The Great Food Club Awards 2018/19: Final Results

Judging the finalists in the Great Food Club Awards 2018/19 has been as rewarding as it has been fascinating and enjoyable. Our judges have eaten – anonymously – at every pub, cafe and restaurant on the shortlist. We’ve also chatted to each of the producers and shop owners, trying our hardest to get under the skins of their businesses. And we’ve absolutely loved hearing their stories. Everyone on the shortlist – without exception – has been on an incredible journey. These entrepreneurs, chefs and passionate food lovers have all taken a courageous path – to run their own independent food and drink business and to do it with pride. We congratulate each one. They should all be immensely proud.

However, there can only be one winner in each category. Our judges were editor-at-large Philip Seaman, experienced restaurant critic and GFC Leicestershire editor Tim Burke, GFC founder Matt Wright, and butchery & charcuterie expert (and School of Artisan Food tutor) Rich Summers. Each judge was assigned a category or in some cases more than one category. We then visited every business and used a carefully constructed scoring system (a different one for each category) to choose the winners.

We should mention how the shortlist was created. Over the summer of 2018 we asked the public – mainly Great Food Club members – to nominate “one independent food/drink business that has brought them most joy over the past 12 months”. Over 1,300 online votes were cast. The top three vote winners in each category made the shortlist – four where there was a tie between third and fourth. Multiple votes from individuals were discarded.

Read on to see the winners…

The Shortlisted Businesses

Food Producer Category
Redhill Farm Free Range Pork
Nene View Dairy
Fosse Meadows Farm

Drink Producer Category
British Cassis
Rothley Wine
Wharf Distillery

Deli / Liquid Deli Category
Christopher James Deli
Duncan Murray Wines
Bulwick Village Shop

Pub / Casual Dining Category
The Wheatsheaf at Greetham
The Olive Branch

Restaurant / Fine Dining Category
The Hammer & Pincers
Hart’s Restaurant
John’s House

Café / Tearoom Category
Gelato Village
Petite Chouette 

Farm Shop Category
Farndon Fields Farm Shop
Gonalston Farm Shop
Harker’s Farm Shop

Bakery Category
The Bakehouse
The Garage Bakehouse
Hambleton Bakery
Rutland Cake Co

Special Community Award Category
The Platform Kiosk, Toton Tram Stop
The Good Loaf
Lodge Trust Cafe & Shop

The winners…

Food Producer of the Year
Redhill Farm Free Range Pork

Farm Shop of the Year
Harker’s Farm Shop

Pub of the Year
The Olive Branch

Restaurant of the Year
John’s House

Bakery of the Year
The Garage Bakehouse

Deli of the Year
Christopher James Deli

Cafe/Tearoom of the Year

Drink Producer of the Year
Wharf Distillery

Special Community Award
The Good Loaf

Judges’ comments & scores for winners and shortlisted businesses…

Food Producer Category

Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire
The words “integrity” and “food production” are unfortunately seldom put together. Redhill Farm Free Range Pork founders and owners Jane and Terry Tomlinson, however, personify integrity. For the past 20 years they have based their whole ethos around very high levels of animal welfare. And this leads to fabulously good pork products. As anyone visiting Redhill Farm will testify, its fine, sandy Lincolnshire soil next to a woodland edge provides the ideal environment for free-range pigs. Not only that, the farm displays full transparency, which leaves customers in no doubt that they are buying the very highest quality pork.

Jane and Terry Tomlinson

At the production facility on the farm, the team produces pork delicacies such as dry-cured bacons and gammons, sausages, hams, regional classics such as Lincolnshire haslet and, of course, their famous pork pies, which are a favourite of Jamie Oliver and James Martin and can be enjoyed at Lord’s Cricket Ground, Wimbledon and Silverstone to name just a few places.

Not a company to rests on its laurels, Jane and Terry are constantly looking to move the business forward, recently expanding their own beef herd of British Blues and Herefords, along with some fantastic lamb. All their produce is available to buy not only at the farm shop on the farm but online, at the usual farmers’ markets (many of which Jane was instrumental in setting up) and at Redhill Farm’s Lincoln shop near the cathedral – ‘Redhill Farm Shop in the Bail’.

