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20 of Britain’s Hidden Foodie Gems

Submitted by on January 24, 2011 – 8:47 pmNo Comment

OK, Road Trips Foodies, you no longer have to worry about where your next meal is coming from when driving in Britain. From roadside stands to converted cowsheds and stately homes, Britain’s hidden foodie gems are hereby revealed.

Britain may have experienced a culinary revolution in the past couple of decades, but according to new research, the food along the motorways is still driving folks to despair. That’s the verdict of a survey conducted by Europcar, which reveals 95% of motorists believe the choice, price and quality of roadside food is unacceptable — with 80% saying they have even gone hungry rather than eat what’s offered.

To escape the tyranny of the motorway service food offering and celebrate the diversity of Britain’s local, independently owned eateries, Europcar has teamed up with The Guild of Food Writers to produce the free-to-download Roadside Gastro Guide.

The guide tapped into the knowledge of Britain’s food writers and broadcasters to reveal 20 of Britain’s hidden culinary gems. All are just a short drive off major roads. Stretching from the Scottish Highlands to the Dorset coast, the guide includes everything from country inns, gastro pubs, farm cafés, beach cafés and tea shops to stately homes. All specialize in offering locally-sourced, fresh, home-cooked fare ranging from tasty cakes and hearty pies and sandwiches, to traditional and modern British, game, seafood and desserts.

The guide reveals a foodie world of individual character, spectacular views, friendly service, converted barns, quirky décor, old-fashioned bone china, an in-house butcher to slice your chosen cut of meat, and quirkily named dishes such as the Wortley Wedge (a beast of a sandwich made from the roast of the day).

According to Richard Ehrlich of the Guild of Food Writers, motorway catering may mostly be the pits for pit stops, but outstanding food can be found just a short detour from many main roads. You just need to know where to look.

The full version of the Roadside Gastro Guide contains detailed, individual recommendations by Guild of Food Writers members, including background information, personal insights, recommended dishes, contact details, opening times and, most importantly, directions from major roads.

Here are the featured eateries, from North to South

1. House of Bruar, Blair Atholl, Perthshire
Situated in the wild grandeur of the Highlands. Open from breakfast, the restaurant even has an in-house butcher to prepare your choice of prime Scottish meat.

2. The Skyreburn Teapot, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire
What started out 45 years ago as a caravan with a teapot on top has now been transformed into something that appears to be little more than an overgrown shed. The full fry-up features local produce and no fewer than two dozen homemade cakes and tray bakes are offered daily. Located on the shore of the Skyreburn Bay.

3. Black Horse Inn, West Boldon, South Tyneside
Nestled in the village of West Boldon, the Black Horse offers a menu that is modern European with a slant on seasonal British classics. Dishes such as crab lasagna and pork belly with black pudding are served in generous portions. No meal is complete without the Cinder Toffee Eton Mess.

4. George and Dragon, Clifton, Cumbria
Owned and managed by Charles Lowther, youngest son of the late Earl of Lonsdale, who in 2008 transformed this roadside boozer into a stylish pub with rooms. The Shorthorn beef he breeds himself, and the lamb, pork, free-range chicken, game, venison, eggs and vegetables are all sourced from the Lowther land. Fish, chips and mushy peas, Shorthorn burger and chips and sticky toffee pudding are all staples.

5. The Aldwark Arms, Aldwark, North Yorkshire
Pub-restaurant sitting at the heart of a Yorkshire village, laden with local produce that “twists and turns through the seasons”. Bar area comes complete with blazing open fire or diners can go to a more contemporary conservatory restaurant with views across open countryside.

6. The Wortley Arms and Montagu’s, Wortley, Sheffield
A traditional pub in an historic building that retains immense character. Ask about the Wortley Wedge, a beast of a sandwich made from the roast of the day or order the Wortley Venison Pie with Roast Root Vegetables. Upstairs is Montagu’s, much more of a fine dining experience. The menu here changes regularly to take advantage of the best seasonal produce, supplied from within a 20-mile radius.

7. Caunton Beck, Caunton, Nottinghamshire
It’s worth a short detour to sample the food at this converted barn, a cornerstone of the village from which it takes its name. Puddings, such as Bramley apple parfait with candied ginger or Treacle sponge with mascarpone ice cream, are unmissable, but save space for home-made fudge at coffee time. And it serves breakfast until 11:30 a.m.

8. The Olive Branch, Clipsham, Leicestershire
Set in the Rutland countryside, this formerly run-down village boozer has been transformed into a gastro pub with bells on, offering food that ranges from pub classics (such as fish and chips with tomato sauce and minted peas), to fancier restaurant cooking (such as lemon sole with potted shrimps and caper mash).

