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The Essence of England: The Great British Biscuit

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If you were asked to compile a list of the most quintessentially English of foodstuffs, then high up on the list would be the humble biscuit, accompanied of course by a steaming cup of tea.

The biscuit was not created in England, in fact, the earliest foods that could realistically be called biscuits originated in the Neolithic era, and were baked on stones, although according to archaeologists who have studied the period, we can’t be sure how exactly those early biscuits looked.

For the word biscuit itself, we can thank the French, although the word originally has a Latin root, and refers to twice-cooked bread. The Romans themselves were keen on biscuits, although their take on the snack was more like the rough and ready food we would call a rusk, and was produced through re-baking bread, which was one of the ways used to make sure that it lasted longer.  

The definition of biscuit remained hazy until the Middle Ages, when the word was used to refer more specifically to something that we would recognise. At that time there was an unusual yet fascinating  array of proto-biscuits eaten in England, which included wafers, which were made with a sweet batter and cooked over a fire. The other important development was that by this time, biscuits had developed into what was considered a dessert food, often eaten at the end of meals, as a ‘digestive’.

There was still plenty of demand for the traditional long-lasting biscuits, though these were most common in the Navy as the centuries wore on, as they met the need for solid and enduring food that would last for the long journeys associated with exploration and colonialism.

In fact, the staple diet of sailors in the 18th century consisted almost entirely of salted meat and biscuits, although it is important to remember that this was no dainty chocolate digestive. These biscuits were hard, so hard, in fact that they were almost inedible. They were designed to last and the oldest surviving biscuit is a ship’s biscuit that dates from 1784.  

The English biscuit was transformed thanks to the widespread availability of sugar from the middle of the 17th century. The arrival of sugar as a culinary ingredient had a major affect across all types of foods, particularly cakes and biscuits, as people experimented with different tastes and textures. At the same time, the influence of Italian and French cooking and the collapse of the guild system led to more people baking their own biscuits. By the Victorian era, biscuits were a widespread phenomenon in English life, and as major food companies began to mass produce them, the biscuit came within reach of most English people throughout the 20th century.

The habit of serving biscuits as an alternative to cakes and other sweets with English tea caught on and to this day, a cup of tea and a biscuit or two is a traditional mid-afternoon or morning snack. Many of the biscuits that English people enjoy in 2021 have a long and distinctive history, and it is remarkable how enduring their popularity has been. If you are new to the English biscuit tradition, here are six of the best biscuits to try this year.

Bourbon

The Bourbon biscuit is made to a simple but enduringly popular formula: two thin rectangles of dark-chocolate flavoured biscuit are sandwiched around a chocolate buttercream filling. The Bourbon biscuit was first produced in England in 1910 by manufacturer Peek Freans, which was based in Bermondsey in London. Originally, the biscuit was known as Creola, but the Bourbon name, which was taken from the name of the French royal family was added in the 1930s, and the biscuit has become immensely popular with generations of English tea drinkers and biscuit eaters.

In fact, surveys in the UK have found that the Bourbon is one of the top tea-dunking biscuits for English people. One interesting note concerning the Bourbon is that the small holes in the biscuit are not just a distinctive design but fulfil a useful purpose. The holes ensure that steam can escape during the cooking process, which helps to ensure that the biscuit doesn’t break up. Bourbons are popular in many countries around the world and are one of the most recognisable of English biscuits.

Custard Cream

The custard cream is another hugely popular biscuit, both in England and across the UK. Like the bourbon, it is a sandwich-type biscuit, but this time the filling is a custard-flavoured mixture. Originally, the filling used in these biscuits was buttercream, and this is still used in some home-made versions, but butter has long been considered an unnecessarily expensive product to use in biscuit filling, so the custard cream filling is now generally made with a mixture that produces a vanilla taste, making it close to the taste of custard that has been made with custard powder.

The custard cream predates the bourbon by two years, having been first seen in England in 1908, when the elaborate design on the sandwich biscuit sections helped them to stand out among the competition. There have been various versions of the custard cream, employing a variety of fillings, with varying popularity, ranging from lemon to coconut, but the custard filling remains dominant in one of the most popular English biscuits of all time.

Rich Tea

Rich tea biscuits have some similarities to the digestive biscuits, but this English product is a distinctive type of biscuit. It is a sweet biscuit, made with flour, sugar, malt extract and vegetable oil, and has a surprisingly long history. In fact it can be plausibly dated back to the 17th century. It is believed that the Rich Tea was developed in the county of Yorkshire, and was originally known as the tea biscuit, considered a light snack for the upper classes to dine on between their meals.


The rich tea has become one of the most popular biscuits in UK and is particularly good as a tea-dunker. Many supermarkets and biscuit makers produce their own varieties of the Rich Tea and the biscuit has also developed a surprising following on the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta.

Ginger Nut

Another biscuit with a long history, ginger nuts were reportedly enjoyed in the UK from as early as the 1840s and they were the best selling biscuit produced by the firm Huntley & Palmers between 1933 and the end of the Second World War. These days, they are widely eaten in England, the UK and in many other parts of the English-speaking world, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.

The ginger nut’s hard texture makes it the ideal biscuit for dunking, which helps to explain its enduring popularity in England. And in fact, given how tough this biscuit can be on the teeth, a little light dunking is often advised to loosen it up. In some countries, ginger nuts are baked to an even harder texture and can sometimes be moulded into different shapes before being baked.

Chocolate Digestives

Digestive biscuits coated with chocolate have long been popular throughout the UK and can feature milk, dark or white chocolate. First produced in 1925 and known as the Chocolate Homewheat Digestive, other varieties that have been seen over the years include the basic biscuit with chocolate shavings throughout, chocolate chip, caramel chocolate, orange-flavoured chocolate, or mint chocolate. So dominant has the chocolate digestive been in English culture, that in 2009, it was named as the most popular biscuit in the UK to dunk into tea.

Jammie Dodger

Such is the long established English biscuit tradition that the Jammie Dodger is the newest English biscuit on this shortlist, despite being made for the first time in the 1960s. It was first produced by the Burton’s Biscuits company, who have produced a variety of well known biscuits over the years, but this is the without a doubt the most attractive of their classic products.

The Jammie Dodger is based on a simple idea of bringing together two shortcake biscuits with heart shaped holes that reveal a jam filling. The jam is often described as raspberry flavour although it is not technically raspberry jam, as it has to be sufficiently adhesive to keep the two biscuit halves together. The design is particularly distinctive and a throwback to an earlier time, referencing the Queen of Hearts from the Lewis Carroll stories. A particular favourite with children, the Jammie Dodger continues to hold its own in the extremely competitive English biscuit market.

The 21st Century Sandwich: A Selection of Savoury Treats

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Although the nation of England cannot legitimately claim all of the credit for the creation of the culinary masterpiece that is the sandwich, it is fair to say that England was the first nation to develop the art of the sandwich and this humble construction is now reckoned to be one of our most popular meals, enjoyed by everyone from school children to office workers.

In the UK, it has been shown that we eat an astonishing 11 billion sandwiches every single year. In fact, some estimates say that the average English adult will end up eating more than 18,000 sandwiches in the course of their lifetime. And it isn’t hard to see why the sandwich is so ubiquitous. It is the perfect form of modern convenience food. The sandwich is portable, convenient, and can be thrown together in moments at any time of day. And in our fast-moving modern world, with the pace of change growing ever stronger, the sandwich is unlikely to relinquish its hold on the nation’s culinary imagination any time soon.  

The sandwich, or variations of the sandwich, can be traced back many centuries, but the modern incarnation of the sandwich supposedly derives from an event that took place in 1762.

Culinary legend has it that the sandwich was created by John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. He was a particularly keen gambler who would regularly spend hours at a time at the card table. It is reputed that in the middle of one particularly long session, he asked the house chef to bring him something to eat that could be consumed without him having to leave his seat at the table. The chef satisfied his demands by bringing him some meat wrapped in two slices of bread, thus accidentally giving rise to the modern snack. Montagu was such a fan of the snack that he ate it all the time, and as it caught on in fashionable London circles, it soon became associated with his title.

Of course, John Montagu’s chef was not the first person in the world to come up with the idea of putting a variety of fillings between slices of bread. In fact, we it is likely that Montagu may have picked up the idea himself during his travels in the Mediterranean, where he is likely to have eaten both Turkish and Greek mezze platters. These are distinctive meals that involve the ‘sandwiching’ of meats, cheeses and dips between pieces of bread.

Whatever the ultimate origins of the sandwich were, the snack became wildly popular. Within a few months of Montagu’s famous culinary innovation, Edward Gibbon was mentioning the sandwich by name in one of his diary entries, revealing that he had seen some of the country’s leading men eating sandwiches in a restaurant. In 1851, the Victorian social commentator Henry Mayhew gave an estimate that 436,800 sandwiches were sold on the streets of London on a yearly basis.  

In the decades since the sandwich’s early popularity, the snack has grown from a luxury restaurant food to an everyday and regular snack and ultimately to a staple of the English diet. Sandwiches have proven to be the perfect meal for a range of different lifestyles, ideally suited to the modern world.

