Eye on the prizes

August 13, 2014

A very quick post offering congratulations to a couple of local producers. Firstly, Oakham Ales (a Peterborough-based brewery now but one I still think of as local, not least because I often drink their beers in my local bar Babelas) have come second in overall search for the UK’s Supreme Champion Beer at Camra’s Great British Beer Festival with their pale, refreshing, grapefruity ale Citra200citra.

This beer single-handedly turned my mate from a lager-lover into an ale-admirer. It’s a great transitional beer for those looking for hoppier flavours but put off by darker beers.

And then there’s another success for Archer’s Butchers on Queen’s Rd (whose owner Sean – below – can on the odd occasion be found in the bar mentioned above). His hugely popular biltong won a Gold Star in the Great Taste Awards announced this week.

IMG_0666Having a very quick look at the awards, there was more local success in the form of  a coveted three Gold Star rating for Northfield Farm’s 21-day aged mutton and single stars for their merguez and pork and herb sausages and for Woodhouse Farm’s Tamworth sausages. A couple of Long Clawson cheeses also picked up awards.


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.


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.


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.




Les Rosbifs

July 31, 2012

I spent an interesting hour last week talking with Sallie Hooper. She’s spent the last few years co-ordinating Leicestershire Foodlinks, the body that helps promote and develop local  food producers across the county. She’s now sort of gone over to the other side  and started her own business in the form of the restaurant Les Rosbifs. 

Sallie and George Hooper

The restaurant is located within Northfield Farm in Cold Overton, a few miles north of Oakham. It’s well-known for its fantastic rare breed beef and pork and high standards of animal welfare.  Owner Jan McCourt has developed a popular farmshop and tearoom and then restaurant.  For various reasons,  including his own health problems, he had to shut the restauarnt but Hooper has seized the opportunity and relaunched it as a family buisness with sons Duncan in the kitchen and Gorge and Ollie front of house. Duncan was previously cooking at the Queen’s Head, Nassington, a rather smart inn on the Nene near Peterborough.

The name is a nod of course to both the fine beef produced at Northfield and to the model of Ferme Auberge, the informal farm restaurants serving up quality home -produced food that Francophiles dream of finding as they drive through the Dordogne.  The style is rural – all check tableclothes and riding tack on the wall.

Les Rosbifs

I’ve not eaten there yet but all the signs are promising. Obviously Northfield Farm meats feature, but the deal is that the Hooper’s can source their produce from where they wish.  Given Sallie’s experience she’s got a very good handle on where to get the good stuff locally.  The food is pitched mainly at solid British classics with strong focus on seasonality – a blowout Sunday lunch might start with cauliflower and Colston Bassett Stilton soup with truffle oil and toasted almonds, followed by roasted Nothfield beef, yorkshire pud and  goose fat roasties and ending up up with sticky toffee puddding with salted caramel sauce.  Evening menu offers steaks and crowd-pleasers such as corn-fed chicken breast with spring onon and cheddar risotto or Belvoir-ale battered fish and chips. Bread is all baked on site and the whole place gives off a nice unpretentious food-focussed air. I look forward to going at some point – do give us your views here if you get there first.

Pork to Fork

March 18, 2011

Clarissa Dickson Wright  – not her biggest fan but she’s had an extraordinary life and I think I’d trust her judgement on pigs and pork.  So it was good to see her on BBC 2 on Wednesday night scuttling around Rutland’s Northfield Farm with Jan McCourt Farm admiring their new English Lop boar. 

I’ve been thinking a lot a about pork recently, partly inspired by a recent conversation with Tom Cockerill about rare breeds  and also because of a revelatory pork chop from the fine Archer’s butchers on Queen’s Road,  Leicester.  The quality of the meat came out in the way it felt in the pan but mainly obviously in the eating quality – tender and deeply flavoursome, it seemed simply a different order of substance from some chops I’ve had.

So my interest was piqued by a message from Leicester pub The Almanack that is organising a hands on Pork to Fork day out at the Peach Pub company’s farm in Oxfordshire on Saturday week.  They promise you can learn about how free range pigs are turned into succulent pork, and butchery skills from a whole carcass down to chops. There’ll also be lessons in how to cure a ham and make sausages.  At £125 (including roast pork lunch and other treats) it’ll only be for the truly committed – if that’s you, see more details at the Almanack’s website.

The Almanack

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