James Martin at Redhill Farm

It’s important to mention the reasonable price point of all the produce. This is intended to make high quality food more accessible. It is refreshing to see a producer putting animal welfare, food quality and people before profit.
Photos: Redhill Farm Facebook page & Great Food Club
Total score: 64/70

Fosse Meadows Farm, North Kilworth, Leicestershire
Fosse Meadows Farm is set in an area known for having some of the best pastureland in the East Midlands. When you visit you can begin to understand how Fosse Meadows are able to produce the most flavoursome, wholesome textured, succulent poultry we have ever eaten. Little wonder Nick & Jacob’s produce is the toast of so many well-respected chefs.

The approach is simple but rarely seen in these days of mass-produced, factory-farmed poultry. All Nick and Jacob’s birds are specifically sourced from naturally slower-growing breeds. This results in an animal with a much greater protein-to-water ratio in the muscle cell, which in turn delivers a more concentrated flavour. This flavour is further improved by nurturing the chickens to 81 days old before taking them to the abattoir (a full 11 days longer than the next best free-range chicken on the market).

The attention to detail of breed selection is particularly impressive, with traditional French varieties chosen for their slow-growing properties and fantastic flavour. These birds are nothing like the commercial breeds seen all over the country. They are more elegant, slightly taller, rangier and with a more elongated breast.

Jacob Sykes (left) and Nick Ball, founders and owners of Fosse Meadows Farm

All the poultry reared here benefits from a locally sourced, additive-free corn-based diet alongside the wonderful array of natural herbs and flora in the lush meadows near North Kilworth. They are housed overnight in roomy, mobile sheds that are accessible throughout the day.

Fosse Meadows chicken is unlike any chicken we have tasted. It has an intense chicken flavour – delicate, mildly gamey – combined with a fillet steak-like softness and succulent moisture. Mind blowing! The taste of that one product alone justified Fosse Meadows being shortlisted for Producer of the Year – but Nick & Jacob also produce duck, goose, turkey, a range of patés, rillettes, pies, sauces, gravies, stuffings, pies and goose fat. It’s not hard to see why Fosse Meadows is going from strength to strength.
Photos: Fosse Meadows Facebook page
Total score: 62/70

Neneview Dairy, Stanwick, Northamptonshire
On arriving at this small dairy farm in the lovely Nene Valley, the first thing we noticed were very happy goats. Upon closer inspection it was clear they were in fabulous condition: a great first indicator of high-quality produce. The Neneview Dairy yard is immaculate and the fitness of the goats superb. Happy animals produce great healthy products. The goats here not only benefit from high quality, additive free, locally sourced feed but also from the farm’s own natural water supply. This results in the finest quality goats’ milk.

In the parlour after milking, the milk is pH tested before being pasturised on site and sent to the cheese vats for the separation of the curds. It is then placed into moulds and transferred to the temperature- and humidity-controlled maturation room until the cheeses are ready to be cut and packed.

We were impressed by the attention to detail of every element of the production process, which results in a consistent, professionally produced product that still retains its artisan values. The care taken to develop each of the 15 varieties of goats’ cheese (some have taken Gold in the World Cheese Awards) is testament to the passion and hard work put in over the past eight years by owners Christine and Geoff Twell and the whole team.

During our cheese tasting session, the subtle flavour combinations of each variety was a revelation. Different flavours hit in small waves and the texture was perfect. No Neneview cheese we tried had that overpowering goaty flavour associated with inferior goats’ cheeses. Our favourite? Phipps Firkin – made with real ale. The beer is not just used to wash the rind but worked into the curds during the making.
Photos: Newview Dairy Facebook page & Great Food Club
Total score: 63/70

Farm Shop Category

Harker’s Farm Shop, Clipston on the Wolds, Nottinghamshire
The Harker family have been selling produce directly to the public for more than 50 years. Situated at the end of a country lane, surrounded by pastureland, there can be no mistake that you are at a proper farm shop. Inside we found a friendly atmosphere and a well stocked fruit and veg section, most sourced from just three miles away. The reasonably priced beef, pork and lamb in the expertly displayed butcher’s counter is produced by the Harker family on the farm. Impressively, the lamb travels 1.5 miles to the local abattoir to be slaughtered. All Harker’s livestock is fed on grass and forage produced on the farm or by neighbouring farms – one of the reasons the cattle we visited on the farm looked in such great condition.