So popular is the sandwich in England that this humble snack is largely behind the success of the convenience food market, which is now estimated to be worth as much as £20 billion a year. Not only that, but English sandwich makers are much in demand around the world, as the convenience and flexibility of the food, along with the famous story of its creation, have caught the imagination of consumers and diners on every continent.

And as the sandwich takes on ever more importance within the English food industry, it is being developed into ever more elaborate configurations. So ubiquitous is the sandwich that it is even possible to trace the developing tastes of the English public in the way that the sandwich has changed over the years.

If you were to head back in time to the 1970s, you would find the humble cheese and ham sandwiches dominating the sandwich market, while the 1980s saw the introduction of the more exotic tuna sandwich. In the last few years, the proliferation of innovative new cafes and eateries has led to some remarkable sandwich experimentation, and our popular sandwiches reflect this diversity and cosmopolitan outlook. So here are some of England’s most popular modern sandwich combinations:

Hummus and Falafel

The growth of veganism in England as well as the increasing diversity over the last 30 years of the English food scene has led to a fascinating array of tastes and flavours being introduced into the national culture and this is reflected in the combination of two of the most popular vegan staples, falafel and hummus, which have come together to provide an intriguing twist on the English sandwich.

These two ingredients have always been ideally matched, but what has given them a big boost is the widespread availability of falafel mixes which means that they are now within the reach of the average English shopper. The result is a vegan friendly sandwich that offers a luxurious and rich taste that is popular with non-vegans and vegans alike.

The method of preparation can vary depending on preference, but the typical option for this form of sandwich is to spread hummus onto two slices of bread, and then add a thick layer of salad. Typically, the salad will include red onion, red pepper, cucumber or grated carrot. Falafel is then added to the mix before the second slice of bread, making a healthy and tasty sandwich.

Bacon Lettuce and Tomato

It is a simple recipe, but the combination of bacon, lettuce, and tomato is an enduringly classic sandwich filling. The key to a successful BLT is that if you use good quality ingredients for the B, the L and the T, you will have a fine finished product. For the very best BLT, the bacon needs to be freshly fried, hot, and crispy, while the lettuce must be any sort of lettuce other than iceberg, providing that it has a strong bite, while the bread must be toasted.

The origins of the BLT are not entirely clear. Some believe that it could be an indirect descendent of tea-time sandwiches dating from the Victorian era, while others will tell you that it is an American variation on the classic club sandwich, which was popularized in the dining cars of America’s bustling railways. Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that the BLT is a hugely popular English sandwich.

BBQ Pulled Pork

Look away if you are vegan or vegetarian, but the BBQ pulled pork sandwich is always a big hit at barbeques. The pulled pork sandwich is, of course, derived form an American barbecue dish. Pulled pork was developed in the southern states of the US and is essentially the result of slow cooking a shoulder of pork. This is usually done over wood, although sometimes it is prepared in a slow cooker. The meat is then shredded before being mixed with a sauce of choice.

While it is not traditionally an English sandwich, we have put our own traditional spin on the BBQ pulled pork sandwich. In the English version, the meat is seasoned with a mixture of condiments, but ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce are the most popular and provide a quintessentially English take on this most American of meats. The preparation time for this sandwich is significant, but the result is a truly delicious and luxurious feast for meat eaters.  

Bacon Sandwich

While old fashioned sandwich options, such as cheese and ham may be in decline, there is one form of sandwich that seemingly will never be out of fashion in England.

The humble bacon sandwich, served sometimes with or without brown sauce, and sometimes supplemented by other English breakfast foods, including sausages, eggs or tomatoes, remains a firm favourite with English diners. The beauty of the bacon sandwich is that it works both as a quick and convenient breakfast or as a satisfying lunch.

It has even played a part in a General Election campaign, when the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s apparent difficulties eating a bacon sandwich made tabloid headlines, though that probably says more about the English press than the Labour leader. Anyone who has ever tried to eat a bacon sandwich will surely have plenty of sympathy for Ed Miliband, but although they can certainly be a messy treat, there are few things that can hit the spot on a cold English morning like a good old bacon sandwich.

Brie and Grape

The humble cheese sandwich has certainly evolved a long way. For working men in the first half of the twentieth century, the humble cheese and pickle sandwich was a staple lunchtime snack, though other combinations, such as the ubiquitous cheese and tomato and the pungent cheese and onion also have their fans to this day.

Yet to the more sophisticated modern sandwich eater, a slab of cheddar on a couple of slices of white bread won’t cut the (sandwich) mustard. For a more interesting take on the cheese sandwich, English lunch diners have long combined slices of soft Brie with sharp, tangy grapes, for a perfect combination. To add more flavour and texture to the mixture, the brie and grape sandwich can also be supplemented with rocket, spinach, watercress and herbs.

Avocado Sandwiches

Avocado toast has become a phenomenally popular breakfast food over the last decade, but if you want an upgrade on this modern-day classic, the Avocado sandwich is an interesting option.

In fact, avocado is an incredibly versatile food source, and is packed with healthy fats so it can work well with a variety of fillings, including chicken, turkey or roast beef. But it is also tasty and luxurious enough to eat on its own, perhaps with a little rocket or a sprinkling of herbs, and toasted rye bread is another important component in the ultimate avocado sandwich.

Strawberries and Other Fruits: The Taste of English Summer

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Summer just wouldn’t be the same without the enjoyment of a bowl of strawberries drizzled with cold cream. In fact, the English appetite for strawberries is so strong that an incredible 140,000 portions are served up every year at Wimbledon.

The strawberry started to become popular in England in the 16th century. The final courses of big meals in that era would feature a host of sweet desserts, including marmalades and confits. These were opportunities for wealthy hosts to show off their wealth through the use of luxurious ingredients like sugar and spices, which were considered expensive at the time.

The strawberries at that time were the wild variety Alpine which are still grown in the UK today. The strawberry also had a role as a cordial, thanks to the smell of their leaves, although there was a time during the Tudor period when raw fruit, including strawberries, had been considered dangerous.

Sugar was considered an ideal partner for fruit as it was considered that the sweetness balanced out the cold and moist ‘humours’ of the body. These medieval beliefs held that certain foods were attached to different humours so a balanced diet was necessary for good health. One of the ways to counter the effects of fruit was therefore to cook it wine and spices in the form of a pottage

The ancestor of the modern strawberry arrived in England during the 16th century, imported from the US. These Virginia strawberries were sweeter than our own wild variety but were still small. But in the 18th century, it was cross bred with the larger Chilean strawberry and the modern strawberry was born.

By the early 19th century even larger and juicier fruits were being produced and England gained a reputation for its strawberries, and they became a staple of the Victorian kitchen garden. The  Victorians were avid horticulturists and continued to create new varieties of strawberry such as the Royal Sovereign in 1892 which was considered to be unrivaled in flavour and appearance.

At this time, strawberries were still served at the end of a meal, but were more likely to be enjoyed fresh or preserved in the form of a jam. We also see fresh strawberries and cream starting to appear on menus. French chef Auguste Escoffier, who worked at the Ritz, developed a number of variations of the strawberry and cream combination including Strawberries Romanov, which is strawberries marinated in curaçao served with Chantilly cream.

It was in this era too that the strawberry became associated with the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Strawberries and cream were served at the very first tournament in 1877, as the thriving rail network meant that the fruit could be picked and transported to London on the same day to ensure the utmost freshness and this tradition continues to this day.

The season for British strawberries begins in June and lasts throughout the summer, but the strawberry is not the only tasty English summer fruit. Here are some of the main alternatives if you are looking for juicy and fresh English fruit this summer.

Gooseberries

The Cultivation of gooseberries was first recorded in England as far back as the 13th century, but they were not widely grown until the early 1500s, at a time when many fruits were being introduced and popularised through increased trade with the Continent. By 1831 the Horticultural Society’s London garden had established a collection of 360 different gooseberry cultivars.

During the Victorian era, there was a great rise in the prominence of the gooseberry, particularly in the north of the country. There was even a national publication for enthusiasts called ‘The Gooseberry Growers Register’, which in 1845 listed 171 separate gooseberry shows.

The booming gooseberry industry in the UK declined in the early 20th century due to the spread of American gooseberry mildew fungus, but resistance to the mildew was developed by crossing the European gooseberry with two smaller fruited American wild gooseberries Ribes hirtellum and Ribes divaricatum. The result has been a revival in fortunes for this delicious fruit. Their tartness makes them ideal as an accompaniment for a variety of dishes, including mackerel, but they are also handy for jam making as they have a high pectin content.

Elderflower

Elderflower is one of the quintessential tastes of an English summer but it is a fleeting taste as the elderflower season ends in early July. The Elder is native to the British Isles and the name itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aeld’. From earliest times Elders were believed to be sacred to an ancient goddess of vegetation, and people believed they were inhabited by a tree dryad which represented the soul of the tree, or was seen as an aspect of the goddess herself.

