hitchen’s Barn

    Hitchen’s Barn in Oakham has earned a spot in the Good Food Guide’s list of Britain’s 100 Best Local Restaurants! This award-winning restaurant serves modern British cuisine sourced locally.

    The White Horse, Stoke Albany, North Northants

    GFC Member Gordon has been singing the praises of The White Horse in Stoke Albany. This country pub near him has won his approval with its spotless premises, the freshly redecorated interior, and the pristine outdoor dining spaces.

    White Horse Stoke Albany

    The Cheese Shop, Nottingham

    For those with a penchant for cheese, The Cheese Shop in Nottingham is a must-visit. This deli near many of our readers offers a unique taste experience with its latest addition, Alp Blossom.

    Alp Blossom at The Cheese Shop Nottingham

    Hoggy’s Grill, Manton, Rutland

    Hoggy’s Grill, a BBQ & grill school in Rutland run by ex-England cricketer Matthew Hoggard, is offering Ultimate Burger Classes this summer. It’s a fun-filled day of learning to craft the perfect burger in a beautiful setting.

    Matthew Hoggard

    The Coffee Obsessive, Stoneygate, Leicester

    The Coffee Obsessive in Leicester’s Stoneygate has been recommended by the co-owner of Mill Hill Cask & Coffee in Enderby. Known for its top-notch coffee, this chic spot on Allandale Road is a must-visit for coffee enthusiasts.

    James at The Coffee Obsessive Leicester

    The Duncombe Arms, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire

    GFC member Heather has shared her delightful experience at The Duncombe Arms near Ashbourne. This country pub near her offers fantastic food, service, and atmosphere, as well as a beautiful bedroom in Walnut House with a lovely view of the countryside.

    Duncombe Arms Ashbourne

    The Stockyard, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

    The Stockyard in Melton Mowbray is creating a buzz with its ‘Stockyard Saturdays’. This farmers market near many of our readers features a smorgasbord of great food, independent traders, children’s activities, and lively music, making it a celebration of the local community.

    Stockyard Melton Mowbray

    Featured GFC Member Offer – Get 20% off at Orbis in Stamford, Lincolnshire

    GFC members can enjoy a 20% discount every Wednesday at Orbis in Stamford, our Restaurant of the Year 2022/3. Just show your membership card to avail of the offer. Get a card here.

    Orbis Stamford

    Lakeview Restaurant at The Nottinghamshire, Stragglethorpe

    The newly transformed Lakeview Restaurant at The Nottinghamshire Golf & Country Club near Stragglethorpe in Notts is a hidden gem. With its refreshing style, revamped dining booths, and decor, it’s a delightful place to dine, even if you’re not a golf fan.

    Lakeview Restaurant

  • A Chat with Five Star Kitchen Contestant Jordan Brady from Leicestershire’s JB Kitchen

    If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that life tends to go in unexpected directions. That’s certainly the case for Jordan Brady, owner and head chef at JB Kitchen in Birstall, Leicestershire, and a former Great Food Club Food Hero of the Year.

    Just over a decade ago, Jordan was homeless and sleeping rough, having left school aged 13. However, he turned his life around by becoming a chef and eventually launched JB Kitchen. And now Jordan has joined 12 other chefs for a new Channel 4 & Netflix TV show called Five Star Kitchen, which starts on Thursday, June 8, and runs for six episodes under the watchful eye of Michel Roux Jr. The winner will run The Palm Court restaurant at the world-famous hotel The Langham in London.

    “They contacted me,” Jordan told GFC, “they’d come across the JB Kitchen story and wanted to know if I’d be interested in applying. The process took about six months to get down to cooking on the show. It wasn’t just a matter of being able to produce five-star food – you also had to prove you could run a kitchen in a demanding environment like The Langham.

    “I was nervous but wanted to see what I could do. I didn’t think I’d do as well as I did,” Jordan said, reflecting on the experience. “It was about what you can do with the ingredients, how you make them work. It’s all well and good having excellent ingredients, but can you make them sing?”

    The feedback was a mix of kindness and toughness, pushing Jordan to reassess his work and constantly improve.

    Michel Roux, a figure Jordan thought would be the “angry chef,” was supportive off-camera. “He was such a nice guy,” Jordan said, “he’d ask us how we were doing. It was long days and a very long process.”

    Jordan says the Five Star Kitchen journey has changed his life and approach to food. “It’s completely altered my outlook as a chef and transformed my style of food,” he said.

    When asked about the show’s air date, Jordan said: “The first episode goes out tomorrow, and the show runs for six weeks. After it finishes on Channel Four, it launches globally on Netflix.”

    A global audience for a local chef from Birstall – that’s certainly a journey worth following. “They flew a chef over from California for the show. So yeah, it’s a global competition,” Jordan explained.

    While Jordan couldn’t reveal many details about Five Star Kitchen, he shared a few dishes he’d prepared: ‘Rabbit in the Woods’ – a rabbit ballotine with mushrooms and truffle. Also, pig’s cheek with prawn and lobster foam, plus a celeriac custard-filled egg with lots of caviar.

    And for those eager to sample these dishes, Jordan assured: “We are definitely going to try some of these dishes at JB Kitchen once the episodes start rolling out.”

    As the conversation drew to a close, Jordan reflected on the journey. “Stay tuned and see what the boy from Birstall does,” he said, hinting at his journey ahead.

    We can’t wait and wish Jordan all the best!

  • Great Pubs in Nottinghamshire & Leicestershire – and much more

    Great Food Club Digest: Week of June 6, 2023

    We are currently counting all the votes for the Great Food Club Awards 2023/4, and we look forward to announcing the shortlist next week.

    Cheers to Round Corner Brewing!

    We want to extend our hearty congratulations to Round Corner Brewing of Melton Mowbray. They took home an impressive seven medals at the 2023 European Beer Challenge, with their Steeplechase Pale Ale winning a double gold! Want to see the fun you can have with a bike, beautiful countryside, sunshine, and a pint of Round Corner? Check out this brief video.

    Excursions & Experiences

    The Plough, Hickling, Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire

    Our recent visit to The Plough Inn at Hickling, Nottinghamshire, located a short distance from the Leicestershire border, left us impressed. This rustic-looking pub offers an excellent range of beers in a lively, authentic atmosphere. We are eager to return and sample their genuine, wholesome pub food.

    Aldwinckles Coffee House, Market Harborough, Leicestershire

    If you’re looking for a surefire treat, look no further than Aldwinckles Coffee House in Market Harborough. They’ve recently relaunched their Afternoon Tea Menu, featuring homemade and locally sourced items.

    The Pheasant at Keyston, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

    Our visit to The Pheasant at Keyston near Huntingdon was a memorable one. The Wild Boar Sausages paired perfectly with a pint of the crisp Barnwell Bitter from Digfield Ales.

    Member Offer of the Week: Cocoa Amore, Grantham, Lincolnshire

    Great Food Club members can enjoy a 10% discount on chocolates bought in-store at Cocoa Amore. Simply show your membership card at the till. For all our member offers, click here.