There is an impressive cheese and deli section, along with breads and pastries baked three miles away. You can also buy locally produced craft beers, ciders, chutneys and preserves. The freezer section showcases pies, ready-meals and speciality sausages, bolstered by local game and venison, not to mentioned Harker’s home-reared Christmas turkeys.

Without passing trade, it is important that a remote rural shop like this becomes a destination. The addition of a small petting farm and play area helps to attract young families, while the coffee machine provides an extra pull. With a planned expansion to include a modest on-site café, it’s great to see the continuing success of Harker’s Farm Shop.
Photos: Great Food Club.
Total score: 61/70

Farndon Fields Farm Shop, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Many people will be familiar with Farndon Fields Farm Shop. It offers lots of great quality own-farm and locally sourced produce. It also uses plenty of own-farm produce and locally sourced ingredients for dishes prepared in the restaurant kitchen and for its own savoury pies, pastries and cooked meats. The same is true for Farndon Fields’ sweet treats, cakes and pastries.

We visited a week after a refit of the butchery and deli sections. The former is a state-of-the-art counter with a stunning-looking dry-ageing unit designed to mature meat to perfection. The meat section is immaculate, with the feel of a high-end London butcher. It displays a fantastic array of provenance-rich, locally sourced livestock, plus lots of pre-packaged items perfect for shoppers with little time or more familiar with supermarkets.

The fruit and vegetable section has always been strong at Farndon Fields, which is not surprising as this is the farm’s major business. It is spectacular and a real celebration of locally grown fare, with a large majority produced on the farm. The bread and baked section is also thoughtfully displayed and, again, sourced from very high quality local bakers.

Farndon Fields Farm Shop has a high-end feel to the whole store, but with a price point to suit most shoppers.
Photos: Farndon Fields’ Facebook page.
Total score: 54/70

Gonalston Farm Shop
We visited Gonalston a few days after a major refit, which has given it a completely new layout, along with a new business relationship with the supermarket chain Budgens. The sprawling deli and cheese counters have gone in favour of a more compact, efficient display, servery and fish counter. The fresh fruit and vegetable section is as strong as ever, with plenty of locally sourced produce – but the addition of a large frozen section with state-of-the art self-service freezers means there is now a superb choice of frozen fruit and veg. This makes the new format Gonalston Farm Shop more of a one-stop shop, giving customers a better reason to ignore the less ethical supermarkets and support local.

Regular customers will be glad to hear they can still enjoy the high-provenance, great quality Gonalston Farm-produced and locally sourced meat from the butchery section, with the addition of some innovative new products packed on site. These include convenience meals designed for customers with less time, meaning they can enjoy locally-sourced food combined with supermarket style convenience.

Bread from Hambleton Bakery is still available alongside major label breads, echoing the introduction of a more affordable range of products throughout the store. These include tinned goods, groceries, and kitchen-cupboard staples, plus washing-up liquid, washing powder, toilet rolls, etc.

Combine all this with longer opening hours and Gonalston Farm Shop is now a place where you do a full week’s shop without having to visit the likes of Tesco or Asda.
Photos: Gonalston Farm Shop
Total score: 54/70

Restaurant Category

Hart’s Restaurant, Nottingham
This stylish Nottingham restaurant – now 20 years old – continues to please with dishes of quality in modern surroundings.

On our judging lunch, we chose from the daily set menu, priced at two courses for £22 and three for £28. To start we had a ham hock ballotine followed by ribeye pork with colcannon and creamed cabbage, plus roast cod with mushrooms, shallot purée and pickled onions, followed by a desert of poached plums with amaretto ice cream. All the dishes were well cooked and beautifully presented, making the most of the simple, striking combinations. The service was professional and skilful.

