Okay, I have so much to tell you about the UK, but let’s start with food, of course. So, after four weeks on the road travelling more than two-thousand miles, here are a few best-ofs and some other mentions.
Why are you looking at me like that? Just because we were travelling in winter doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t splurge on some icy sweetness.
Sarah announced that her pick for the best ice cream was the hazelnut at I-scream in Oxford, followed closely by pistachio at an unnamed spot in Covent Garden. She also said the strawberry at Bibury (self-proclaimed as the best you’ll taste) wasn’t bad either.
I indulged twice – in raspberry and beetroot, and in a rhubarb and crumble – both from Jolly Nice at Frampton Mansell.
The shop has grown since we were last there. Regular readers might recall that it was the inspiration for my novel Wish You Were Here (I told you about that here); but you might not know that it has a role to play in my current work in progress, Escape To Curlew Cottage. And the ice cream is pretty good.
Still on the subject of ice-cream, Sarah asked the shopkeeper at The Mill in Lower Slaughter if there was a chance there might be some of their (previously very good) ice cream in the freezer. Her response? That there was slightly more chance of finding Tom Hardy in your bedroom, naked…twice… then there was of getting ice cream from Lower Slaughter in the middle of winter. She did, however, tell us we could get some badly made mass-produced ice cream in Bourton on the Water. She was right – Sarah did get some and it was bad.
Best pub meal
We had some good pub meals on our travels but saved the best for last.
The Porch House at Stow on the Wold on our final evening was fabulous. No photos because the lighting was appalling, but great food in one of the oldest pubs in Britain. As an aside, there seem to be a number of pubs falling into the “one of the oldest pubs in Britain” category…but more on that another time.
The Bell at Sapperton for lunch on the way to Heathrow was as good as it was when we last visited four years previously.
This honour was held briefly by the pub in Leadenhall Markets. It was a steak and ale pie with peas and gravy and was so good and so huge it got shared about. Pus it was square and square pies are always better. Apparently.
The prize did, however, go to the venison pie at the Three Crowns in Brinkworth, a town whose (other) claim to fame is that it’s the longest village in England.
Best mac cheese
This one topped with crispy onions at The Warwick – stop no. 4 on our Monopoly Board Twelve Pubs of Christmas Crawl (I’ll tell you more about that another time).
Easily the one at Severn and Wye Smokery on the edge of the Forest of Dean at Westbury-on-Severn. The kedgeree that I had inspired food envy in Grant and Sarah and we later found out that the kippers that Grant had are the same ones they serve at Fortnum & Mason – well, not the same ones exactly, but you know what I mean.
The gift shop was fabulous, and we picked up a few little extras to wrap up and pop under the Christmas tree. As for the food store, I could have bought the shop out!
I’ll be honest, I had high hopes going in but the scone situation was a tad disappointing this trip.
The worst by far was at the Cornish chain masquerading as a bakery in Bourton on the Water. (Are you seeing a theme regarding Bourton on the Water?). They had way too much baking soda and made us all…ummmm gave us all wind. Too much information?
The best was at Ellenborough Park in Cheltenham as part of our posh afternoon tea. These were easily a nine out of ten. The mark was lost because they provided jam and cream for two serves of scones rather than three and then charged us £2 for another serve. When tea cost as much as it did, that was just plain miserly.
At this point I’d like to make a confession – I now know why, when (real) clotted cream is involved that it goes on before the jam. There were times when the cream was so thick that it spread like butter rather than dolloped like cream. Don’t throw things at me, I still prefer jam first.
Best pub hospitality
The Royal Oak in Malton in North Yorkshire. We’d landed at Heathrow at 5am, picked up our rental car and driven straight up to York with this being our first port of call in England. The landlord and his wife were so friendly – not in a forced or cliched way but naturally. Before we knew it, we were engaged in an energetic discussion about whether mashed potatoes belonged on a roast dinner. (We said no, he said yes – but on the basis that roast potato was also involved.)
The food was (mostly) Yorkshire classics – with Yorkshire portions – and the pints were excellent.
Speaking of Malton…
Malton is known as the food capital of York. It’s also where one of my foodie heroes James Martin hails from.
It’s full of some great specialty produce shops, with one, Food 2 Remember, selling the best scotch egg I’ve ever tasted and the second-best pork pie – the best one was at Jolly Nice – being edged out only because I like some jelly in my pork pie.
Anyways, we liked the scotch egg so much we called back in on our way to the coast for another to drink with tea when we stopped.
Last time we were in England parsnip soup was everywhere – and I was quite looking forward to it for lunches this trip too. Now, though, it seems that carrot is the preferred soup du jour – with coriander, with spices, or just plain old carrot.
The parsnip soup that I did get was this one at Lower Slaughter. It was served with charcoal bread and was very very good indeed.
I also had a great fish pie at Slaughters Inn.
Fat Rascals at Betty’s in York. When in York you have to. We also tried the pikelets – which were so yummy that we ordered another serve (below right).
At the original Bakewell Pudding Shop in, wait for it, Bakewell.
There’s a difference between Bakewell pudding and Bakewell tart – which I’ll get into another time – so we had to try one of each…and some treacle tart. Very yummy indeed.
The most expensive mango
In the food hall at Harrods. The assistant weighed it for me, and it came in at £20 – roughly $40. When I said that I could buy four cases back home for the same price she laughed and told me to wait while she weighed a cherry – a single cherry. £1.30. For one cherry. I get that it’s out of season, but just ludicrous. And no, I didn’t buy it – it would have been, I’m sure, watery and tasteless.
This was my fave foodie place last trip and was just as enjoyable this time around. I could seriously spend hours wandering the aisles in here.
I bought a scotch egg to try (not as good as the one in Malton), and we shared some oysters.
Neal’s Yard Dairy is a must-visit for anyone who likes their cheese. The sheer variety is amazing and these guys can talk cheese until the cows come home (no pun intended).
I can’t finish this post without mentioning the Sunday Roast.
I love the tradition of the pub Sunday roast and there are some great ones around – although, especially at this time of year, it absolutely pays to book ahead. While we had a very good one at The Old Bell in Malmesbury (pictured above) the one we all enjoyed the most was at The Angel in Burford. Those Yorkshire Puddings (below) were next level.
And I’ve just been reminded that I have to mention the sweetie shops. Not really my thing on account of me not having a sweet tooth, but Sarah and Grant are completely incapable of walking past them without emerging with a little paper cone of sweeties in their hands.