    On the Road

    Northfield Farm, Cold Overton, Rutland

    In case you didn’t know, Northfield Farm Shop & Butchery of Cold Overton also maintains a stand at London’s Borough Market. You can visit them at their Cold Overton shop and at Borough Market.

    The Blonde Beet, Stamford, Lincolnshire

    Starting in June, The Blonde Beet in Stamford is launching a returnable cup scheme, part of their ongoing commitment to sustainability.

    The Falcon at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire

    We enjoyed a delicious lunch of Korean Fried Chicken and a pint of Oakham Ales’ JHB at The Falcon in Fotheringhay. The pub’s rich history and Zak’s cooking make it a delightful experience.

    The Tap & Run, Upper Broughton, Nottinghamshire

    Scheduled to reopen on June 26, 2023, The Tap & Run in Upper Broughton near Melton Mowbray has been completely reinvented following a devastating fire.

    The Devonshire Arms, Beeley, Derbyshire

    During a recent walk near Chatsworth House, we found The Devonshire Arms in Beeley to be an excellent stop. Their Pub Classics Menu powered us on our way with delightful dishes like Chatsworth Gold Beer-Battered Fish and Chips and Roast Chicken with Peas, Bacon & Mash.

    Discover more about these places and many more that we love in Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, and Cambridgeshire.

    Tasty Morsels

    Check out this 1987 menu from The Roux Brothers’ celebrated Waterside Inn at Bray from our editor Philip’s collection. In other news, Jay Rayner’s guide can help you choose a good restaurant anywhere. Learn how restaurants could help solve the world’s jellyfish problem, and discover why Britain’s curry houses are in decline. Finally, take a peek at the world’s first 3D-printed, cultivated fish fillet.

    Stay tuned for more exciting food news, experiences, and offers from the Great Food Club next week.

    Subscribe here.

  • Nottinghamshire’s Secret Pub Company: Quality, Success and Great Food

    In 2016, Mark Osborne, David Hage and their Secret Pub Company embarked on a remarkable journey, opening their first pub, The Railway at Lowdham. Fast forward to today, their dream has expanded into a four-pub group. This impressive collection now includes The Radcliffe in Radcliffe on Trent, The Railway at Lowdham, The Plough at Normanton on the Wolds, and as of May 2023, The Lambley in Lambley. Each pub, though part of the same family, has its own unique character, offering a distinct food and drink experience that underlines the team’s passion and skill.

    We recently spoke with Mark, the head chef as well as co-founder, whose vast and enviable career has been a key ingredient in the creation of The Secret Pub Company. With a CV that boasts chef positions at prestigious establishments such as Hart’s in Nottingham and Langar Hall in Langar, Osborne’s expertise has been instrumental in crafting each pub’s menu and identity.

    Mark Osborne

    This Secret Pub Company is not a chain but a community, each pub having roots in its locality and the whole Secret team — recruited from Nottinghamshire — working together. This approach has proven successful with the group now proudly employing around 60 people.

    Despite the expanding empire, Mark emphasises the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. He ensures his team works a manageable four days a week, reflecting his ethos of quality over quantity. While the company has no immediate plans for further growth, they remain open to opportunities, focusing on their existing establishments’ success and reputation.

    Interestingly, each pub is located about six miles from the next, creating a perfect cycling route for Mark, an avid cyclist, who often covers the 40-mile route, visiting each pub in one sweep.

    The Radcliffe has undergone a remarkable transformation from a former hotel and private residence to a thriving pub boasting an outdoor pizza oven and bar. The group’s clever and flexible approach to changing market conditions, particularly rising food costs, is another key factor in their success. They continuously adapt their menus to ensure minimal wastage. The company’s expansion also allows cost-sharing.

    Some of the team after winning Nottinghamshire Pub of the Year in 2022

    Mark’s fascinating journey into the world of pub entrepreneurship started at The Riverbank on Trent Bridge, where he met his business partner David Hage. Before this, he served as Head Chef at Hart’s in Nottingham.

    His career also took him to London, where he spent a month at the renowned Barrafina. Subsequently, he graced The Grill Room in Nottingham and Langar Hall before branching out to establish his business. “It changes everything when it’s yours, and you’ve got your money in it and house on the line,” Mark reflects. As he approaches his 50th birthday in June 2023, it’s clear that this risk has borne fruit.

    Mark’s menus do not forget pub classics but these are paired with a rotation of innovative specials, ensuring the dining experience is both comforting and exciting. He also champions local sourcing, with his primary butcher being James Vickers, a former Nottingham chef turned butcher. When James decided to embark on his new career path, he reached out to Mark to supply his pubs. Mark, seeing the chance to fuel an old colleague’s new project as well as work with someone well-acquainted with a professional kitchen’s needs, agreed. Today, James’s Chef’s Cut Butchery is an integral part of the supply chain. Mark also collaborates with Nottingham suppliers like FishRich and Kerry’s Fresh.

    It’s been a rollercoaster journey for The Secret Pub Company, weathering the challenges of Covid and subsequent market shifts. Yet, Mark and his team have shown resilience, adaptation and an unyielding passion for offering the best to their customers. “It’s been a rock-and-roll couple of years with Covid and everything, but we’re still doing it and loving it,” Mark says.

    Secret Pub Co Head Chef Zak foraging for wild garlic

    The Secret Pub Company’s story is far from over. With its devotion to high-quality food and drink, its passion for local sourcing, and its commitment to the community, the group’s future looks promising. Mark and his team, since starting in a single pub in Lowdham, have proved that commercial success, quality and a work-life balance can go hand in hand in the pub industry (although it certainly hasn’t been an easy ride).

    Speaking of rides, as Mark cycles through the scenic routes connecting Lowdham, Radcliffe on Trent, Normanton on the Wolds and now Lambley, he would be well within his rights to feel proud of his and his team’s remarkable achievements. So cheers to many more years of excellence, innovation and that unmistakable Secret Pub Company touch!

  • An Unforgettable Dining Experience at Langar Hall, Nottinghamshire

    As you cruise up Langar Hall’s driveway, you move between a stunning double line of mature trees before arriving at the charming, apricot-coloured house. Stepping inside, an eclectic mix of styles meets the eye – seamlessly blended to create a comfortable and stylish space that feels both lived-in and chic.

    There’s a sense of family among the staff – many have worked at Langar Hall for years. Indeed, the culinary prowess of Langar is underscored by the longevity of its chefs – the executive chef Gary Booth has been at the restaurant for more than 20 years, head chef Ross Jeffrey a few years less, and the longest-standing kitchen team member has devoted around 30 years of his career here. Even the newer crew have been at Langar for many years. This is a place where people arrive, fall in love and choose to stay.

    The camaraderie among the team is palpable. They are clearly a fun-loving bunch, creating a happy yet professional atmosphere that infuses Langar with warmth. They enjoy their work, which contributes to the restaurant’s exceptional atmosphere.

    As for the food – it is a masterclass of skilful cooking, combining creativity with local ingredients, resulting in intriguing combinations and exquisite presentation. Our appetiser, a cuttlefish ragu in aged Winchester cheese sauce, topped with wild garlic, was a captivating prelude to the meal. The twice-baked cheese soufflé starter was delightfully soft and creamy. One of our main dishes – a triumvirate of lamb cuts cooked in Moroccan spices – was nothing short of extraordinary. And the halibut, expertly cooked, was another standout.