Hart’s has become a Nottingham institution – as reliable as it is enjoyable – and our visit showed exactly why. Here’s to the next 20 years!
Photos: Great Food Club & Hart’s
Overall score: 86/110

Lilu, Leicester
This enthusiastic team are engaged in bringing an Indian fine dining experience to one of the UK’s Curry Capitals. On our visit we pre-booked a thali meal – something Lilu trialled earlier in the year. The idea of the dish is to present a variety of flavours such as sweet, bitter, sour and spicy all on one plate.

Each component is prepared individually and served on a traditional round metal platter. I think ours had 10 different items. Our favourite dish was the little lamb biryani made with extra long 1121 basmati rice, studded with pomegranate and served with a naan lid.

The staff at Lilu are full of enthusiasm and knowledgeable about the food they serve, which makes for a pleasurable experience.
Photos: Great Food Club
Overall score: 76/110

The Hammer & Pincers, Wymeswold, Leicestershire
At the Hammer & Pincers we enjoyed a memorable early supper and were very impressed with the cooking, particularly the use of local ingredients. These were listed in the restaurant as “Our Local Food Heroes” and ranged from local allotment holders to nearby Brooksby Estate for pigeon, rabbit, mallard and muntjac.

The goats’ cheese soufflé was excellent but the star was the roast pigeon breast with brown butter, roast celeriac and lovage puree, accompanied by a superb side dish of garlic sauteed girolles mushrooms and summer bean cassoulet.

There is an awful lot to like here and the prices represent real value for money considering the standard of cooking and quality of the ingredients.
Photos: Great Food Club
Overall score: 94/110

John’s House, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire
This is a very special place! Located on the owner’s family farm, Stonehurst Farm, we love the farm-to-fork concept. This is augmented by foraged ingredients such as Hen of the Wood mushrooms and Meadowsweet (a herb). We went for lunch and had three courses for £30, which represents a steal in a Michelin Star restaurant.

To start we enjoyed heritage tomatoes with almond gazpacho; plus lightly smoked salmon with oyster and horseradish. Our mains consisted of pork belly with sweetcorn, Hen of the Wood and gremolata, alongside hake, wasabi, crispy chicken skin, brassicas and brown crab.

We finished with poached peaches, meringue, raspberry and anise hyssop; plus cherries, meadowsweet, liquorice and almond and sweet cheese. Every so often, one experiences an outstanding meal that sticks in the memory. Our experience at John’s House will surely be one of those!
Photos: Great Food Club
Overall score: 104/110

Pub/Casual Dining Category

Dickies Farm Dining, Plungar, Leicestershire
Dickies Farm Dining is a great example of farmers thinking outside the box to make their enterprise work and to live out their values. Committed to getting great local produce directly to consumers, Dickies started off by installing an artisan butchery on their farm in 2016, selling the best of their own and other local meats. The success of that led to the idea of a restaurant. After spending one summer serving up highly regarded brunches to growing crowds under canvas, they built a shed which could host indoor dining all year round.

Inside Dickies’ Cow Shed

Now ‘The Cowshed’ offers weekend brunches and evening events including Thursday tapas nights and a Friday steak club when you can pick your own 42-day aged steak from the butchery and get it cooked just how you want. On Saturdays, Farm Dining nights offer a three-choice menu of creative meat, fish and vegetable dishes. Sunday roasts are also on offer. Steaks and meats are the big draw here and the quality is exceptional.

The Cowshed itself – apparently put up in just six weeks from scavenged materials – is cosy, rustic and characterful. It may not yet have the slickness of a well-established restaurant, but Dickies has a great concept and provides a superb way to celebrate fine produce.
Photos: Great Food Club
Overall score: 76/110

The Olive Branch, Clipsham, Rutland
The Olive Branch is a dreamy country pub that combines appealing informality with high standards and excellent attention to detail. It has consistently been one of the best dining pubs in the region and the kitchen is able to provide a comprehensive offering throughout the day, from simple pub classics to afternoon tea to more extravagant restaurant dishes. The menu is produced daily and is highly seasonal and local where possible – many of their nearby suppliers are highlighted on the menu.

On our autumn visit, game featured strongly, including an outstanding game sausage roll with crab apple relish and lightly soused vegetables. Presentation is perfect – the dishes are made to look appealing without straining for effect. There is an outstanding wine list – especially at the higher end – and plenty of interesting beers, both draft and by the bottle.