Elders were often planted by houses and farms in the belief that if the dryad was treated well, and honoured, it would protect the home and its occupants against evil spirits. Although there was a widespread taboo against cutting Elder down, and against the burning any of its wood, almost every part of the tree was considered medicinally effective in treating ailments from toothache to the plague!

Today it is the flowers that are used, in contemporary herbal medicine. They have a long standing reputation as the best treatment for all kinds of inflammatory and congestive conditions of the respiratory system. Cordials, wines and syrups have been made from Elderflowers and berries for centuries and are still widely used especially in country areas in Europe.

Rhubarb

Some consider rhubarb a fruit as it is widely used in desserts. Originally, rhubarb’s role was medicinal rather than culinary throughout the majority of its period of use. Indeed, widespread culinary uses began only two centuries ago whereas medicinal uses go back 5000 years or more.

The word rhubarb is of Latin origin. The ancient Romans imported rhubarb roots from lands were beyond the Vogue river, sometimes known as the Rha River.

Yet rhubarb’s medicinal uses began at least 5000 years ago, in China, where died roots were used as a laxative. In the west, rhubarb roots were an ingredient in numerous Greek and Roman medicines, as the dried roots also had useful properties..

There is no record of culinary rhubarb prior to the 1800s. Widespread consumption of rhubarb stalks began in Britain in the early 19th century with its popular adoption as an ingredient in desserts and wine making. The accidental discovery of forced rhubarb accelerated the growing popularity of rhubarb to the point of a mania in Victorian Britain.

Since then rhubarb’s popularity peaked just before World War II. At its most popular commercial quantities of rhubarb were grown outdoors as well as in greenhouses and dark cellars. Although culinary use dropped dramatically during WWII, it rebounded in the decades after 1945 and forced rhubarb in particular is still popular, with Yorkshire leading the way.

The rhubarb season lasts until about the end of June and those colourful pink stalks are for many people, the essence of summer. The fruit is versatile enough to use in pies, flans, crumbles or as an additive to yoghurt or porridge. It also freezes well so can be kept throughout the summer.

Raspberries

Fresh raspberries are a real late summer treat and never fail to please, served with just a dusting of icing sugar and a lick of cream. A fresh raspberry sauce, made by pushing raspberries through a sieve and stirring in some sifted icing sugar, also makes a wonderful dessert addition.

Raspberries are believed to be native to Asia and have been eaten since prehistoric times. They were cultivated by the Romans, but only gained widespread popularity after they were hybridized and improved by growers in England and France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The raspberry is actually a member of the rose family and is not true berry. There are also yellow, purple and orange versions of the raspberry, though these are rarely seen in the UK.

Due to their hollow core raspberries are fragile and so should be handled with care. They are also highly perishable and need to be eaten in a day or two after picking, although they do freeze well.

English raspberries generally come into season in May and are immediately recognizable: a plump, juicy, packed with flavour. They can fit well with a wide range of desserts and cakes, and you can add them to cereals and even a glass of gin and tonic!

Cherries

English cherries were once one of Britain’s most popular fruits but a combination of poor weather, high labour costs and old-fashioned picking methods led to a decline in the volumes of home grown cherries in the second half of the 20th century, along with the importation of cheaper cherries from Turkey, Spain and America. In the year 2000, the whole of the English cherry industry produced just 400 tonnes. But since then things have slowly started to improve.

More and more English growers are now seeing better yields by using dwarf root stock, grafted onto new tree varieties. These produce much smaller trees which can be grown in plastic tunnels, enabling the creation of a micro climate with temperatures similar to the Mediterranean.

These new smaller cherry trees can be picked by workers on foot rather than ladders, enabling English cherries to compete with foreign rivals for the first time in many decades.

The English cherry season begins in July and only lasts three months so you have to move quickly to catch them! Sweet cherries are perfect for a fresh snack, and can be stored in the fridge in a sealed bag for up to a week. Alternatively, the fruit can be added to savoury dishes like duck and pork or used as a tasty drink decoration.

Blackberries

The British blackberry season starts in June and the fruit is best picked as soon as it is ripe. Blackberries are widespread throughout England so you can pick them direct from the bush, and as with English raspberries, this fruit can really enhance a summer drink.

The season lasts until the beginning of autumn and blackberries are flexible enough to have multiple uses. In August they can be served simply with a little sugar and a lot of cream but later on, they are ideal for a range of deliciously comforting hot pies and puddings made by combining blackberries with the first apples of the season.

Blackberries have been grown across Asia, Europe and the Americas for tens of thousands of years. Archaeological records show that European inhabitants ate them as long ago as 8,000 BC. They have long been popular in England and in World War One, children in England were given time off school to collect blackberries for the production of juice that was sent to soldiers to help maintain health.

Today there are more than 2,000 varieties found throughout the cooler regions of the world. Like the raspberry, it is an aggregate fruit and relative of the rose. It is a highly adaptable and fast-growing shrub, found in hedgerows, woodland, meadows and wasteland. It is a good pioneer species and its prickly stems help protect other plants’ young shoots from being eaten.

Blackcurrants

The blackcurrant is to an extent a hidden gem of the English countryside. Blackcurrants have been growing in the countryside since the 17th century, records suggest, at which time they were revered for their many medicinal qualities. Over the years the fruit grew steadily in popularity and in 1826 it was first listed with the Royal Horticultural Society.

Yet, it wasn’t until around the 1930’s during World War II that English people really got a taste for blackcurrants when Ribena, a drink made from blackcurrants, was given to children for free as a vitamin C supplement. That was the start of the nation’s love for the great taste of blackcurrants that remains to this day.

The blackcurrant season only last a few weeks, and it’s very much a forgotten fruit that can often not be found in the supermarket. Blackcurrants are perfect for jams, crumbles and summer puddings and can also be stewed and used to accompany porridge.

Home Cooked Fish: English Fish and Seafood Deliveries

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England is an island nation, and as such we have a strong tradition of seafood cuisine. For centuries, English fishermen have been harvesting the fruits of the ocean and our cuisine has come up with inventive new ways to make the most of our aquatic heritage.

As a result England has a long tradition of top seafood restaurants, and in recent years the work of a number of high profile chefs have further raised the profile of English seafood.

But despite our admirable seafood tradition, it is probably fair to say that the tastes of English consumers have not always been that adventurous. Salmon, cod and imported tuna have been the main products to dominate our fish consumption over the last few decades, but it is important to remember that there is a wealth of delectable sea food out there to be enjoyed.  

The English fish and seafood industry has faced a new challenge, as have many sectors of our economy, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. The scarcity of grocery deliveries during the first few months of the pandemic led to a flourishing of the use of food boxes, with meat, bread, vegetables, fruit, beer and wine being delivered direct to our homes. The good news for seafood lovers is that there is now a thriving seafood and fish delivery sector.

Some of these services have been set up by fishmongers, and indeed there was a pre-existing shore-to-door seafood sector, but now the concept has been expanded and a number of restaurants and restaurant suppliers are getting in on the direct sale model to offer high quality fish to consumers.

The beauty of these delivery services is that they enable you to enjoy restaurant quality, fresh fish while at the same time supporting the struggling fishing and hospitality industries. You will also have the chance to be creative in the kitchen with foods you may not usually pick up at the supermarket.

Of course, when you are considering a fish box supplier, quantity is a key factor. Fish and seafood is not to everyone’s taste, so it is important to weigh up how many in your household would be eating the produce. Type of seafood is another consideration. Do you feel uncomfortable with crustaceans or do you enjoy mussels, cockles and other bivalves? How important is the provision of local fish?

The good news is that fish delivery boxes in England offer a wide variety of types and customisable options, so that you can enjoy everything from stunning scallops and expertly smoked salmon to tasty mackerel. Here are eight of the best to get you started:

Fishbox

Fishbox sources fresh, sustainable fish direct from small independent boats around the coast to offer high quality seafood direct to your door in less than 48 hours. As they buy direct from the fisherman they are able to get a fair price for their catch, and they carefully select the boats they buy from, to ensure that they are using responsible fishing methods.

As well as popular products such as monkfish, salmon and king scallops, Fishbox also prides itself on buying species of fish you will rarely see in the supermarkets, broadening your horizons and helping you to eat seasonally.

The selection of seafood from Fishbox features over 70 fish and shellfish, including everything from turbot to lesser known varieties like Torbay sole and cod tongues, which are rarely seen here but enjoyed widely across the Mediterranean.

A Fishbox delivery is always exciting but you can also personalise your subscription according to likes, loves and dislikes. The box comes in three sizes and can be tailored to your preferred frequency, as well as being available as a one-off gift box.

Abel and Cole

Abel and Cole had been providing organic veg to households for 30 years before they moved into  bakery, meat, deli and other items, and this is their latest venture: a fantastic fish box of three sustainably sourced fish which are delivered on a weekly basis.

The box consists of one ready-to-eat fish and two varieties that can be cooked or frozen, with two portions of each. The fish varies from week to week: once week it could be beautiful handpicked Cornish crab, some celtic coley and lemon sole fillets; another week may offer delicious haddock, plaice and hand-smoked Severn and Wye mackerel.