    Langar Hall is a unique blend of individuality, creativity, indulgent fun and accomplished cooking. A striking portrait of the Hall’s late, famous former owner, Imogen Skirving, smoking a cigarette, sits on one of the walls. Her influence and style still permeate Langar, lending it appeal, style and individuality.

    Langar Hall remains one of Nottinghamshire’s best dining experiences. A visit is a feast for all the senses – and one that leaves you yearning for your next visit.

    Langar Hall website.

  • 10 Exceptional Independent Restaurants in Nottingham: A Curated Dining Guide

    Delve into our guide featuring 10 of Nottingham’s outstanding independent restaurants. Our experienced editors have explored the city, tasting an assortment of dishes to compile a discerning list of restaurants Nottingham takes pride in. From charming family-owned venues to creative dining spaces, our selection showcases the unique flavours and experiences that define Nottingham’s gastronomic identity. 

    For our full guide to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire restaurants, pubs, farm shops, delis and more, click here.

    OK, here’s our guide to 10 of Nottingham’s most exciting and characterful independent restaurants…

    Mollis: Michelin-Standard Fried Chicken and Ice Cream

    198 Derby Road, Nottingham, NG7 1NQ

    Mollis is a unique dining experience among the restaurants Nottingham has to offer, specialising in fried chicken, soft-serve ice cream, and cocktails. The graffiti-adorned dining room and hip-hop soundtrack create a vibrant atmosphere. The menu features innovative cocktails and mouth-watering dishes, making it a one-of-a-kind destination. Owner Alex Bond and his team have crafted a concept that excites even the most seasoned foodies. Discover Mollis for an energising and inspiring meal in the eclectic Nottingham restaurant scene.
    Visit Mollis Website

    The Cod’s Scallops: Elevating the Classic Chippy

    311-313 Mansfield Road, Sherwood, Nottingham, NG5 2DA

    The Cod’s Scallops in Sherwood takes the concept of your local chippy to new heights. Offering delectable fish and chips fried in beef dripping, this eatery evokes memories of traditional seaside dining. Focusing on sustainably sourced fish and the freshest seafood, The Cod’s Scallops delivers a wide range of options, from classic cod and haddock to crab, lobster, oysters, and more. The relaxed, seaside-inspired atmosphere and friendly staff make it a local favourite.
    Visit The Cod’s Scallops Website

    Bar Iberico: Award-Winning Spanish Tapas

    17-19 Carlton Street, Nottingham, NG1 1NL

    Bar Iberico is an award-winning, all-day tapas bar located in the heart of Hockley, Nottingham. Offering a diverse Spanish menu and exceptional customer service, the dishes include Crispy Chicken & Spicy Jerez Sauce, Crispy Cauliflower with Ginger, Chilli & Smoked Almonds, and many more. With their flexible approach to dishes, Bar Iberico can accommodate different tastes and preferences.
    Visit Bar Iberico Website

    Cafe Roya: Fusion Vegetarian Delights

    130 Wollaton Road, Beeston, Nottingham, NG9 2PE

    Cafe Roya in Beeston, Nottingham, is a bustling evening restaurant offering fresh and flavoursome vegetarian food, standing out among the restaurants Nottingham has to offer. Owner Roya Bishop draws inspiration from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and beyond to create a diverse menu. With organic and bee-friendly choices on the wine and beer list, Cafe Roya caters to a wide range of diners.
    Visit Cafe Roya Website

    Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem: Historic Pub with a Unique Name

    Brewhouse Yard, 1 Castle Road, Nottingham, NG1 6AA

    Visit one of Nottingham’s historic pubs, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, reputed to be the oldest inn in England. With caves, a cursed model ship, haunted rooms, and eerie noises, this pub is steeped in fascinating history. Offering cellar tours and a souvenir shop, Ye Olde Trip is a must-visit destination in Nottingham.
    Visit Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Website

    Sexy Mamma Love Spaghetti: Authentic Italian in Hockley

    3-5 Broad Street, Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ

    Experience the charm of Naples in the heart of Hockley at Sexy Mamma Love Spaghetti. Chef and owner Edin Gondzic offers a daily-changing handwritten menu featuring delicious Italian dishes made from the freshest ingredients. With a limited number of seats, this cosy and welcoming eatery is perfect for an intimate meal.
    Visit Sexy Mamma Love Spaghetti Website

    French Living: Gallic Delights in Central Nottingham

    27 King Street, Nottingham, NG1 2AY

    French Living is a restaurant, cafe, and deli in Nottingham offering traditional French produce and authentic French cooking. With a wide range of dishes and a well-curated selection of house wines and beers, French Living is the perfect place to enjoy a taste of France in the heart of Nottingham.
    Visit French Living Website

    Hart’s Hotel & Kitchen: Food & Wine Excellence

    Standard Hill, Park Row, Nottingham, NG1 6GN

    Hart’s Hotel & Kitchen offers an excellent dining experience in Nottingham. With luxurious rooms available for overnight stays, Hart’s is perfect for combining a gourmet meal with a relaxing getaway. The menu, crafted by Michelin-starred chef Aaron Patterson and head chef Martin Sludds, features classic British dishes made with the finest seasonal ingredients. The impressive wine list, curated by owner Tim Hart, complements the exquisite dining experience.
    Visit Hart’s Hotel & Kitchen Website

    Essen General Store Cafe, Deli & Wine Bar: Deli Meets Dining

    54 High Road, Beeston, Nottingham, NG9 2JP

    Essen General Store in Beeston, Nottingham, is a cafe, deli, and wine bar offering a delightful array of quality produce. With a tempting cheese counter and a warm atmosphere, this store is perfect for enjoying a cheeseboard or charcuterie platter with friends. Enjoy a glass of wine while savouring the delicious offerings from Okende Bakery.
    Visit Essen General Store Website

    Kushi-ya: Japanese Flair & Flavours

    1A Cannon Court, Long Row, Nottingham, NG1 6JE

    Kushi-ya, located in Nottingham city centre, is a laid-back Japanese restaurant specialising in kushiyaki – skewered and grilled ingredients. With a simple menu divided into ‘snacks’, ‘small plates’, ‘skewers’, and ‘desserts’, Kushi-ya offers exquisite flavour combinations and authentic Japanese cuisine. Don’t miss their incredible lunch offers and early-bird deals for a great value dining experience.
    Visit Kushi-ya Website

    We hope you enjoyed the tour. For our full guide to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire restaurants, pubs, farm shops, delis and more, click here.

  • Cambridge Restaurants: A Foodie’s Guide to the Delights of Cambridge

    Discover the culinary wonders of Cambridge as we guide you through the city’s top restaurants, cafes, and hidden gems.

    Embark on an epicurean adventure through historic streets to find the best Cambridge restaurants. You’ll experience the city’s rich culinary scene while walking in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, Isaac Newton and Sylvia Plath. GFC editor-at-large Philip Seaman shares his recommendations for some of the best food and drink experiences in Cambridge, from world-famous Chelsea buns to innovative fish dishes.