Although this is very much a dining pub, there is space for drinkers too. There’s also a delightful outside space – great in warm weather but blankets are supplied for chillier days. The Olive Branch even has its own Pub Shop, which sells wines, beers, local preserves, crafts and more.
Photos: Great Food Club
Overall score: 85/110

The Wheatsheaf, Greetham, Rutland
Carol Craddock is one of a number of East Midlands-raised chefs who, having garnered an excellent reputation at the sharp end of the culinary world in London, returned home to open a cracking little pub. The Wheatsheaf is pretty without being chocolate boxy or having cutting-edge design. Service is skilled but friendly, warm and relaxed. It’s an honest, working pub where the food happens to be excellent. Like the building, the food is not flashy or fashionable – it’s just generous and stylish: modern British cooking performed by a chef on top of the job. If it came in swanky surroundings you would call it fine dining – here you just think it is great food cooked with great technique.

We particularly enjoyed a beautiful creamy white onion and cider soup – every bit the equal of the classic French onion version. Main courses were generous, beautifully cooked hunks of meat – lamb rump from Launde in Leicestershire with a layer of crisp, seared fat.

A duck breast was paired – brilliantly – with a roasted, lightly pickled peach. In short, it’s the kind of place where you can relax and order with confidence – whatever you choose, you know it’s going to be done well.
Photos: Great Food Club
Overall score: 82/110

Drink Producer Category

Wharf Distillery & Deli, Potterspury, Northamptonshire
Set off the beaten track near Towcester in rural south Northamptonshire, Wharf Distillery & Deli is not only rammed to the gunnels with artisanal booze and locally produced foodie delights, it’s also a factory of exciting distillery experimentations.

Laurence Conisbee, a former military cartographer, distils high quality apple brandies, coffee liqueurs, single malts, spectacular gins and more on site, including Northamptonshire’s first ever whisky, ‘Cattle Creep’. Laurence first got into producing drinks as a hobbyist cider maker before going full-time. Soon he diversified, producing apple brandies, single malts, apple juice and mead. In 2014 he started to make even more drinks, including gin. He hasn’t looked back and now produces a large range of Wharf Distillery spirits, as well as contract distilling for others.

Wharf Distillery & Deli is a working distillery and shop combined which, as far as we know, is unique. It will soon become a gin school, too. Its Tasting Table is full of treats to sample and the shelves are laden with enticing spirits, handpicked wines from Trelawney Wines, local beers, preserves from the likes of Friars Farm, artisan breads, cheeses, charcuterie and cookware from Shropshire’s Netherton Foundry.

A range of regular tasting events and markets/street food in the courtyard provide even more reasons to visit. “Artisan producer” is probably the most overused phrase in food & drink but entirely accurate for Wharf Distillery!
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 65/70

Rothley Wine Estate, Rothley, Leicestershire
Setting up an award-winning vineyard in Leicestershire is no mean feat. Liz Robson’s Rothley Wine Estate in north Leicestershire started out as a hobby but has evolved – in her retirement – into a business. Liz was inspired to set up her vineyard and winery in 2009 after several visits to Giffords Hall Vineyard in Suffolk. One of her first wines – Learning Curve, a medium dry white – won Highly Commended in the Mercian Vineyards Association annual awards.

When she bagged the Small Producer Trophy in 2013 she decided to grab the bull by the horns and take a more commercial approach. Today Liz tends around 900 vines on a two-acre south-facing slope, producing several grape varieties including Rondo, Regent, Siegerrebe, Solaris, Orion and Madeleine Angevine.

Using as few chemicals as possible, Liz puts every ounce of her intense passion for wine into nurturing the vines and producing her wines. Volunteers and friends help gather in the harvest. The results are excellent, especially Rothley Wine Estate’s elegant sparkling rosés – Noble Purpose and Spirit of Freedom – and its sophisticated, mineral-dry white, King Richard.

Building and maintaining Rothley Wine Estate is a Herculean task and an outstanding achievement.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 60/70

British Cassis
British Cassis is made by White Heron Drinks in Herefordshire. Each year founder Jo Hilditch and her team turn British blackcurrants grown over 150 acres of their 700-acre farm into a rich, dark liqueur called British Cassis. The sole ingredients of this beautiful drink are Herefordshire blackcurrants, Champagne yeast, sugar and time.