9. Hundred House Hotel, Norton, Shropshire
The herb garden, with its water features and flower beds (which guests can visit), provides much of the inspiration for the cuisine. Traditional steak and kidney pie or lasagna rest easily alongside contemporary dishes using Bridgnorth beef, Shropshire lamb, Hereford duck and the occasional Severn salmon.

10. Café Skylark, Wimblington, Cambridgeshire
Part of Skylark Garden Centre, owned and run by a local farming family, Skylark Café provides low-priced food with a big local produce input. In fact, you can see the team of egg layers out pecking in the field! A mere £2.99 will buy you free-range eggs and fenland chips piled high on a simple plate, fluffy and crisp (see photo!). The cakes are home-made locally and the portions are generous.

11. Milsoms Bistro Restaurant, Dedham, Essex
Situated less than a mile from the A12, Milsoms is a popular destination for young professionals along the Essex-Suffolk border. The bistro is set in a country house in the rolling hills of ‘Constable Country’, with a heated terrace for diners. Local dishes include delicacies such as Pinney’s smoked mackerel fillet with grain mustard potato salad and Suffolk roast pork belly with sauerkraut.

12. Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Nantgardig, Dyfed
Set back in a wooded area, this traditional whitewashed country pub is owned and run by people who really know their stuff. Y Polyn serves ‘some of the most honest food in South-West Wales’. Sewin (Welsh sea trout), Welsh black beef, local goat’s cheese, lamb and home-reared pork all given starring role and often credited as to farm or breed. Their website proclaims Fat equals flavour. Live with it.

13. The Hardwick, Abergavenny, Gwent
Alongside British classics such as ham, eggs and chips (‘the best you’ll ever taste’) and snacks such a big sandwich filled with roast mushrooms and melting Fontina cheese, Italian dishes dominate. Try carpaccio of Herefordshire beef, potato gnocchi with sausage from nearby Trealy Farm. Everything is sourced as locally as possible.

14. The Gumstool Inn, Calcot, Gloucestershire
What was formerly an old Cotswold cowshed has been transformed into what appears to be an old Cotswold pub. Now under the direction of chef Michael Croft, it is far enough from the A46 – the main Cheltenham to Bath road – so as not to be audible but close enough almost to toast a passer-by.

15. The Crab at Chieveley, Donnington, Berkshire
Just off the M4 and well worth a detour for anyone heading west. This thatched dining pub made its name with fish – an unusual achievement for a landlocked establishment. ‘Delightful quirky décor with ceilings covered in fishing nets with racecourse badges attached to remind you that Lambourn is near. Crispy squid with sweet chilli is as good as it gets’.

16. The Pot Kiln, Frilsham, Berkshire
This gem of a country pub lies hidden at the end of a narrow wooded lane like a cep* in the bracken**. Unlike other country pubs, the Pot Kiln has a sister cookery school nearby. The food reflects the surrounding countryside, with game high on the menu. Main dishes are also supplemented by harvesting the hedgerows and the abundance of mushrooms that grow in the area. (*Boletus edulis, a mushroom commonly known as penny bun, porcino or cep; **woodland ferns)

17. The New Inn at Lower Westwood, Wiltshire
There’s nothing new about the appearance of this lovely coaching inn dating from the 1600s. Run by a father-and-daughter team, the New Inn offers ‘hard to resist pub favourites half-pint of prawns, hand-made sausage and mash and a traditional Ploughman’s are all excellent.

18. The Tea Shop at Watts Gallery, Compton, Guildford, Surrey
They buy all their produce from within a ten-mile radius of the teashop, and produce their own artisan chutneys and jams. A specials board featuring seasonal produce may announce delicious homemade soups (such as celeriac and orange or courgette
and rocket) and healthy salads, while a core menu runs alongside. Note: the galleries are currently closed for restoration work.

19. Hiker’s Rest, Saddlescombe, East Sussex
Nestled in the foothills of the South Downs, around four miles from the A23, the Hiker’s Rest is a tranquil place to take a break and enjoy no-nonsense, freshly made food. Expect to find tablecloths, quirky old bone china and vases of flowers. They serve organic and local salads, sandwiches, homemade cakes and specials such as homemade spicy potato cake with goat’s
cheese and salad or local honey-roast ham, cheese and pineapple olive bap.

20. Hive Beach Café, Burton Bradstock, Dorset
Housed in a simple wooden shack, this award-winning café is situated on one of the most beautiful stretches of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, with sweeping views across Lyme Bay. In the summer months, they serve crab and lobster coming from the café’s beach. Tempura-battered cod with golden, rustling chips and Lyme Bay scallops with chorizo and pancetta are favorites, along with crab sandwiches, fry-up breakfasts and homemade cakes.

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