    Fitzbillies: A Sticky Sweet Start

    Starting at Cambridge train station, make your way into the centre for a coffee and world-famous Chelsea Bun at Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street. This institution is a must-visit for anyone visiting Cambridge. Walking through the town centre and not trying one of Fitzbillies’ legendary sticky Chelsea buns is almost a criminal offence! There’s plenty more on offer here too, and this bustling foodie honeypot serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea. It comprises a 70-seater waiter-service restaurant, a cake shop and a coffee bar.

    Fitzbillies was founded in 1921 by Ernest and Arthur Mason, using their ‘demob’ money from the First World War (their initials are still visible on the original art nouveau shop front in Trumpington Street). However, 90 years later, in 2011, the shop went bankrupt and closed its doors. A campaign by Stephen Fry, amongst others, followed, and food critic Tim Haywood and his wife Alison Wright stepped into the breach to breathe new life into the town landmark.

    Fitzbillies continues to bake great cakes alongside their famous Chelsea buns. It also serves excellent coffee, making this a terrific place for a quick coffee, breakfast or light lunch.

    Cambridge Cheese Company: A Cheesy Treasure Trove

    Next, try The Cambridge Cheese Company in All Saints Passage, where you’ll find 200 different kinds of cheese. This shop is festooned with old enamel signs and tucked away down a side passage off bustling Bridge Street in the heart of Cambridge. It is a treasure trove of wonderful English and Continental cheeses, charcuterie, and much more including olives and antipasti, wines and beers, chutneys and preserves.

    Opened in 1994 by Paul and Jacky Sutton-Adam, the shop is an important part of the Cambridge food scene. Paul and Jacky are certainly close to their cheese: Paul has an advanced diploma from the Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association and knows exactly how to store and mature his products.

    Friendly and knowledgeable staff are always on hand to offer advice, and tasting is positively encouraged. Indeed, the Sutton-Adams’ expertise is a big draw: no matter what your question, when it comes to cheese, they have the answer, so follow your nose and seize the cheese!

    Bread & Meat: Sophisticated Sandwich Satisfaction

    Then dip into the nearby Fitzwilliam Museum (free entry) for a dose of culture before heading off to Bene’t Street to Bread and Meat for a hot Porchetta and Salsa Verde sandwich.

    Husband-and-wife team Simon and Michelle Cheney have set out to produce honest, excellent food, and in sophisticated sandwich shop Bread & Meat, they have succeeded in spades! Boring sandwiches are not an option here.

    Take their trademark porchetta sandwich, for example – overnight-cooked outdoor-raised pork rolled with garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage and white pepper with crackling and the most vibrant green salsa verde (made in-house), encased by wonderful sourdough ciabatta. Or how about a Philly cheese steak sandwich comprising slow-cooked beef brisket, fresh unpasteurised cheese curds, roasted green pepper and onions with aioli?

    Bread & Meat also serves great coffee, wines and craft beers. And don’t forget to try their wonderfully thick shakes. You’re sure to leave with a smile on your face!

    Jack’s Gelato: Heavenly Handmade Ice Cream

    A few doors down, you can then indulge your ice cream fantasy at Jack’s Gelato, which serves a dazzling choice of ice creams that change daily.

    Jack van Praag spent many years making ice cream at home and at restaurants before starting Jack’s Gelato in 2010. At first, he served his ice cream in Cambridge from a custom-made tricycle, before setting up his own gelato parlour right in the centre of town.

    Making everything by hand in small batches, using the best organic ingredients including herbs and vegetables from Jack’s own allotment, the team serve up an ever-changing and bewildering selection of gelato and sorbets.

    You might find flavours such as Roasted Banana & Bourbon, Borage Honey, or Beetroot & Black Cumin alongside more traditional favourites like Strawberries & Cream. Sorbets are equally adventurous: think Pink Grapefruit & Tarragon, Poached Pear or Alphonso Mango.

    The Free Press: A Cosy Alehouse Retreat

    Next, take a walk across Parker’s Piece past the wonderfully restored University Arms Hotel to The Free Press in Prospect Row and time travel back to an alehouse of the 1800s for a libation.

    Tucked away down a little backstreet in Cambridge, far from all the tourists, this cosy pub is run by Megan and Thomas Stepney (Cambridge-born siblings) and always offers a warm welcome to all including your furry buddies.

    It’s a real find and offers a large array of award-winning beers and ales – sit by the cosy fire in the winter or head outside to the garden in the warmer months. The food menu changes often to reflect what’s in season and it’s always best to book in advance for lunch and dinner. Typical dishes could be ham, egg and chips; IPA beer-battered fish and chips, and broccolini and wild garlic pesto pasta. It’s all delicious and there are always options for vegetarians. Looking for a quick bite to eat? Opt for one of the Doorstep Sandwiches.

    Fin Boys: An Innovative Seafood Restaurant

    For supper, book a table at Fin Boys in Mill Road for some innovative fish dishes before making your way back to the station via Mill Road (the whole street is a foodie’s delight).

    Fins Boys is an exciting restaurant & fishmonger that champions British fish and only works with suppliers who share the same values they do. These include sustainability, knowledge and quality.

    Step inside and you’ll be amazed at what’s on offer, and the team can always recommend something new and delicious to try. If you want to sample fish at its finest, why not book into the restaurant?

    Lunch is seasonal and the menu changes depending on what’s been caught. And dinner is a tasting-style menu, typically ten courses that will really open your eyes to the versatility of fish and seafood.

    Restaurant Twenty-Two: Michelin-Starred Delights

    If you are looking for something more formal in the evening, head to the excellent Michelin-Starred Restaurant Twenty-Two.

    Owners Sam Carter and Alex Olivier took over this Cambridge stalwart in early 2018. Sam has worked at some top Michelin-star restaurants, including Maze and Hambleton Hall. He describes his style as “creative seasonal British with a twist”.

    On our visit to Restaurant Twenty-Two, Guinness bread and Guinness butter provided a good start, followed by a black truffle arancini and a confit of sea trout. A main of Norfolk chicken with peas, asparagus, burnt lettuce, baby onion and a wonderfully intense bacon jus and bacon crumb hit the spot perfectly. While a vegetarian option of celeriac, morels, black truffle and hazelnut was a picture to behold! To finish, a Yorkshire rhubarb, hibiscus and cucumber desert offered a sprinkling of light, delicate flavours.

    Parker’s Tavern: Timeless British Brasserie

    For the final stop on your Cambridge food adventure, visit Parker’s Tavern, which has been a feature of Cambridge life since 1834. Back then, it was known as a place where those travelling to London would break their journey. Today, it’s less of a stop-off and more of a destination.

    This British brasserie is, without doubt, one of the city’s most stylish dining venues and was designed by renowned designer Martin Brudnizki, while chef Tristan Welch has worked in some of the best kitchens in the world and delivers meals that will be consumed, but never forgotten.

    On the menu, you’ll find dishes such as honey and thyme slow roast Norfolk duck with bitter greens and silky creamed potatoes; spaghetti Bolognese; nut-brown buttered sole; and, for a truly special occasion – roast rib of beer cooked over coals with truffle mashed potatoes, braised shallots and sauce Bordelaise.