British Cassis was born in 2005 when an especially good harvest meant Jo had 100 tonnes of blackcurrants left over after growing her usual quota for Ribena. She fell on the idea of cassis because of its long shelf life. Today, 25 tonnes of blackcurrants harvested each year in July and August – comprising eight different varieties – are used to make British Cassis. After pressing the berries near Ledbury, they spend between four and six months fermenting in vats on the farm.

The resulting 15%ABV drink is rich and full bodied, with a well-balanced sweetness. It makes a delicious aperitif or a super complement to Champagne, Prosecco, cocktails and desserts. Nowhere near as sweet as creme de cassis, British Cassis is unique. It contains 200mg of sugar per 100ml while its traditional French counterpart contains at least 400mg per 100ml.

Blackcurrants growing on the farm

British Cassis is not only delicious, but a fantastic example of farm diversification combined with brilliant branding and marketing.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 62/70

Deli/Liquid Deli Category

Christopher James Deli, Leicester
Small. Tiny. But so very, very brilliant. Christopher James Deli makes use of every available inch of space to create a special and unique deli. Walk in and you’ll be amazed not only by the food range but also by the feel of this friendly neighbourhood deli. It’s hard to put your finger on it but you can’t help but fall in love with the place. It’s not sleek or at all modern – it has an old fashioned feel, in fact – but you wouldn’t want it any other way.

The array of European delights on offer such as the Greek koubes, Polish sausages and huge wheels of Swedish knäckebröd hanging from hooks above the counter all add up to create something special.

The range of lunchtime sandwiches are delicious and creative. The cannoli – made by local brand Just So Italian – are delightful. The cheese range is spectacular. Ask owner Simon to order you something in and he’ll be only too happy to help.

There’s a great vegan range, too. This deli is a genuine local food hero.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 46/50

Bulwick Village Shop, Bulwick, Northamptonshire
Bulwick Village Shop (also the base for its sister online business, The Pickled Shop) is a beautiful deli, shop and cafe in Bulwick, east Northamptonshire. Set in an ancient stone cottage not far from the village church, this pretty, independent business must surely increase local house prices.

Run by Camille Ortega McLean and family, it’s quirky, friendly and welcoming, offering a range of locally sourced delights including Camille’s own (extremely creative) Pickled Village preserves (now made off-site), plus store-cupboard basics, chocolates and homemade cakes and bakes. There’s a good wine and spirits selection, too.

The on-site cafe/bistro serves excellent breakfasts, sandwiches, coffees and top-notch tapas (we can heartily recommend Camille’s stunning empanadas). The outdoor terrace is gorgeous when weather allows. Bulwick residents are very lucky people.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 44/50

Duncan Murray Wines, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
If there’s a more fun, fruity and energetic independent wine shop in the UK than Duncan Murray Wines in Market Harborough, we haven’t found it. We don’t think we will, either. Duncan and wife Megan have built up a brilliant business with wines categorised under names such as ‘Darth Vader in Slippers’ and ‘Obelix in Kitten Heels’.

Despite the humour, the team seriously know their stuff, specialising in Southern European wines, including a stunning Greek selection. It is also packed with carefully chosen craft beers, high quality Madeiras and spirits you can try before you buy. Duncan runs a pop-up bar in the shop Wednesday to Friday, 4-9pm, where all-comers can try loads of “quirky weird stuff”.

There’s also a free Saturday lunchtime tasting every weekend and plenty of regular evening events. People talk about indies needing to stand out to compete with the chains. Duncan Murray is a super example of how to do it!
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 44/50

Bakery Category

Hambleton Bakery, Exton, Rutland
Ten years ago, Julian Carter (head baker and co-owner) and Tim Hart (co-owner) set up Hambleton Bakery in response to the terrible quality of supermarket bread in the UK. They wanted to bake wholesome loaves using traditional ingredients and methods. Back in 2008 they had three staff. Today they have 98!

