For what is Harborough?

October 31, 2014

There’s a wonderful song by Half Man Half Biscuit that lists the qualities of the fenland town of Chatteris

“Three good butchers, two fine chandlers,
An indoor pool and a first class cake shop
Ofsted plaudits, the envy of the Fens
Prick barriers at both ends”

The pay-off is that without the presence of the songwriter’s beloved, these qualities are as nought:

“For what is Chatteris if you’re not there?
I may as well be in Ely or St Ives”

imagesAnyway, this poignant number was brought to mind yesterday as I walked around Market Harborough. Its food offering is really impressive for a town of its size – pump-primed of course by well-heeled London escapees and commuters. It’s got a very tidy indoor market with a decent butchers and fishmongers but also specialist Japanese, Spanish and Chinese food stalls.

Then out in the town itself there are numerous good delis, a respectable range of restaurants, a great butcher (Bates), and two top-rate craft bakers (Hambleton and The Garage). Duncan Murray Wines is an example to all independent retailers, there’s an intriguing new micropub, and  an excellent kitchenware shop. In Farndon Fields – a 20 minute walk from the town centre – it has possibly the county’s biggest and best farm shop. Interestingly the supermarkets – the cheap ones, the middling one and the posh one – are all grouped more or less together in a ghetto near the town centre, easily ignored if you want or suitable for a quick raid. (The crisis ridden, allegedly fraudulent one is out on the Eastern edge of town).

Anyway – if you don’t know the place and that sounds good, pay it a visit. If it doesn’t, you may as well be in Corby or Coalville.

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Grainstore Brewery Tour

June 10, 2014

Many of my pals could not organise a piss-up in a brewery. Fortunately Jamie is not one of them – and he did the honours by getting us all out to Rutland’s Grainstore Brewery, a handy 10 yard stagger from Oakham Station.

BeerThis was a perfect way to spend one of those awkward post-season, pre-World Cup Saturdays when you’re really not sure what to do, but you’re definitely not going to Highcross. Grainstore put on a range of tours – we went for the full monty which, for £20 involves a little film, a comprehensive tour of the building and introduction to the brewing process, a tutored tasting, an excellent ploughman’s lunch and, oh, yes, two hours free beer.

Grainstore is a kind of in-between business, bigger than the new breed of micro-breweries, but still tiny on a national scale. Located in a fine old Victorian building it still has the basic layout of an old tower brewery and an engaging feeling of an overgrown brewpub mixing modern equipment with bodge-ups.

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Our tour guide Iain was a lovely host, even if some of his jokes had a well-worn feel about them. He was funny, well-informed and exhaustive, and it was pitched well for the beer enthusiast. I came away with a greatly enhanced view of what goes into making a pint. What was particularly pleasing was to see how the “waste” products such as spent grains and excess yeast get put back into the food chain with other leading local food producers such as Northfield Farm, Hambleton Farms and Hambleton Bakery.

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Grainstore has around 10 ales, around six of which were available for us on the day. I liked them all but found a relatively narrow flavour palette – there was strong family resemblance from the dark Rutland Panther through the hefty 1050 bitter, the session ale Cooking, and the lighter Gold. They went down very well with a ploughman’s featuring local stilton and red Leicester, bread from Melton Mowbray, pickles from the allotmments over the rail line, and of course, pork pie.

So if that sounds like your thing  – highly recommended.

 

 

 

Great Cake Places

March 14, 2013

Being the sharp-eyed,media-savvy, hip to the trend kind of readers you are, I suspect you may have noticed that baking has become somewhat fashionable. Given that Leicestershire and Rutland is already home to Britain’s Best Bakery in the shape of Hambleton, I thought I’d respond to a request for help with nominations for Britain’s “Great Cake Places”.   To go with a forthcoming guidebook, publishers Allegra are looking for recommendations of places with great cake and patisserie, espcially where there’s an “enchanting or intriguing” location.

