Three more West Midlands food and drink champions
Here are another three of my must-visit West Midlands venues…
1) Loaf Bakery & Cookery School
1421 Pershore Road, Stirchley, Birmingham, B30 2JL
Tel: 0121 458 7682
To describe Tom Baker as a local food hero would be an understatement. He’s taken his passion for real bread and teaching others how to cook it from his own home to Stirchley high street in Birmingham. Loaf is run as a social enterprise, which helps promote better eating and food culture within the local community. It’s a double-fronted shop: one side is bakery and the other cookery school. Open Tuesday to Saturday, Loaf is what every shabby suburban high street needs, a beacon of real food and home cooking. Loaf Bakery specialises in sourdough and other slow-leavened bread. You can pick up sourdough, baguettes, rye, pastries, cakes and interesting lunches here. Their Friday salt beef on challah rolls are very quickly becoming urban legend.
Loaf Cookery School, at which I have the pleasure to teach the occasional class, provides real hands-on cookery classes from sourdough bread, pork butchery, charcuterie and knife skills to seafood classes and Viennoiserie. The cookery school is a reflection on Tom’s passion for cooking, it shows in the range and content of the courses. These are real cookery classes for people who want to learn skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. From laminating pastry to deboning pig heads, the classes here are packed with information and techniques to help students become better cooks.
2) Hillers Farm Shop
Dunnington Heath Farm, Alcester, Warwickshire, B49 5PD
It’s that time of year, clocks have gone forward and trees have started to blossom. It’s asparagus season! At Hillers the counters are overflowing with freshly picked spears from within the locality and as everyone knows the finest asparagus comes from Evesham. But it’s not only asparagus, it is really one of the best farm shops in the region. Locally grown fruit and vegetables that are bang in season can found here – it’s a real cook’s paradise. You’ll find Ragley Estate Meats, a butcher that rears its own produce on adjacent Ragley Estate. You want provenance? You’ve got it. The rare-breed pork in particular is a favourite of mine. But rarest of all in a farm shop located so far from the sea, there’s also a fishmonger.
Hillers is a sizeable farm shop, alongside all the fresh produce there are many shelves laden with deli goods. Pastas of all shapes and hues, jams, pickles, cheeses and more. It’s only a half hour drive from the south of Birmingham. I really enjoy taking the scenic trip there along the Alcester Road. It always feels like a treat going there, especially as a family, there’s a miniature railway and lots for small kids to do too.
3) The Bluebell
93 High St, Henley in Arden, Warwickshire, B95 5AT
Tel: 01564 793 049
Living in Birmingham or any big city, at the weekend it’s nice to get away for the afternoon and find somewhere quiet and relaxing in or at least near the country. The Bluebell in Henley-in-Arden is just that for me. In between Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon, The Bluebell is that perfect slice of middle England. An actual Tudor (nothing mock about it) freehouse since 1513, the dark beams testify to centuries of history. Now it’s local craft beers and fine food, no nonsense modern British food. Think lamb’s kidneys for starters and turbot for mains, a real treat for foodies who aren’t just looking for spicy chicken wings and other generic pub grub.
There’s also a delightful afternoon tea served here, book ahead for a wonderfully sophisticated and polished high tea befitting of such a venerable establishment. The high street also has other gems: delis, butchers and a wonderful ice-cream parlour. In the summer, it’s very popular with tourists passing through to Shakespeare’s Stratford. For me, though, I find my repasts here in Henley.
Lap-fai Lee is the man behind the Foodist blog.