    Popular meat-free dishes include roasted cep and Messia mushroom tart and salt-baked beetroot hache. Dessert is a must, too, and we love the sound of ‘Ripture Rapture’ described as “an eruption of ice creams, parfaits, sauces and sweets” – a celebration pudding serving up to six people. Book at table here.

    Time to book your train ticket!

    As you can see, Cambridge offers an abundance of food and drink experiences that will satisfy any foodie’s cravings. From the legendary Chelsea buns at Fitzbillies to the diverse and ever-changing menu at Restaurant Twenty-Two, there’s something to delight everyone’s taste buds. So, why not treat yourself to an epicurean adventure in Cambridge? Walk the historic streets, soak up the rich history, and indulge in the culinary delights this beautiful city has to offer. Happy feasting.

  • Stoughton Grange Farm Shop & Distillery: Leicestershire’s Newest Food and Drink Destination

    Stoughton Grange Farm Shop & Distillery is the newest addition to Leicestershire’s food and drink scene. Bill Allingham (pictured), a veteran of the pub industry and co-founder of Steamin’ Billy brewery, is behind the project, which promises to be one of the most exciting new food and drink ventures in the region.

    The farm shop, cafe, farm park, kitchen garden, gin distillery and pub, The Cow and Plough, are all located on the Stoughton Grange estate near Oadby. In addition, the property houses other independent businesses such as Nature’s Play and Build Green.

    The farm shop, which is housed in the old milking parlour, offers a range of locally sourced produce, including meat from Fosse Meadows chicken and Launde Farm lamb, homemade pies, Hambleton Bakery bread, and vegetables grown in the kitchen garden. “I want to connect customers with local food and offer the sort of produce people enjoyed 80 years ago before supermarkets started jetting blueberries and avocados all over the world,” says Bill.

    The Cow and Plough pub, located next door to the farm shop and cafe, serves hearty pub classics and locally brewed beer. The pub is steeped in history and oozes character, making it a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.

    Stoughton Grange Park, which sits in 30 acres of park and woodland, will be developed over the coming months to provide customers with an opportunity to enjoy the natural surroundings. Customers will be able to go on woodland walks and eat picnics by the lake.

    Steamin’ Billy, the brewery founded by Bill Allingham, takes its name from his business partner’s old Jack Russell, Billy. The energetic dog would run so hard that he would come back from his adventures with steam rising from his body, inspiring the name and logo of the brewery.

    Stoughton Grange Farm shop & distillery is a must-visit destination for food and drink enthusiasts looking for locally sourced produce and a unique dining experience.

    To learn more about Stoughton Grange, visit their website: https://www.stoughtongrange.co.uk/.

  • Great Food Club Awards 2022/23 – The Winners

    The Champions

    Restaurant of the Year – full details
    Orbis, Stamford, Lincolnshire

    Pub of the Year – full details
    The Olive Branch, Clipsham, Rutland

    Food Producer of the Year – full details
    Manor Organic Farm, Long Whatton, Leicestershire

    Drink Producer of the Year – full details
    Brentingby Gin, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

    Shop of the Year – full details
    Croots Farm Shop, Duffield, Derbyshire

    Café of the Year – full details
    Rustic Deli & Kitchen, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire

    Bakery of the Year – full details
    Lily & Honey, Oakham, Rutland

    People’s Choice Award – full details
    The Vegetarian Rasoi, West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

    Food Hero of the Year – full details
    Aaron Patterson, Hambleton Hall, Rutland


    How the winners were selected
    We asked GFC’s members and readers to nominate “one independent food/drink business that has brought you the most joy over the past 12 months”. Over 6,000 online votes were cast during May and June 2022. The overall vote winner was named People’s Choice Award Champion. We then chose the shortlist using three measures:

    • Votes cast (multiple votes from individuals were discarded)
    • The popularity of social media activity during the past 12 months
    • Our own knowledge

    You can see all shortlisted businesses at the ‘full details’ links under each category listed above. Once the shortlist was created, our judges selected the winners.

    The judging process
    To make their decisions, our judges visited or tried the food & drink of every shortlisted business. They ate – anonymously where possible – at all the pubs, cafés and restaurants.

    Ineligible businesses
    Businesses that won GFC awards last year were not eligible to be shortlisted this year. Our aim is to showcase a broad range of independents and by not allowing a single business to win an award two years in a row, we go some way to achieving this aim.

    Click here to see the 2021/22 winners.

  • England’s Bread Renaissance

    Tim Hart, co-founder and owner of Hambleton Bakery, describes the rebirth of our interest in great bread…

    The industrialisation of our bread is to some extent universal and inevitable. After all, a large mechanical mixer might mix dough as well as a strong man sweating over a trough.  But the process has gone too far and here are some of the dire consequences:

    • Large industrial bakers work with industrial flour.
    • Processes designed to make bread fast produce a product that many people cannot easily digest.
    • Industrial bread-making requires additives to adapt the dough to mechanical handling, to preserve the finished packaged product, and to make bread more moist or soft or white.
    • Soft bread needs little chewing. Chewing helps digestion and makes us satisfied with less.
    • Industrial bread lacks the taste of good bread.
    Typical ingredients of industrially produced bread

    These issues have led to a backlash that reminds me of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which has promoted alternatives to industrial beer since 1971.

    The results of consumer dissatisfaction are all around us. At the most basic level, there is a boom in home breadmaking which can produce a fresher imitation of the industrial product (if the wrong ingredients and processes are used) or a superlative handmade loaf.  Small producers have sprung up in many regions often making and selling a handful of loaves on a market stall.  The Poilane Bakery, originally based in the Rue Cherche-Midi in Paris, makes a large rye sourdough that is now available in some supermarkets around the UK and from Ocado.

    Hambleton Bakery sourdough

    London has a proliferation of shops and market operators offering bread that’s superior to standard supermarket products, and Gail’s, with some 79 outlets, is fast rolling out its formula of bread cakes and savouries of a good standard.

    Perhaps the most visible sign of changing fashion has been attempts by the supermarkets to stock sourdough and other artisanal bread. It’s quite a challenge for them! They are used to selling long shelf life products sold in packaged form and their suppliers are used to processes that are unfriendly to the living doughs that make the best bread. ‘Sour-faux’ is an accurate description of some of the loaves which look like artisan sourdough but share none of the characteristics of the real thing.

    Since we founded Hambleton Bakery in 2008, Julian Carter and I have stuck to some basic principles. “No additives” has been part of our philosophy from the start and there is no temptation to waver. Flour, water, salt and yeast are the basic ingredients needed for good bread.

    “Slow fermentation” is possibly our most important watchword, and we have used slow fermentations not only for our sourdoughs but for tin loaves as well. The results are illustrated by customers who tell us they can eat our bread but cannot digest a standard supermarket loaf. Slow fermentation does not just benefit those with sensitive digestions. It is slow fermentation that helps develop flavour and texture.