You can check the menu every week, although this may change to reflect the day’s catch, which is always using environmentally aware methods. As a bonus, they sometimes throw in a gift, such as a pot of organic sundried tomato pesto which is very handy.

The Cornish Fishmonger BBQ Fish Box

This family-run fishmonger operation has been serving the people of St Mawes as well as top chefs for over 40 years and now you can enjoy the freshest catch of the Cornish coast.

The Cornish Fishmonger’s online delivery service has been helping local fishermen to carry on earning a living by selling their catch directly during these uncertain times when demand from restaurants has plummeted.

The crystal clear waters of Cornwall offer some of the best breeding habitats for a variety of fish and shellfish, including lobsters, mussels, cockles and plump prawns, all of which are delivered the very next day. You can shop safely knowing that all have been sourced sustainably and ethically with the Cornish fishing industry passionate about protecting fish stocks.

Included within the BBQ box are notes on how best to enjoy your seafood with storing and cooking tips, but everything is BBQ-ready with no filleting required.

Wright Brothers Seafood Box

As a restaurant group and wholesale seafood business, Wright Brothers has had a tough time during the lockdown, but the Wright Brothers At Home service has thrown them a lifeline.

Wright Brothers run five renowned London seafood restaurants and are known for the way that they source, prepare and serve the most delicious fish, and their new venture allows you to enjoy the same restaurant quality fresh seafood to your door, as one-off or through a regular subscription.

There are many tempting options on their site, including a seafood box for two which is an ideal box for couples who enjoy seafood. This box features some of Wright Brothers’ most popular items such as sweet white crab meat, juicy shell-on king prawns, long cut smoked salmon and lemon sole, along with delicious tuna steak. The contents are best eaten fresh, but all can be frozen.

Rick Stein’s Hake Menu for Two

Based in the idyllic location of Padstow, famous chef Rick Stein has extended his range to this At Home menu. It features some of his classic seafood dishes from his restaurants, providing all the Cornish seafood and all the other ingredients you need to recreate three courses in your own home.

You can choose from the hake, lobster, or Indonesian curry menu, and then follow the easy steps to make your own restaurant worthy dishes. No cooking knowledge is needed, you simply assemble and eat, but there are also helpful videos on their website.

The box includes a starter, such as smoked mackerel pate with sourdough and leaves from the Padstow kitchen garden, followed by Venetian hake alla carlina with rich, sweet summer tomatoes and capers, and ending with a sticky toffee pudding and Cornish clotted cream.

Henderson to Home

As a leading London restaurant supplier, Henderson has had a difficult time over the last few months, but their new nationwide delivery service has enabled them to continue operating while their regular restaurant clients were shut down.

They stock a wide variety of fish and shellfish, and the quality is unsurprisingly exceptional with all orders going from boat to door in fully recyclable packaging in less than 24 hours, helping to support ethical and sustainable fisherman around the British coast.

You can select seafood favourites, including the fabulous Boneless Box, which is available at an affordable price or the fish pie mix, which features white and brown crab meat and two large fish fillets, such as hake, pollock or cod making it perfect for couples or singles who enjoy cooking fish. They also offer a massive shellfish box of cooked or live lobster and crab and a kilo of mussels.

The brand’s close links to top chefs mean that you can be draw inspiration from the recipes on the site or try out their popular chefs collaborations, such as the dogs pollocks burger recipe box from Great British Menu winner James Cochran.

Morrisons Assorted Fish Box

Faced with extreme demands during the lockdown, some English supermarkets raised their game with a greater variety of food boxes, including Morrison.

Their initial food boxes were so successful that the company gradually introduced various themes such as vegetarian, family meat boxes and Diwali, and one of their most interesting was their seafood box. This combines incredible convenience and great value. It contains four different approachable varieties of fish that you can use to make healthy and tasty suppers, with a huge 18 portions of filleted fish to feed you and your family, all of which can be frozen. It includes six salmon fillets, four cod, four smoked haddock and four sea bass fillets, making it easy to eat fish regularly.

Knock Knock Randall and Aubin

Knock Knock is a new premium grocery box service, set up by London restaurant suppliers Smith and Brock. It was designed to give everyone at home the same access to the quality artisanal produce used by top London restaurants. It has since expanded to deliver restaurant produce all over London, with a variety of partnerships.

One of those partnerships is with Soho seafood restaurant Randall and Aubin, which has been serving up high quality fish dishes for 24 years and now gives you the chance to enjoy signature dishes such as fruits de mer or assiette de mer in the comfort of your own home.

Their produce is sourced directly from the British coastline, and means that the freshest crustaceans and fish go from sea to plate in record time. Included is stunning Weymouth crab, mussels from Poole, whole native lobster and sweet clams, cockles, whelks and more all served with Randall and  Aubin potato salad and trimmings, including the seaweed!

Enjoy Delicious Home Delivered English Meat

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One of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown that affected us for many months is that our reliance on the local supermarket has been shaken. With supermarkets enforcing social distancing rules and home grocery deliveries increasingly had to obtain, many people started to look around for alternatives.

That was good news for the many independent food and drink producers working in the UK to provide home deliveries, including what is arguably the fastest growing sector: home meat deliveries. This trend towards meat delivery is also boosted by increasing awareness of the harm that the global meat industry is doing to the environment. This has led to a demand for locally produced meat, and a variety of inventive English producers have been meeting that demand.

The new generation of meat producers are focused not on mass production of a product but on organic, sustainable methods of meat production, which also has the welcome effect of leading to better tasting meat.

This phenomenon has been well-documented. For example, free-range and organic chickens have a much richer taste because the animals have been allowed to develop good muscles through enjoying a healthy lifestyle, focused on natural feed and not involving routine antibiotics. The same applies to free-roaming, pasture-fed cows. Free range beef has been found to be higher in Vitamin E than mass produced beef, and thereby offers more protection against toxins and neurological diseases.

Sheep can also benefit from the same organic, natural treatment, in which they are allowed to roam free on hillsides, while free range pigs, raised without the use of drugs such as antibiotics and wormers that are common in intensive farming methods, produce a taste that is entirely different to the sometimes bland products available in your local supermarket. 

Modern organic English meat producers, who are focused on sustainable methods of rearing, and environmentally friendly practices can now supply a huge variety of meats, both fresh and frozen, to suit every taste. Ordering meat through a delivery service such as this gives you access to fresher food that is usually fully traceable.  

Some specialise in different areas of the industry, but all of them offer the convenience of high quality meat that is just as good as any you will find in your local butcher’s. Here are some of the best of England’s meat delivery box suppliers.

Knepp Wild Meat

Knepp Wild Range Meat is a producer based in West Sussex and they provide a fantastic build-your-own meat box service. The product is drawn from the animals kept on the remarkable 3,500-acre Knepp estate, which has been rewilded, and offers a home to a careful selection of animals that were introduced onto the land and have since been left to their own devices.

There are no natural predators on this farm land, and the deer, cattle and pigs are culled each year to produce an impressive array of wild range meat, which includes everything from grassy steaks and fennel-scented sausages to their beautifully marbled bacon. The meat provided is full of flavour and nutritionally rich, and provides a modern unique take on the traditional meat producing process.

Piper’s Farm

Piper’s Farm was set up in 1989 and has the reputation as one of the best online butchers in the UK. They source their meat from small family-run farms based in the counties of Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall. Quality is the key to their success, and they offer plenty of free range and grass fed options, including wild game.

When you buy from Piper’s Farm, you can go for mixed meat boxes or choose roasts and cuts as you would with a high street butcher. The variety provides something for everyone, from sausages to a saddle of venison, and all of it is top-quality meat, slow-reared by people who really care about animal welfare, which reflects in the taste and texture.

They also offer more unusual produce such as bones, offal and cuts of fat, which are ideal to produce your own gravy or stock with, and they provide a genuine beef suet.

All of the meat they provide is hung and then blast-chilled so it’s fresh-frozen for better taste and texture, while all portions and cuts are individually wrapped to minimize waste.


As well as the fantastic range of meat ,they also offer artisan cheese and other items like pastries and marmalade, so it is almost possible to do a full weekly shop. Piper’s Farm provide free delivery to almost everywhere in the UK and their courier offers a 1-hour delivery window, while the packaging can be collected and recycled with your next delivery.

Musclefood

Musclefood began life as a sports supplements and high-protein snacks provider, but then expanded into the online butcher market and judge by per-unit costs, they are arguably the cheapest online butcher in the UK.

If you want to buy meat online in bulk then they have an excellent reputation as providers of multibuy and bulk meat, making it possible, for example to buy meat by the kilo. You can buy chicken breasts of varying sizes, along with other popular meat such as mince, steaks, and sausages, which include grass fed and free range options. Those who are concerned about fat intake can also opt for the ‘super lean’ versions of almost any type of meat, from mince to bacon.

Musclefood specialise in “hampers” in which you can mix several meats in bulk at a very competitive price and you will also sometimes find buy two, get one free hamper offers.