Julian Carter, head baker and co-founder at Hambleton Bakery

But the quality of Hambleton Bakery products remains just as high as when they first launched, and the team are just as passionate about what they do. They work every day and night of the year (except Christmas Day) to bake wonderful breads, cakes and more, and deliver them to their six shops and to many other businesses in the East Midlands. Slow fermentations and high quality stoneground flours with resistant starches are at the heart of the business. Local sourcing is also important.

Inside the Exton shop

Behind the scenes at Hambleton Bakery

They use flour from Whissendine Windmill, beer barm from Oakham’s Grainstore Brewery, eggs from a farm near Melton Mowbray, milk from the Vale of Belvoir, and their ovens are fired by wood sustainably grown in Rutland. Their aim now is to get their wholesome breads into schools and hospitals. Creating an independent bakery that produces amazing artisan breads is one thing; creating a commercially successful bakery that keeps the artisan quality high (while also producing and delivering brilliant breads like clockwork) is quite another.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 54/60

The Garage Bakehouse, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Dan Cadoo set up The Garage Bakehouse in 2014 when he turned his grandfather’s old garage in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, into a bakery. What an outstanding job he has done! Today this diminutive, thriving, friendly bakery not only sells sourdough loaves, cakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, coffees, sausage rolls and much more to a constant stream of hungry Harborians, it also looks and feels incredibly cool. It’s a real asset to the town.

Everything the team produces is delicious and carefully prepared using the best ingredients, including their biggest seller – their famous Cheese & Marmite Swirls! The Garage Bakehouse have worked exceptionally hard to deliver exactly what customers want rather than just slavishly stick to their own plans.

Founder and baker, Dan Cadoo

Originally Dan wanted to just bake and sell his superb breads but he’s listened hard to his customers, which has enabled him to build up a large and loyal following. Now he is set to double the size of The Garage Bakehouse by taking the unit next door and knocking through. What a wonderful local success story!
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 57/60

The Bakehouse, Nottingham
A thriving cafe and wholesale bakery on Mansfield Road in Sherwood, Nottingham, The Bakehouse has deservedly bagged many prestigious awards, including Cafe of the Year in the Nottingham Food & Drink Awards 2018 and Gold at the World Bread Awards for its garlic & herb sourdough. It began as a weekend pop-up bakery at the Doctor’s Orders pub, also on Mansfield Road.

Founders Craig and Rosea Poynter then decided to set up a permanent venue and The Bakehouse was born in November 2016. The couple and their 15-strong team have created a wonderful venue that straddles the boundaries between cafe, bakery, deli, bar (live music nights happen regularly) and tapas joint. The atmosphere is laid-back, the menus are mouthwatering, it offers a superb craft beer list and it’s simply a brilliant place to kick back and enjoy great food, before walking out with some of the best bread you’ll find anywhere.

Is it a cafe? Is it a bakery? Is it a bar? The multipurpose nature of The Bakehouse – underpinned by its outstanding baking credentials – is behind much of its appeal.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 54/60

The Rutland Cake Co., Oakham, Rutland
Naomi Morgan, founder and owner of Oakham’s Rutland Cake Co., makes incredibly stylish and original bespoke cakes. Each is crafted into something that’s special and personal to the client, whether it’s a fruit cake laced with a favourite single malt or a birthday cake displaying a three-dimensional replica of a famous statue (both real examples).

Naomi uses high quality ingredients and her talent for elegant perfectionism is clear to see. She creates wonders that her clients will never forget. Naomi used to run a cafe in conjunction with her cake business but has recently closed it so she can devote all her attention to her stunning cakes.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 52/60

Cafe / Tea Room Category

Kavanagh’s Tea Room, Oakham
Kavanagh’s in Oakham is a haven of loose-leaf teas, light lunches, afternoon teas and cosy sophistication. Owners Clare and Martyn have created a beautiful and stylish environment in a Grade II listed building tucked away down a quaint passageway near Oakham church.

Passionate about what they do, the pair are also masters of hospitality, putting guests at ease and making them feel as if nothing is too much trouble. The food and drink is of the utmost quality, with Clare and Martyn baking everything from the gluten-free bread to the glorious Victoria sponge cakes.