If you’ve got somewhere you want to big up, go to www.greatcakeplaces.com and do their survey. You can also engage in alll that twitter and facebook malarky to chat with others. Having a quick think, places I’ve had good cake recently include – Miss B’s in Melton Mowbray, Yesim on Narborough Road (heavenly baklava), Dominic’s at David North in Rothley, Fingerprints on Queen’s Rd, Johanna’s in Oakham, Wistow Mediterranean deli (more baklava – there’s a theme emerging here), Elizabeth’s patisserie (at various farmer’s markets). I’m sure there a few good candidates I’ve missed …

 

mmmm, bak-la-va...

mmmm, bak-la-va…

 

 

Rutland Food Festival

September 16, 2012

I made a late decision yesterday to drive over to Empingham for the Rutland Food Festival. A very good decision as it turned out.

For once in this rain-sodden summer it was a lovely warm sunny day. The festival had a sumptuous setting by Rutland Water, where over a hundred little sailboats were having some sort of race thing (come on, you all saw the Olympics – who had a clue what was going on?)

It was, in Rutland style, a small but classy event. Cooking presentations from leading local chefs including Brian Baker, Sean Hope and Dameon Clarke and around maybe 30 food stalls including familiar stalwarts such as Pick’s organic meats and Hambleton Bakery, newer businesses such as baked goods from Les Rosbifs restsaurant (left)  and Johannah’s Patisserie. I picked up a end of festival box from the later which included some of the best bakewell tart I’ve ever encountered. They are opening a shop next month in Oakham so look out if you’re over there. 

Other goodies I came away with included venison from Fen Farm, pain Levain from Les Rosbifs, spicy plum chutney from Rutland Preserves, spicy N’awleans  rub from Gourmet Spice Company, and a bit of punt, a bottle of Rutland table wine – a Bacchus from Abbey vineyards. A little tasting suggested an off-dry wine with a surprising amount off fruit showing through. Whether it will hold-up away from the feel-good environment of a sunny food festival I’m not sure but at £6.50 it felt like a deal. 

I ended up staying most of the day helping sign-up people for the Great Food Club, along with fellow Great Food magazine contributor Hazel Paterson and partner Glen.  Hazel’s a really creative cook and photographer, if you’re not already following her work in the magazine or  through her blog and tweets, I recommend you investigate.

Real Bread

May 4, 2012

If there’s one way in which my diet has changed in the last two years, it’s that I eat a lot more bread. There’s several reasons for this. One is that is that since I went freelance (aka “was made redundant”), I’ve been working from home and thus am looking to eat breakfast (never used to bother) and to make a decent sarnie at lunchtime.

The other, more significant, reason is that the supply of decent bread has grown significantly enough to bring home both how unpleasant (or at best bland) most bread I’ve ever eaten has been, and also just how tasty it can be. The bread I had last month at The King’s Arms in Wing was absolutely a highlight of the meal, while the butter-drenched manchet I had for breakfast today from Hambleton bakery in Oakham was a fantastic start to the day – half breakfast roll, half lovely cakey brioche. I’ve also really enjoyed the Leicestershire beer and honey loaf from Lucy’s Foods in Stoneygate produced by Knighton Kitchens.

Foccacia by Leicester Born and Bread

A key part of this virtuous circle of building demand and supply for real bread (let’s make that Real Bread for now), has been the rise of domestic bakers, spreading the word and baking loaves for friends and neighbours on small-scale commercial basis. One such who I have written about here before is my pal Jessica who runs Leicester Born and Bread. She informs me that next week (May 7 to 13) is Real Bread Maker Week – an initiative of the Real Bread Campaign to get even more people  into baking lovely traditional-process, additive-free breads. Jessica is offering 10 per cent discount on her bread making classes booked during the week – if you want to know more go to the website or call Jessica on 07957 726308. Even if you remain sceptical about wanting to get floury yourself, the week is surely a good opportunity to try something new new or different from a real baker.

Update

I forgot put a link to a song from the wonderful Natalie Squance, Leicester’s finest folk-tinged singer and guitarist. Her song The Baker is a dryly funny tale about a sexy French boulangere with commitment issues (he’s not just a baker, no he’s a heart-breaker) and this post seemed a good opportunity to give her a plug – so have a listen or better still download or buy the cd  – http://natalie-squance.bandcamp.com/track/the-baker

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