In addition, they stock fish, both fresh and frozen, along other snacks, drinks and supplements aimed at those slimming, bodybuilding, or just trying to be healthier. Every product is individually reviewed by other customers, and delivery, which is within 24 hours, covers most UK locations.

Riverford Organic

Riverford Organic are well known for their organic vegetable box scheme. However, many people don’t realist that Riverford also sell organic meat boxes. If you want a good all round solution on getting organic meat and food products delivered without a trip to the shops, then a combination of their veg and meat boxes may be a good option.

Riverford only sell 100% organic, free range meat, all of which is reared in the UK. They offer a range of quick cook, grass fed and free-range cuts in their boxes, including beef fajita strips, quick-fry steaks and chicken mini fillets that are designed to be cooked and ready in half an hour, which is ideal for busy people who still want to cook from fresh, but not spend ages doing it.

There are many different types of box, ranging from boxes for single diners up to bulk buys for the family. You can also choose items that are in season in the UK if you are aiming to cook for seasonal dishes and delivery is free if they deliver in your location.

Primal Meats

Based in the Lake District, Primal Meats offer nutrient dense meals for eco-omnivore diets. This means their meat is sourced from very high welfare farms, where the animals are 100% pasture raised and grass fed: a good option for anyone who wants a more ethical way of eating meat.

Every cut of meat comes with its own QR code enabling you to trace everything about the animal, right back to the farm it was reared on, including details of the farm’s management practises. Most of the products stocked by Primal Meats have been certified to organic standards.

As well as the regular cuts of beef, pork and chicken, they offer a range of rarer products, including bone broth and goose, and the well-thought out boxes ensure that no part of the animal is wasted.

Their box range includes some that are ideal for couples, some for feeding families and some that are full of surprise items, which allows you to try new ideas and different cuts.

Deliveries are roughly weekly, at a flat rate, although as they are a small business sourcing from a small number of high-quality farms, many of their products are prepared to order, and this sometimes take a little longer; the wait is definitely worth it!

Heartier

Heartier is an unusual butcher’s website since it doesn’t just offer deliveries from one butcher. Their meat is sourced from a number of hand-picked quality producers around the country, which means that their range of meats is broader than the average online butcher.

For example, you can order a whole animal, which has separated into recommended cuts and joints if you wish, along with many grass fed and free range options. It is also possible to buy individual cuts as you would at a butcher’s shop, or you can choose from their selection boxes or hampers.

Heartier regularly provide discount offers on different types of meat, which makes them an ideal producer if you are looking to stock up for a competitive price. Every product page also tells you the breed, the producer and the origin of the meat, while deliveries are free.

The Great British Meat Company

This is one of the most popular online butchers, boasting consistently good reviews across the board for their meat, service and prices. All their meat is raised in the UK and their selection provides all of the most popular products: steaks, burgers, wild game, sausages and popular joints and roasts.

The Great British Meat Company are an ideal option if you are looking for cheap bulk deals; perfect if you can freeze or store a lot of meat at home in your freezer. They also have a dedicated lean meat section which is aimed at those buying meat for a high-protein diet.

Unlike some other online providers, they don’t offer a huge range of other products, such as charcuterie or associated products like pies, but if you’re just looking for a simple, affordable meat source, they are a great option.

Grid Iron Meat

If steak is your thing, then Grid Iron Meat have everything you need, thanks to their provision of high quality native breed meat that has been aged for 28 days in a Himalayan salt chamber.

Impressively, their prices are very competitive compared to regular steak products, and they also stock a wider range of free range meat, along with many traditional cuts of chicken, lamb, pork, smoked products and charcuterie.

Grid Iron Meat are also known for providing relatively hard to obtain cuts, such as beef briskets or pigs trotters, along with pork shoulders and other cuts suitable for smoking and curing.

All their products come locally sourced from North Yorkshire, are native breeds, and are prepared the day before dispatch so that they are delivered to you freshly butchered. The company focuses on reproducing the local butcher experience through the internet, so you can order special items or ask any questions you may have, while delivery is free in the UK if you spend a minimum amount.

Farmison

Farmison & Co have earned the ‘Best Online Butchers of the Year’ award on more than one occasion and have also landed a variety of other awards and it is not hard to see why.

All their meat is sourced from heritage breeds raised in the UK and is cut and butchered to order.

They also provide the option of bespoke butchery if you were planning a dinner party, in order to ensure all portions are the same size.

Farmison’s meat boxes are unlike those you will find elsewhere, as they contain more than just the cut of meat you’ve ordered. Their partnership with wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd enables them to provide the meat, drink and accompaniment all in one, which is ideal for special occasions. For example, at Easter time you can buy a premium lamb rack that is provided with artisan mint sauce, Himalayan black salt, and a bottle of fine claret.

For those who are looking for a more standard offering they provide a Three Sunday Roast box or a Breakfast In Bed box that contains all you need for these meals. And, you can order standard meat cuts on their own such as steak, chops, mince, sausages and roasts.

One of the most appealing aspects of their site is that you can pick which native breed meat you’d like. For example, if you want fillet steaks, you can then select from a variety of sources, including Hereford, Dexter, Aberdeen Angus and so on, and you will also find out what part of the country the meat has been sourced from, which is a great feature.

Fresh and Healthy: The Pick of English Fruit and Veg Deliveries

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Being able to rely on fresh fruit and vegetables is an important part of staying healthy. It is also a great way to show your support for small farmers and producers over the big supermarket chains, while eating more seasonal produce, which helps to preserve the global environment. The good news is that there is now a wide variety of fruit and vegetable delivery services in the UK.

All of these box schemes have different aspects and elements, so it is worth checking out a variety before you commit. A lot of boxes set their own contents, which often change from week to week, though some let you add extras to your order, or swap something you don’t like, and a few will enable you to select all of your own produce.

It is important to choose the right box size depending on the size of your household and your weekly vegetable consumption. You should also bear in mind that this type of organic produce doesn’t always last as long as the supermarket versions, although this will vary, so meal planning can help.

With most English delivery boxes, the delivery comes on a particular day, usually for environmental reasons. A number of box delivery services are fulfilled by national courier, which offers a wider choice of delivery dates along with helpful text updates. You will also need to decide whether to opt for a regular box subscription or an ad-hoc delivery.

As long as you take the time to ensure that a particular service suits your needs and that you are able to maximise the fruit and vegetables you received through effective meal planning, fruit and vegetable boxes can offer an excellent source of healthy food. Here are seven of the best in England:

Eversfield Organic

Eversfield provide organic vegetable boxes in three different sizes, along with a variety of other options that includes a box without potatoes.

The box contents vary every week and although it is not possible to choose what’s inside, you can buy items individually from their website if you prefer. 

The popular family-sized large box will feed 4-5 people for a week and you will be able to see the contents of the box in advance, and it is also possible to see the amount of each item that you’ll receive too, which is handy for meal planning. The fruit and veg is delivered in a cardboard box, and there is usually a good range of vegetables for family meals that last a while week. There is a minimum spend figure, but this is not difficult to reach as the site also offers meat and dairy products.

Riverford

Riverford are one of the UK’s leading fruit and vegetable services. Their boxes are delivered in an open box that can be recycled; just leave it out to be collected when you get your next delivery. In fact, the box can be used up to ten times, according to the company.

You will be able to check out on their website what to expect in your box for a couple of weeks ahead, though they also warn that items might change according to what is best on the day. Some elements of the boxes remain the same, so you will get potatoes and carrots or onions every week, with other contents changing. You can also choose from different sizes and types of box, including fruit or veg only, or a mixture of the two and there’s also a UK only choice.

As with many of the best box delivery services, you can buy a one-off box or arrange a regular order, while delivery is free on a set day in your area. Your Riverford box will also come with a newsletter, storage tips for your produce and a recipe.

Boxfresh

Unlike most delivery boxes, Boxxfresh allows you to build your own box, and there are no subscriptions to choose from, you just order as and when you want, choosing the size of the box from four categories, ranging from small to extra large.

The Boxfresh produce is seasonal, and their website highlights which small farms all of the produce comes from. Pleasingly, you can choose from any combination of the available fruit, vegetables and herbs through the website, which is easy to use. You can also add extras including pasta and cheese, and the minimum spend of £25 is low by comparison with other services.

The Boxfresh produce is delivered in a sturdy recyclable cardboard box and absolutely no plastic is used. You will also find a handy recipe in each box to help you get the most out of your produce.

Abel and Co

The Abel and Co fruit and vegetable boxes are really great for encouraging you to +eat what’s in season. The produce arrives in a small box tied with string that includes a welcome booklet explaining the ethos of the service, how to store your produce and how long it should last. Some of the items are delivered in plastic bags, while others, such as potatoes and beans, come in paper bags, while the delivery box itself is fully recyclable.

You can check on their website to find out what you will receive each week, with a caveat that there might be substitutions. With eight items a week in your box, there is plenty of room for variety and the quality of the fruit and veg is always excellent.

The Abel and Co service is arguably best considered as a supplement to your regular shopping as it doesn’t usually contain all of the fruit and veg you will need, but there are lots of extras you can add to your selection. You won’t be able to choose your delivery date, as the delivery will be carried out when the vans are in your local area, but delivery is flexible in terms of how often you receive the delivery, as you can buy as a one off or in eight-week subscriptions.