    The search for the perfect flour for each loaf will always be a work in progress but we are proud of the local flours we buy from the Boston windmill and Whissendine windmill and the rye from Whatton Farm as well as some great flour from France and Italy where needed to add qualities not found in homegrown grain.

    Hambleton Bakery’s new bakery in Stretton, Rutland

    Our new bakery on the A1 at Stretton will help us in many ways to deliver better bread to more customers. Mixers are larger, dough development is subject to better temperature control, ovens have greater capacity and produce a better crust and more even bake, and dividers weigh the loaves without spoiling the dough.  All of the above have been chosen with the primacy of the recipe in mind. The machine has to suit our recipe and not vice versa.

    With bread, localism really is an advantage. We deliver only within an hour’s drive from the bakery, so our bread is eaten generally within a few miles of its birthplace.

    Hambleton Bakery co-founders Julian Carter (left) and Tim Hart
  • Why British charcuterie was once an everyday food

    By Martin Miller of Loxley’s Larder – producer of charcuterie in the heart of rural Nottinghamshire

    People think we have no tradition of making charcuterie in Britain, but in reality, it was once commonplace. Just about every rural household kept a pig, which represented a lot of meat when it was slaughtered. With no refrigeration or way of keeping meat fresh for more than a couple of weeks, preserving was vital for any rural family who didn’t want to starve over the winter. This meant salting the meat to create bacon and ham as we know them today. However, salting would still only keep the meat edible for a few extra weeks – more was needed to keep farmers going.

    “Hams were huge, salted things that would be hung from the kitchen ceiling, and pieces would be cut off and cooked as needed.”

    Hams were huge, salted things that would be hung from the kitchen ceiling, and pieces would be cut off and cooked as needed. As time went by, the meat would become drier and drier and it is reasonable to assume the household would discover that thin slivers shaved off this dried ham were super tasty. They would also have discovered that adding extra salt to sausages would prevent them from spoiling and in due course, they produced the equivalent of salami.

    Furthermore, we know that the Romans had a version of salami and air-dried hams. It is inconceivable that in the 367 years they occupied England, that knowledge did not get passed on. Also, salt pork and beef was an important part of the sailors’ diet in Nelson’s navy – they fed them at sea for many months. This seafarers’ grub was probably not of the greatest quality but it was charcuterie nevertheless.

    “Many rural traditions were lost in the UK, one being the art of charcuterie making.”

    So what happened? Why did this tradition of charcuterie-making disappear? The industrial revolution came about very quickly and people moved in large numbers from the countryside into towns to work at the factories. A consequence is that the many rural traditions were lost in the UK, one being the art of charcuterie making.

    In recent years this tradition has been revived by small charcuterie producers around the country. British Charcuterie Live has been created to promote British charcuterie through training and annual awards and make it as good as any in the world.

    My business Loxley’s Larder is at the vanguard of this group of charcuterie producers. We are producing our own interpretation of continental charcuterie using high-quality outdoor-reared pork, beef and wild venison.

    To find out more and book yourself onto one of Martin’s new charcuterie-making courses, click here.

    Martin Miller
  • Hambleton Hall’s incredible family tree

    In February 2022, Hambleton Hall near Oakham in Rutland was awarded a Michelin star for the 40th consecutive year – the longest-retained Michelin star in Britain. This is an outstanding achievement. But perhaps more remarkable is Hambleton Hall’s unique talent for finding, developing and unleashing talent.

    Hambleton Hall’s founder & owner, Tim Hart

    Visionary owner Tim Hart, who acquired Hambleton Hall in 1979, and Aaron Patterson, head chef since 1992, have an uncanny knack for launching the careers of brilliant chefs and hospitality pros. Indeed, the Hart – and latterly Patterson – golden touch is so prolific that it’s easy to compile a list of outstanding alumni:

    Aaron Patterson, head chef since 1992

    Nick Gill – Hambleton Hall’s first head chef was hired by Tim Hart in 1980 and stayed for five years. Nick, brother of the late restaurant critic AA Gill, kicked it all off by winning the Michelin star that Hambleton has retained ever since.

    Hambleton Hall’s first head chef, Nick Gill (centre)

    Fiona Cairns – Nick Gill’s pastry chef at Hambleton. Fiona now runs Fiona Cairns Cakes, established in 1992, and she created Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding cake.

    Fiona Cairns with Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding cake

    Gareth Ward – Hambleton Hall for four years. Now head chef & co-owner of Ynyshir near Aberystwyth, Wales – 2 Michelin stars, 5 AA rosettes.

    Gareth Ward, head chef & co-owner of Ynyshir

    Adam Stokes – Hambleton Hall for six years. How owner of Adams in Birmingham, 1 Michelin star.

    Chris Ansell – Joined Hambleton Hall right at the start in the summer of 1980, working with Nick Gill when it first won a Michelin Star. Chris, after stints at top places including Langar Hall and The Olive Branch, is now back in the Hambleton Hall kitchen, working alongside Aaron Patterson.

    Ben Jones – Hambleton Hall for seven years (front of house). Went on to buy The Olive Branch in Clipsham, which he directs and co-owns. The Olive Branch has been named UK Pub of the Year twice by the Good Pub Guide and is the current GQ Pub of the Year.

    Ben Jones, co-owner of The Olive Branch

    Sean Hope – Hambleton Hall for seven years. Opened The Olive Branch with Ben Jones, where he won a Michelin star.

    Matt Weedon – Hambleton Hall for four years. Now head chef at Ellenborough Park in Cheltenham and previously won a Michelin star at Glenapp Castle, Ayrshire.

    James ‘Jocky’ Petrie – Hambleton Hall for three years. Went on to become Heston Blumenthal’s development chef at The Fat Duck. Now working for Gordon Ramsay in the same role.

    James Petrie

    Julian Carter – Hambleton Hall for several years. Now head baker and co-founder, Hambleton Bakery in Rutland, which was named UK Bakery of the Year by ITV.

    Sam Carter – Hambleton Hall for two years. Now head chef and co-owner of the highly-rated Restaurant 22, Cambridge.

    Neil Hitchen – Hambleton Hall for four years. Now runs Hitchen’s Barn in Oakham (Michelin Bib Gourmand).

    Mark Gough – Hambleton Hall for several years. Now head chef at The Finch’s Arms, Hambleton.

    Peter Templehoff – Junior sous chef for 18 months at Hambleton Hall under Aaron Patterson. Now founder and managing director at FYN restaurant, Cape Town.

    Peter Templehoff

    Alan Gleeson – Hambleton Hall for four years. Then worked at the Lucky Onion and now at The Harcourt Arms, Oxfordshire.

    Chris Denney – Hambleton Hall for five years. Opened 108 The Garage in Notting Hill to rave reviews. Now runs Fiend restaurant, also in Notting Hill.

    Beverley Dunkley – Hambleton Hall for several years. Now runs The Chocolate Academy at Barry Callebaut in Birmingham.

    Mark Southon – Hambleton Hall for three years. Moved to Australia and worked at Vue de Monde (formerly Australia’s top restaurant for two years running). Now resident chef for New Zealand morning TV Show, The Café and executive chef at O’Connell St Bistro in Auckland.