Kavanagh’s offers one of the best afternoon tea experiences it’s possible to have.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 75/80

Gelato Village, Leicester
Leicester’s Gelato Village has carved out an enviable reputation as one of the city’s best food experiences. The reason is simple: stunning, silky gelato served in a genuine gelateria that wouldn’t feel out of place in Milan.

The range of flavours is outstanding and the quality of product is second to none. Made with local milk and cream from rare-breed Leicestershire cattle, the gelato here is produced to traditional Italian techniques. It’s churned slowly, not whipped, and served at a higher temperature than ice cream for that trademark smooth texture.

On our judging visit, the delicate rosewater note and divine texture of the Richard III gelato had us straight back to the counter for more. Gelato Village was founded in August 2014 by Antonio De Vecchi and Daniele Taverna from Turin. Their dream of bringing a true Italian food experience to Leicester has most certainly come to fruition.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 72/80

Petite Chouette, Hinckley, Leicestershire
Petite Chouette Cafe Bar in Hinckley brings a little bit of France to this west Leicestershire market town. Family run, friendly, laid-back and welcoming, it offers simple French classics prepared well with good quality ingredients, plus great coffee and patisserie.

It also runs plenty of cheese-and-wine tasting evenings (they source their cheese from La Fromagerie of London) and bistro nights. Launched in February 2018 by Ali and Paul Lancaster, Petite Chouette, which means ‘little owl’ in French, is a super addition to Hinckley.

It’s charming, down to earth and you can tell straight away that its founders love what they are doing.
Photos: Great Food Club
Total score: 70/80

Community Award

The Good Loaf, Northampton
Northampton’s Good Loaf is a lottery-funded social enterprise that supports women going through tough times. On the surface it’s a coffee shop and bakery selling good coffee, artisan bread and beautiful homemade cakes, but behind the scenes there’s much more going on.

Started by CEO Suzy Van Rooyen in 2015, The Good Loaf runs six-week courses for women who have been in prison, are on probation or in long-term unemployment. It also provides employment opportunities and work placements.

The aim is to give these women the confidence and skills to integrate into society, build new relationships and find work. A working bakery (including a wholesale operation supplying many local independents) and cafe provides a perfect backdrop for rehabilitation because the Good Loaf team can interact with the general public, learn how a hospitality business works and pick up new skills.

Toton Tram Stop Food Kiosk, Toton, Nottingham
Nottinghamshire stillbirth charity Forever Stars runs Toton Tram Stop Food & Drink Kiosk. Forever Stars was set up in 2014 by Richard and Michelle Daniels following the stillbirth of their daughter, Emily. Since then the charity has opened ‘Serenity Suites’ at both Queen’s Medical Centre (2016) and Nottingham City Hospital (2017) to provide a supportive space for bereaved families.

Anne Sanders, who runs the food kiosk for Forever Stars

In 2016-17 Forever Stars supported 142 families who had lost their babies. In 2017-18 they supported 181 families. Forever Stars has also funded over 200 hours of midwife training and are in the process of building a Remembrance Garden via their #ForeverinBloom appeal.

When you buy a bacon roll or a coffee from Toton Lane Tram Stop you are supporting this amazing charity!

Lodge Trust Cafe, Market Overton, Rutland
The Lodge Trust is a Christian organisation that supports adults with learning disabilities. It provides accommodation for 30 residents on a 20-acre country park in Market Overton, Rutland.

The park is open to the public and Lodge Trust Cafe (with kids’ play area nearby) is at the heart of the set-up. Residents not only serve food and drink in the cafe – giving them the chance to learn new skills, have fun, be creative and socialise – they also grow fruit, vegetables and herbs on site, as well as preparing them in the kitchen. This offers the hugely satisfying experience of taking ingredients from field to fork. Lodge Trust Cafe is a wonderful example of how food and drink can be used to improve people’s lives on many levels.

Congratulations to everyone shortlisted in our 2018/19 Awards, and special congratulations to the winners. Thanks to our judges and to everyone who voted. Our 2019/20 Awards will launch in summer 2019.

View the results of the 2017/18 Great Food Club Awards here.

The author:

Matt lives in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. He is passionate about the independent food & drink sector and founded Great Food Club in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town.