Fruitandveg2u

This is a large box that comes with free delivery through courier DPD and is available throughout England from Tuesday to Friday, providing an impressive amount of veg and salad. The produce comes from around the world, although the company source from the UK where they can.

It is possible to choose from a range of four boxes, detailed on their website, including a standard sized box, an exotic vegetable selection and a luxury fruit option, along with extras, which range from a stew mix to coconut and dates. You can also ask for substitutions in your box.

There are no subscription options with this company so you simply order what you want, when you want. The box remains the same all year, though you will find that the add-ons are more seasonal.

The items are delivered in a handy recyclable cardboard box, with some items like potatoes and cucumber wrapped in plastic, and there is always a healthy range of good produce.

Organic Delivery Company

The Organic Delivery Company offer a vegetable box that is a good mix of basics such as carrots, potatoes, cucumber and tomatoes, along with some more unusual offerings including fennel and asparagus. The quantities in which the vegetables are supplied is generous, and there is usually sufficient produce to last a week.

The delivery box in which the produce is contained is cardboard and features a message that the box should be handed back to the driver next time so that it can be reused. Lettuce and spinach came in a plastic wrapper to preserve their freshness, but there is an option to order a box that is free of plastic, if that is your preference.

The contents of the box are changed every week and you can add other items if you prefer, or just build your own box from scratch. You also have the option of ordering on an ad-hoc basis, or setting up a regular delivery. The company website also has the handy feature of detailing where each element of the box was sourced from. All of the vegetables are amply sized and fresh, and you also have the option of three different vegetable box sizes. Deliveries come through a courier, and are free in the London area if your spend is more than the minimum amount.

Milk and More

Delivered by your milkman, this box is likely to be on your doorstep before seven in the morning. The produce is delivered in a no-frills cardboard box which can be left out and collected during your next delivery for reuse or recycling. Most of the elements of the box don’t have extra packaging although produce such as tomatoes may come in tomato cartons.

The Milk and More boxes change according to the season, and you can find out what to expect on the company website, which also helpfully lists the quantities available by weight. The boxes usually show a healthy mix of salad and vegetables and the organic produce is high quality.

The website itself is easy to use and as well as the boxes, you can also buy items like bread, meat, eggs, tea and milk. Boxes are available as a one-off or a regular delivery and there is no minimum spend or delivery charge, while you can choose from three different weekly delivery days.

Pikt

Pikt give you a choice of ready-made boxes or the chance to build your own box of up to 25 items, with each item individually priced. All produce is organic, there is no plastic wrapping and you can choose from a range of box types including the seasonal veg box, fruit or salad boxes and even more unusual boxes, including juice.

The weekday delivery service is provided via DPD and you can choose your delivery date, while you can also opt for weekly or fortnightly delivery, or buy as a one-off.

The box is relatively small, but fully recyclable and offers excellent value, providing enough fruit or veg to see you through to your next delivery, helping to minimize waste.

Baking Heaven: the Pick of London’s Bakeries

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The success of the Great British Bake Off has rekindled the national interest in baking at the same time that the artisanal bakery was making inroads on the UK High Street.

The result has been an explosion of baking outlets that offer the very best of English baking to a wider audience than ever before, particularly in the nation’s capital.

Baking in England actually has a relatively short history. In fact, domestic baking has only really been a significant mass phenomenon for around 150 years. Of course, the wealthy had always had access to cakes, breads and pies, but most English folk rarely saw such luxuries. For most of the 16th and 17th centuries, cakes were mostly stodgy yeast-or-ale-based concoctions, including expensive spices such as saffron, brought to the UK thanks to the expanding British Empire.

For most ordinary people, baking generally meant the mass production of bread in commercial bakeries. In fact, the production and consumption of bread were an essential part of daily life, although the conditions in bakeries were harsh.

By the mid-19th Century, advancements such as the introduction of baking powder, along with the availability of sugar, and the invention of the range oven meant that baking became more widely accessible and it soon became a domestic obsession. Whisks, eggbeaters, and rolling pins became regular features of English kitchens, and new recipes were created.

Cakes produced in this period often had a high alcohol or fruit content in order to boost their longevity, while also including spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Pasties and pies were also popular amongst the working classes as they offered a fast and convenient form of nutrition.

By the Second World War, baking had become a huge part of English life, with most families boasting their own range of traditional and regional concoctions. The outbreak of war in 1939 had a major effect not only on the ingredients that were available, but also the amount of time housewives had to spend on domestic activities, as vast numbers of women entered work for the first time. Yet despite wartime rationing, baking remained incredibly popular.

That popularity, combined with the rise of artisanal commercial baking and the influence of a higher profile for baking in the media, has led to the current profusion of bakery outlets, particularly in London. Here is a selection of the best that the capital has to offer:

Brick House Bakery

Based in an old electric warehouse in East Dulwich, Brick House Bakery is the artisanal benchmark for San Francisco-style slow-fermentation sourdough bread. The walls of the bakery are whitewashed brick, and there are large glass windows that flood natural light on to the bakers hard at work in the back. The bread produced here is handmade and kneaded over two days before being baked on a stone, all with organic flour. A particularly popular produce is the Peckham Rye, which usually sells out by midday. They also sell a delicious range of sandwiches, avocado toast and pastries.

The Little Bread Pedlar

One of the most popular bakeries to visit, the Little Bread Pedlar is only open on one day a week. It is tucked in the chic district of Bermondsey, based under the area’s signature railway arches. This location was where the founders of the bakery first met and devised their bicycle-delivery service, selling brownies all across London. The brownies are still a popular product, but the bread and the almond croissants match them for popularity. Their intensely-crusted sourdough bread is much sought after, while their croissants are greatly in demand.

Dusty Knuckle Bakery

Originally housed in an old shipping container, behind the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, this bakery has moved and is now located in a brick and steel café nearby. It boasts something of a cult following for lunchtime made-to-order sandwiches with a variety of inventive fillings, with ingredients such as porchetta, salsa verde, braised spring onion and purple sprouting broccoli, chard, olives, feta and almonds on doughy focaccia bread. Morning buns, turnovers and savoury breads are also a big part of their appeal, and they have even set up a baking school for enthusiastic baking beginners.

The Proof

A business that thrived during the lockdown, the Proof based their success on flyers that offered a tasty and delicious cake menu. Their products are based around retro puddings, such as lemon meringue tart and sticky toffee pudding, as well as their signature Proofiteroles. Their London-wide delivery also includes Hackney Gelato ice cream and Chapel Down sparkling wine and they offer a subscription weekly pudding service.

Willy’s Pies

Set up by Will Lewis during lockdown, Willy’s Pies offer a new pie menu every week, with a limited number of pies, all of which sell out quickly. They feature classic fillings such as roast chicken, wild garlic and leek; cauliflower cheese, spinach and ricotta; along with sweets such as treacle tarts and apple pies. They deliver to North and East London by bicycle on Wednesdays, and to South and West London on Thursdays, and are one of London’s most popular bakeries.

Bread Ahead

Bread Ahead made their name by serving bread to the local fruit-and-veg suppliers in Borough Market and are best known for their fluffy, sweet-filled doughnuts, although they also make an extravagant cinnamon roll and soft powdered amaretti. Their Soho base is a perfect place to sample brioche French toast and a cheesy croque monsieur. You can even take a course at the Bread Ahead baking school located in Borough Market and learn some of their sourdough secrets.

Pophams Bakery

Pophams Bakery opened its doors in October 2017 and was soon earning social media fame for their laminated pastries, particularly the maple-bacon croissant. They now have a second permanent spot on the Richmond Road in Hackney, with an open kitchen along with a chef’s table and pasta bar which is run by their current baker Phil King.

Flor

London restaurant Lyles has been recognised as one of the top 40 in the world, and the team behind that success has also opened Flor, a bakery-meets-wine bar in Borough Market. As Lyle’s more casual sister spot, this is a beautiful light-filled space that transitions from doughy baked goods in the morning to sharing plates for lunch and supper. Pastries produced by head baker Anna Higham include brioche filled with sourdough caramel and birch-syrup kouign amann.

St John Bakery

St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields, is a classic London restaurant and regulars visit for the unusual nose-to-tail menu. In 2010, they set up their first stand-alone bakery on Druid Street in Bermondsey and then opened a second in Covent Garden a few years later. The ingredients they use are sourced from local suppliers, including dairy from Neal’s Yard just around the corner. Their doughnuts, featuring seasonal jams, are delicious, as are their hot cross buns.

Jacob the Angel

Located in Covent Garden, English coffee house Jacob the Angel has proven enormously popular. The space features just a few tables, along with plates piled high with fresh rainbow-coloured salads. Savoury options available include sandwiches such as chicken, rose harissa, whipped feta and rocket as well as spinach, leek and nutmeg bourekas, and the much sought after individual coconut cream pies are a sumptuous treat.