    Phil Britten – sous chef at Hambleton Hall when it first won a Michelin Star. Now runs his own cookery school at Wotton Underwood near Oxford.

    There are many more besides and apologies to those missing from the list. In addition, there are other, more indirect ripples of success, which once set in motion from Hambleton Hall, continue to flow outward. There’s not enough room here to list all the talented chefs who learned their trade under Hambleton Hall-trained chefs, but this trio provides a good example – each earned their stripes in Sean Hope’s Olive Branch kitchen:

    Frazer King – head chef and owner of The Red Lion, West Deeping.

    Dan Smith – head chef at The Exeter Arms, Easton on the Hill.

    Jamie Knowles – head chef at The Boot Inn, South Luffenham.

    So, congratulations to Tim, Aaron and the current team, and three cheers for Hambleton Hall and all who’ve sailed in her and will sail in her! May this Rutland legend continue to cast its magnificent shadow across the culinary world for years to come.

    Thanks to Tim Hart, Aaron Patterson, Chris Ansell and Elior Pritchard for their help with creating this article.

  • Share your East Mids tips & win a £50 meal

    We want your East Midlands recommendations – your favourite restaurants, most-treasured pubs, dearest delis and choicest cafes. What’s more, we’re going to bribe you for your intel! Each month, there’s a £50 meal-out up for grabs. Scroll down past the gallery to enter. After you’ve entered, please vote for your favourites below by clicking the ❤️ symbols.

    Send your tips and enter the monthly competition via the form below – please include a food pic, venue pic or selfie taken in the place you’re recommending. We’ll share your recommendations on social media (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) and they will also help us to choose the next Great Food Awards Shortlist. We’ll announce the winner here and on social media on the last day of every month.

  • How to make Colwick cheese

    Colwick is a soft, fresh cheese from Colwick in Notts. It hadn’t been made commercially for decades but was suddenly reborn in 2014 when Belvoir Ridge Creamery of Eastwell, Leics revived it. Soon after, Jamie Oliver championed it on the telly. But in 2018, when Jane and Alan from Belvoir Ridge Creamery retired, Colwick production ceased.

    However, thanks to this recipe from Rennet & Rind (which students make on Rennet & Rind’s excellent Academy of Cheese course), you can make Colwick at home.

    Perry, one of the tutors on Rennet & Rind’s Academy of Cheese course.

    Perry from Rennet & Rind says: “Making Colwick is a simple enough method, involving the ladling of uncut curd into a cloth-lined mould. The cloth, folded over as the curd drains, produces an unusual concave centre in the cheese. Colwick is intended to be eaten fresh, but historically it was sometimes ripened for a few days in a warm room, allowing yeast to grow on the surface. The cheese has a satisfying acidic, curdy quality and a clean mild flavour.”

    Here’s the recipe.

    • Fresh pasteurised whole cow’s milk – 700ml
    • Starter culture Flora Danica – 1gm (1/3d of tsp)
    • Rennet – 1 drop (0.2ml)
    • Salt – pinch

    Induction hob
    Wooden spoon
    Plastic bowl
    Cheese mould

    Coagulation time: 2 hours
    Draining time: 13-25 hours

    1: Pour the milk into the pan and gently warm to 35-38 °C, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
    2: Take off the heat and add the starter culture to the milk and stir. Leave to stand for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to stop the cream from rising to the surface.
    3: Add the rennet and stir thoroughly for 1 minute.
    4: Leave the curd, undisturbed, for 1 hour. The first signs of coagulation should be noticeable after about 10 minutes, however the curd should be left to harden for 50 minutes more.
    5: Line the colander with the cheesecloth.
    6: After 1 hour, ladle the uncut curd, one scoopful at a time, into the cloth-lined colander.
    7: Leave to drain in a warm room of at least 21°C for 1 hour, after which time the curds should have shrunk in the colander.
    8: Fold in the edges of the cheesecloth to release any curd that may be stuck to it and gather together three of the corners of the cheesecloth in one hand, taking care not to damage the curd, and tuck the fourth corner underneath the loop that is formed. This is called a ‘Stilton Knot’. Pull the knot tight to secure the bundle of curd.
    9: Continue to drain the cheese for 12-24 hours. Do not turn them during drainage. The knot can be re-tied taking care not to damage the soft cheese, however, don’t re-tie too often as this can result in a dry cheese.
    10: Test the pH periodically during the drainage time; it should be below 5.00 when the Colwick is unmoulded.
    11: Sprinkle the salt evenly over the surface.

    Eat and enjoy!

  • Recipe: Spiced Pear & Blue Cheese Soup by Paul Watters

    As we move into the colder months, a bowl of hot soup is the perfect lunch or supper. This recipe combines the sweetness of pear with the delicious tanginess of blue cheese. Paul Watters has more than 30 years’ experience in the culinary industry and has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens in the world.

    75g blue Stilton (rind removed) 
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 x 415g tinned pears
    3 potatoes, peeled, rinsed and cubed
    1 onion, diced
    1 carrot, diced
    1 stalk celery, chopped
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1 litre vegetable/chicken stock
    1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
    1/8 teaspoon cumin
    1 teaspoon curry powder
    1/8 teaspoon dried coriander
    Salt and white pepper to taste
    1/4 cup double cream

    1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan.
    2. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic.
    3. Add the potatoes and spices. Mix well until evenly coated and warmed through.
    4. Take one tin of pears and chop the contents. Add to the pan with the juice. Stir.
    5. Add in stock and cook on a simmer for approx 30 minutes.
    6. Blend with a hand blender until smooth, add cream then season with salt and pepper.
    7. Open the other tin of pears, add the juice to the soup and slice the remaining pears for garnish.
    8. Crumble in the blue cheese and whisk through until it is dissolved.
    9. Transfer soup to heated bowls and place sliced pears on top. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and a drizzle of cream if required.
    10. Serve with warmed bread or croutons.

  • Why are you always so damn positive about places?

    It’s a good question, so we thought we’d try to answer it. Here goes…

    When we have a negative experience at a pub, restaurant or food shop (and we quite often do) we don’t mention it publicly. Instead, we ignore it, move on and do not add it to our recommended network.

    We don’t write about negative experiences for two reasons: first, we don’t want to damage businesses, no matter how disappointing we find them. Second, our time is limited, so we want to spend it writing about the many excellent independent businesses that are out there.

    GFC’s lack of negative reviews does not equate to a lack of critical judgement, or to financial agreements where a business pays us to write nice stuff. Instead, it’s a conscious decision to be positive. And to be clear, no business pays us to receive a positive review. You can’t buy a Great Food Club recommendation – they’re simply not for sale.

    Our criteria are as follows: We only write about businesses that are:

    1) Independent.

    2) Somewhere we’d recommend to a friend.

    3) In the East Midlands.

    We also occasionally remove places from our network if they fall outside our criteria.

    You can find who we recommend here.