Layla Bakery

East London has been ahead of the game when it comes to bakeries, but Layla, which opened its doors in March 2021 is bringing made-on-site sourdough to Portobello Road in the west of the city. They don’t have a delivery service, but the site is worth a visit, as they perfect croissants, sausage rolls and focaccia sarnies that change weekly, featuring ingredients such as roast celeriac, pickled radish, tahini and chard. You can also enjoy freshly squeezed blood-orange juice and coffee from Brixton’s Assembly roasters on the pavement.

Butter and Crust

Butter and Crust is a new sourdough-by-bicycle service for South London, which launched back in October last year. Deliveries arrive before 9:00 and they offer a choice of three sourdough loaves as well as Monmouth Coffee, Townsend Farm apple juice, cultured butter, seasonal jams and granola. Butter and Crust also team up with top artisan bakeries to provide a range of four pastries each week. These can include cardamom buns from The Snapery Bakery, caramelised white-chocolate, almond and spelt cookies from Maya’s Bakehouse or kouign-amann from Hedone.

Pickles and Bakes

Natalie Lewis was another enterprising baker who turned the lockdown to her advantage and her business has grown into a delicious country-wide delivery service. She was particularly successful with her fudgy gooey brownies, fluffy madeleines and mini cakes. She has also devised paint-your-own biscuit sets, which come in all shapes and sizes, to keep your kids entertained.

Sourdough Sophia

Launched in April 2020 by Sophia Sutton-Jones, this bakery has since expanded thanks partly to her successful use of social media. Her bakery produces delicious baked-on-site bread, Basque cheesecake, salted pecan rye brownies, chocolate babka croissant loaves and sourdough pretzels, which can be bought on site or pre-order. She also offers online courses, tips and tutorials.

Buns From Home

Having launched from a private kitchen at the time of the first lockdown, Buns From Home is now a thriving bakery just off Portobello that attracts a daily throng of customers, partly due to the success of their feature cinnamon and cardamom buns. There are plenty more baked treats to enjoy, including a range of tempting buns in flavours such as tiramisu, cheesecake and pistachio and coconut, along with a savoury Croque monsieur focaccia. You can also order home delivery.

Margot Bakery

Set up by two local entrepreneurs, Margot specialises in sourdough and a small team of bakers take three to four days to produce each of Margot’s signature breads: sourdough staples and takes on classic ryes. This is one of London’s must-visit bakeries, which focuses heavily on ingredients. Among their most popular offerings are the tahini and halva, chocolate and cinnamon babkas and the changing sourdough pastries including such delights as twice-baked apple croissants.

Pavilion

This always-popular lakeside café serves up an all-day breakfast menu, in which full fry-ups, Sri Lankan hoppers and classic avocado toast all features. This is perfect place for a long-weekend morning in Victoria Park but they also offer two other East London bakeries, on Broadway Market and Columbia Road, providing fresh breads and flaky pastries, while they even have a bakery in Newquay, Cornwall, which has a loyal following.

E5 Bakehouse

This Hackney hotspot is extremely popular, thanks to its specialty bread, the Hackney Wild, a blend of heritage and modern wheat grains, reputed to be chef Michel Roux Jr’s favourite in the city. Based in a Hackney railway arch, the café fully committed to sustainability and high-quality goods. All of their bread is made by hand with organic and locally sourced ingredients and packaged in biodegradable products. The menu changes daily but includes such delights as sausage rolls, sourdough pizzas and lemon drizzle cakes.

Violet Cakes

This bakery has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame as head baker and owner Claire Ptak was chosen to bake the lemon and elderflower wedding cake for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. Yet fame hasn’t changed the basic Dalston charm of this bakery. Cakes can be made to order but the East London shop also sells a range of delights for walk-in customers, including cupcakes and whoopie pies: two biscuity cake sides topped and filled with seasonal buttercream.

Chocolate Heaven: the Best English Chocolate Sellers

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Chocolate has long been considered to be the ultimate in indulgence, both as a dessert base and a daily pick-me-up, and since it was first created by the Maya tribes of Mesoamerica, chocolate in all of its many forms has been delighting us all, from South America to Sweden.

This delicious food product begins with the cacao bean, which comes from the Spanish translation of what was an Aztec word for the bean from which chocolate was derived: chcahuatl. According to the legend, English traders spelled it incorrectly, leading to the word cocoa, which stuck.

In those days, the product produced by the Mayans wasn’t anything that we would recognise as chocolate. Their approach was to dry and grind the beans before mixing them with water to make a drink that tasted bitter and looked frothy and that was often combined with chilli.

When the Aztec empire conquered the Mayans, they took to the drink eagerly. In fact, the Aztecs and the Mayans believed that chocolate came from the gods. The Aztecs gave it as a celebratory drink to warriors at the end of a battle. They also found a use for it in religious rituals, and there is even some evidence that they employed cacao beans as a form of currency. They called the drink that was derived from the cacao bean ‘xocolatl’ which experts believe may be the source of the modern word chocolate, although there are suggestions, that the root word may be ‘choqui’ or ‘warmth’.

The drink reached Europe through the Spanish, who colonised the region. In fact, the first time that Europeans saw chocolate was likely to have been in 1502, during the fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus, when the travellers were offered cacao beans and a strange, brown drink. In 1527, Hernan Cortez sent gifts back to King Charles V of Spain, including a cargo of cacao beans. The recipe for the chocolate drink was reputedly adjusted by nuns, who added sugar cane and later, vanilla.

Originally the drink was considered worthy for its medicinal qualities, but the addition of both sugar and vanilla transformed it into a luxurious sweet treat. Chocolate soon caught on among the Spanish royal family, and the drink spread rapidly among the European aristocracies. It was first served to French aristocrats in 1615, and merchants and traders took it to every corner of the continent.

Chocolate arrived in England in the 1650s, and by the end of the decade, chocolate was being served in pubs and inns, then, in 1674, English customers got their first taste of solid chocolate with the first sales of what were called ‘Spanish chocolate puddings’ at the time.

Throughout the 18th century, chocolate’s popularity spread, and it was reputed to have aphrodisiac as well as health properties, and as the Industrial Revolution began to change the face of the continent, chocolate too was transformed and developed.

In 1778, geologist Joseph Townsend created a machine that used hydraulic energy to crush the cacao beans, which made for a faster and more efficient crushing and grinding process. In 1828, Coenraad van Houten of Amsterdam invented the ‘cocoa press’, which made it possible to remove the fat from a cacao bean, leaving a fine powder.

The result was a tastier drink, and soon people started to add milk to the basic recipe to further enhance the luxury of the product. Then in 1847, JS Fry and Sons came up with the idea of recombining the fat of the bean with the powder, adding sugar and then setting it in moulds, thus creating the first chocolate bar, a product that was further refined by Daniel Peter of Switzerland, who added powdered milk. Further contributions to the development of the chocolate bar were made by Joseph Fry, Henri Nestle, Rodolphe Lindt and Daniel Peter.

By the end of the 19th century, the chocolate industry was growing rapidly throughout all European countries and has remained strong ever since, with England one of the biggest markets.

In fact, the UK as a whole is the sixth largest consumer of chocolate in the world with an average of 7.6 kg consumed for every person every year. In particular, English consumers appreciate very sweet milk chocolate, accounting for around 70% of such bars sold on the continent.

And while chocolate is undoubtedly a luxury food, it has a number of positive qualities. For a start, it is an invigorating and stimulating natural anti-depressant. It contains large quantities of potassium, magnesium and phosphorus along with calcium, iron and sodium and a number of vitamins. Chocolate also features theobromine, which stimulates the nervous system and assists with muscular exertion, phenylethylamine, which has been shown to exhibit psychostimulant properties and serotonin, which can play a role in combating depression.

All of this chocolate consumption may mean that our supermarket shelves are full of mass-produced chocolate, but there are also a number of English artisan chocolatiers, who are producing a fabulous range of chocolate confection. To help you explore the best of what England has to offer to the chocolate lover, here are six top chocolate makers to look out for:

Montezuma’s – Sussex

Montezuma’s is a family-owned, English-made chocolate company and they have rapidly built a reputation for developing some of the finest and most innovative chocolate available in the UK. Montezuma’s boast an impressive range of chocolate bard, truffles, fruits and drinking chocolate, which are all made on their premises, close to the beach in West Sussex.

Cartografie – London

A chocolatier that came out of the lockdown, Cartografie was created by two successful chefs, Kae Shibata and Sven-Hanson Britt, who found themselves without jobs. The company uses only the most premium, ethically-produced cocoa beans to make handcrafted pralines and bon-bons with the finest equatorial ingredients, selling them through social channels: they sold out again and again. Their success has enabled them to set up a studio, where they make each chocolate by hand.

The range includes some fabulous examples, including salted beurre noisette ganache from the Dominican Republic’s Yuna Valley, and scorched hay infused caramel ganache with roasted banana using Trinitario beans grown in a Tanzanian national park. Many of their chocolate products come with tasting notes to enhance your enjoyment of these luxurious treats.