  • Great Food Club Awards 2021/22 – The Winners

    The Champions

    Restaurant of the Year – full details
    The Factory Kitchen, Ilkeston, Derbyshire

    Producer of the Year – full details
    Mill Farm, Manthorpe, Lincolnshire

    Shop of the Yearfull details
    The Tiny Bakery, Leicester

    Café of the Yearfull details
    Six Hills Café, Bakery & Pizzeria, Six Hills, Leicestershire

    Street Food Producer of the Year – full details
    Chez Sebastien Artisan Pizza, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

    Food Hero of the Yearfull details
    JB Kitchen, Thurcaston, Leicestershire

    Caterer of the Yearfull details
    Stanley Street, Barnwell, Northamptonshire

    Important information

    How the winners were selected
    We asked GFC’s members and readers to nominate “one independent food/drink business that has brought you most joy over the past 12 months”. Over 5,500 online votes were cast between July 1 and July 31, 2021. The top four vote winners in each category made the shortlist. Multiple votes from individuals were discarded. You can see all shortlisted businesses at the ‘full details’ links under each category listed above.

    Once the shortlist had been created by analysing the public vote, our judges selected the winners.

    The judging process
    To make their decisions, our judges visited or tried the food & drink of every shortlisted business. They ate – anonymously where possible – at all the pubs, cafés and restaurants.

    Ineligible businesses
    Businesses that won GFC awards last year were not eligible to be shortlisted this year. Our aim is to showcase a broad range of independents and by not allowing a single business to win an award two years in a row, we go some way to achieving this aim.

    Click here to see the 2020/21 winners.

  • Chef Q&A: Jacob Robinson, Head Chef at The Factory Kitchen, Ilkeston

    Jacob Robinson has worked with some of the best chefs in the business and his favourite ingredient is a rather surprising one. We managed to catch him for a quick chat…

    Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a chef?
    “I studied Professional Cookery NVQ levels 1 and 2 at Derby College after I’d left school. During the second year at college, I started working part-time at the weekends at the Dovecote Restaurant at Morley Hayes as a Commis Chef. At the end of my second year at college, I began to work full-time at the Dovecote. Around six months later, I completed my level 3 apprenticeship. A further six months later, I was promoted to Chef de Partie.

    A year or so later, I accepted a job offer to join the team at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant in London before heading to Corrigan’s in Mayfair. Then it was back to the Dovecote as Sous Chef for three years, before starting as Head Chef at The Factory Kitchen in October 2019.”

    What is your earliest childhood food memory?
    “My earliest memories are of Christmas and all the food associated with it. That real palpable energy and tension coming from the kitchen really resonated with me. My family started the day with bacon and sausage cobs, then the main event would always be prawn cocktail starter, or a tin of game soup for me and my twin brother, Thomas. I wouldn’t dream of eating that now!

    Then it was, of course, turkey with all the trimmings, then finally a flambéed Christmas pudding. Mum was always mega stressed – there was never enough room on the table. I remember the smell of the crackers being pulled, the posh dinner rolls we only had once a year, and everyone dressed in their new clothes.”

    What is your favourite dish to cook for friends and family?
    “My girlfriend bought me a pizza oven last year for my birthday. Lockdown proved to be the perfect opportunity to get to grips with it. I love the theatre and suspense of cooking pizzas outside, and trying to get the perfect pizza is something I’m enjoying doing. Pizza always goes down well with crowds of people and it’s always a talking point.”

    Who influenced your cooking most?
    “My former head chef and friend Nigel Stuart. He taught me that ultimately, food is to be eaten and enjoyed. Sounds obvious – but I think a lot of chefs these days try too hard and don’t think enough about what the customer actually wants. Nigel constantly reminded me of that and it’s something I always think about now.”

    Is there a chef you admire most?
    “There’s three! Richard Corrigan – he’s an absolutely fantastic man to work for and I loved my time there. He just loves food and hospitality and it’s so infectious. James Cross – chef and owner of Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside. One of the very few restaurants my girlfriend and I constantly return to. He’s a stellar cook, businessman and leader, and having witnessed this first hand having done a stage there a few years ago, my admiration for him is unwavering. Sabrina Ghayour – I have all her cookbooks and can’t get enough of them, the food is simple and utterly delicious.”

    What is your favourite ingredient and why?
    “Difficult question so I’m just going to have to go with what has come in to my head first, and that would have to be preserved lemon. The depth of flavour, acidity and savoury saltiness they give to all manner of dishes including desserts are hard to replicate.” 

    Do you have a favourite cuisine?
    “Persian/Iranian. Simple, honest, balanced, interesting and utterly delicious.” 

    Do you have a favourite restaurant?
    “Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside.”

    Jacob’s dishes are always beautifully presented

    Food on a Plate or Slate?
    “Easy – plate. Slates look great for canapés and things like that, but using a knife and fork on a slate goes right through me.”

    Marmite, love or hate?
    “Again, easy. I hate it – incredibly salty.”

    What would your last meal be?
    “If we’re talking from a purely gastronomic perspective, I’d have to go for turbot, roasted on the bone over fire, with baby artichokes, daft amounts of black truffle, and a sauce I learned to make when I was at Corrigan’s – with Jerusalem artichokes and Sauternes wine. But to be brutally honest, for my last meal I’d swap any food on the planet for a roast dinner with my family. A meal is so much more than just the food.”

  • Chef Q&A: Marcel Acostoaie, Private Chef

    Experienced chef Marcel Acostoaie believes in a farm-to-table approach and likes to keep things simple. We caught up with him for a quick chat…

    What is your earliest childhood food memory?
    “Trying not to burn the house down cooking a seven-egg omelette when I was about five!”

    What is your favourite dish to cook for friends and family?
    “A Tom Yum soup with nice fat juicy king prawns.”

    Who influenced your cooking most?
    “I was raised in a family where home cooking was a big thing. Everyone in my family is a great cook so I guess it’s in the blood. I really look up to my uncle; he was a head chef at a mountain resort reserved for top military officers in Romania.”

    Is there a chef you admire most?
    “It would be a mistake not to admire more than one. There are a plethora of great chefs out there and I am trying to pay attention and learn a little from as many as I can.”

    What is your favourite ingredient and why?
    “Salt and pepper – or in a word, seasoning! As a chef, that’s probably the first two ingredients you learn how to use properly and, how important they are in almost every single dish or cooking process. Try cooking without either of the two and the dish, no matter how good looking or expensive it is, will definitely be incomplete. We even add salt or pepper to some desserts as it acts as a flavour enhancer and adds aromatics. These are the “cannot do without” ingredients in every chef’s life. Humble but versatile.”

    Fresh pasta in the making

    Do you have a favourite cuisine?
    “I am more and more attracted by Asian cuisine and its freshness at the moment. Since I started my private chef business I have seen a huge demand for Asian-themed menus from my customers.”

    Do you have a favourite restaurant?
    “Every restaurant that I can learn something from, by trying their food, is my favourite restaurant. I love the hidden little gems; those places that you find on your holiday somewhere and remember for the rest of your life.”

    Food on a Plate or Slate?

    Marmite, love or hate?
    “I love it occasionally but won’t use it in cooking.”

    What would your last meal be?
    “A proper Greek salad! I am easy to please. Organic tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onion, barrel-aged feta, Kalamata olives, extra virgin olive oil, plenty of oregano – and preferably served on a Mediterranean beach.”