Land – East London

Land was created by chocolatier Phil Landers, who launched the company after returning from travelling in Central America where he found work on a cocoa farm. From his base in East London, Landers hand sorts the best cacao beans before going through the painstaking process of roasting, cracking, winnowing, and grinding, turning out 60kg batches twice a week.

As well as employing single origin beans from around the globe, Landers also works with local producers. A good example of this is his 65% Malt Dark Chocolate bar, which draws on malt barley grain acquired from an East London brewery, and he works with a local forager to obtain London-based ingredients such as cobnuts, fennel and alexander seeds. Land is also famous for producing an exquisite drinking chocolate, which is sold in some of London’s top cafes.

Pump St Bakery – Suffolk

As you can guess, Pump St operates primarily as a bakery, in Orford, Suffolk, but it also produces some of England’s best small batch bean-to-bar chocolate, which has earned a host of awards. Like the bread products produced at Pump St, their chocolate is built around the beauty of local sourcing, and it uses a variety of close to home ingredients, including rye and sourdough breadcrumbs. If you like the sound of the combination of bread and chocolate, check out the Pump St limited edition bars, based around Panettone, Eccles cakes and Hot Cross Buns.

Creighton’s – Bedfordshire

Creighton’s was founded in 2010 by a mother-daughter combination, Andrea Huntingdon and Lucy Elliott, and has become well known for its small-batch, handmade chocolate as well as the innovative flavour combinations they come up with, which runs from ramen to retro biscuits. Creighton’s operates with an all-woman team of five and over the last ten years has grown to the point where they can produce as many as 10,000 bars a week, with almost all the work carried out by hand.

Their distinctive bars use ingredients from all over the UK, including Maldon sea salt, Scottish edible flowers, Bedfordshire-roasted coffee beans and Yorkshire biscuits. A particularly popular product from Creighton’s is their Spoon of Cereal bar, which features marshmallow-flavoured white chocolate with cereal hoops, while gin lovers should definitely check out the Pink Gin chocolate bar which is made through a collaboration with Tatty Devine, a London jewellery maker.

Willie’s Cacao – Devon

Created by chocolate maker Willie Harcourt-Cooze, Willie’s Cacao makes more than 25 products, yet still relies on a low-tech approach, which employs antique machines and a hand-made ethos. Harcourt-Cooze uses 100% natural ingredients to produce small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate and employs a famously painstaking attention to detail. This ensures that the chocolate is tried and tested at each stage of the process, with each batch taking up to 21 days to produce. Known for its range of chocolate truffles and bars, Willie’s also makes a popular drinking chocolate. 

Solkiki – Dorset

Launched in 2015, Solkiki has earned an impressive array of awards and prizes for their bean-to-bar vegan chocolate. In fact, the company has gathered over 70 international awards.

Their core range is focused on high quality single-estate chocolate, which is made in a building that is powered by renewable energy. Solkiki’s micro-batch chocolate, made in batch sizes of less than 50kg, is a popular product, and features local ingredients, such as Dorset apples and home-grown chillies.

Dormouse Chocolates – Manchester

The owner of Dormouse Chocolate, Isobel Carse, began making chocolate in her home back in 2015, an operation in which she did everything, even down to the peeling of the cacao beans. From those humble beginnings, her business has grown and now operates out of Manchester’s Great Northern Warehouse, turning out micro batches of chocolate.

The core product is built on a combination of simple ingredients: cacao, sugar, and organic milk powder, and there is also a range of limited edition bars, such as the Christmas stollen bar, containing roasted almonds and cherries. If white chocolate is your thing, you will also enjoy the 39% Madagascan Toasted White, which is produced with caramelised milk powder, and which has the distinction of being the only white bar to earn gold at the 2018’s Academy of Chocolate Awards. 

The Best of Birmingham Curry

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Food traditions are not frozen in time, they evolve as a nation changes, and the perfect example is the rise of the English curry. A food that was completely unknown in England before the 18th century, curry has become so popular that every year there is a National Curry Week, while curry makes a contribution of more than $5 billion into the UK economy. Back in 2001, the UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook referred to one curry dish, Chicken Tikka Masala, as a true national dish.

Of course, the origins of curry and the fascinating array of flavour possibilities associated with it, lie in India. The sad history of colonialism meant that by the 18th century, English presence in India had been long established, and when men from the East India Company returned home to England, they wanted to recreate the incredible food they had enjoyed while in India. Some were able to bring back their favourite cooks, but others attempted to persuade their local coffee houses to recreate curry (with varying degrees of success!) There is a record of curry being served at the Norris Street Coffee House in Haymarket, and by 1784, curry and rice were specialities in some London restaurants.

The first English cookery book containing an Indian recipe was by Hannah Glasse, and was published in 1747. The first edition contained three pilau recipes, while later editions also found room to detail recipes for fowl curry, rabbit curry and Indian pickle.

The first purely Indian restaurant opened in 1810 near Portman Square, Mayfair and was owned by a man named Sake Dean Mahomed who had been born in 1759 in present-day Patna, and served as a trainee surgeon for the East India Company. He subsequently travelled to England, married an Irishwoman and created his restaurant, which was designed to recreate the authentic ambience and tastes of the Indian dining experience, complete with bamboo-cane chairs and Indian paintings.

Curry’s rapid rise to prominence in England may well have been partially explained by the comparative blandness of English food. Curry, with its bright colours and array of strong flavours, was a delightful change. The novelty of curry and its taste-bud firing flavours soon earned the cuisine a place in popular English culture, including a mention in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848).

By the 1840s sellers of Indian dishes were also promoting the dietary benefits of curry. The theory was that curry aided digestion while stimulating the stomach thereby invigorating blood circulation which could in turn lead to a more vigorous mind. Curry also gained popularity as a good way of using up cold meat. In fact currying cold meat became the origin of jalfrezi, a popular English dish.

A sign of the increasing cultural relevance of curry was the fact that between 1820 and 1840, the import of turmeric to the UK increased three fold.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 temporarily halted curry’s rise to prominence, but its fortunes were restored partially by Queen Victoria. Her interest in India was on display at Osborne House, built between 1845 and 1851, in which she collected Indian objects and furnishings. Latter, the Durbar Room in the same house was commissioned by the Queen to recreate an authentic Indian dining room, complete with white and gold plasterwork in the shapes of flowers and peacocks.

Victoria also employed Indian servants, including a young man named Abdul Karim, who according to historians, became her ‘closest friend’. He apparently impressed her with chicken curry served with dal and pilau, and later, her grandson George V was said to be a big fan of curry and Bombay duck.

By the early 20th century, the UK was home to more than 70,000 South Asians, including servants, students and ex-seamen. New Indian restaurants sprang up all over London, with the most famous being Salut-e-Hind in Holborn and the Shafi in Gerrard Street.

In 1926, Veeraswamy at 99 Regent Street became the first high-end Indian restaurant in the capital. It was founded by Edward Palmer whose family had long been associated with India. His restaurant proved so popular in capturing the ambience of the Raj that notable clients included the Prince of Wales (who was later Edward VIII), Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin.

Yet the real expansion of curry as an English cuisine occurred after the Second World War. In the 1940s and 1950s, most of the big Indian restaurants in London employed ex-seamen from Bangladesh, particularly from the area of Syhlet. Many of these seamen had ambitions of opening their own restaurants, and went on to buy bombed-out chip shops and cafes that were already selling curry and rice. These new restaurants stayed open after 11 pm, when pubs in England closed, enabling them to cash in on the after-pub trade. The result was that eating hot curry after a night out in the pub became an English tradition, and as customers became increasingly fond of curry, these restaurants evolved into a range of Indian takeaways and eateries.

Following the war between India and Pakistan in 1971, there was an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants into the UK, and many of them entered the catering business. In fact, by some estimates, up to three-quarters of Indian restaurants in England are owned by Bangladeshi immigrants. In fact, there are now more Indian restaurants in Greater London than in Delhi and Mumbai combined.

But while London may win out in terms of quantity, England’s second city, Birmingham, can lay claim to being the capital of quality curry. From Bombay-style street food and sweet centres to Gujarati vegetarian cafes and Indian fine dining, Birmingham has an impressive curry history. In fact, it was the city’s Indian restaurants that helped to lift the local culinary culture out of the doldrums of the post-industrial period, when Birmingham was struggling under the weight of recession and poverty.

The biggest step in the evolution of Birmingham curry came in the 1970s when the first Balti – a form of curry cooked in a pan called a karahi – was made in Sparkbrook. The Balti has proved to be the city’s signature curry dish and has spread in popularity throughout the West Midlands.

And now that the restaurants of England are slowly opening and dining out with friends and family is back on the menu, there is no better time to show your support for the city’s fine array of curry restaurants. Here are ten of the best:

Lasan

Arguably Birmingham’s best-known Indian restaurant, Lasan has made the most of the wave of publicity that resulted from its appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s ‘The F Word’ in 2010 and is now undoubtedly one of the showpieces of the city’s fine Indian food tradition. Lasan is also beautifully situated, tucked among the lovely Victorian buildings of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, and backing on to the leafy St Paul’s Square.

Opheem

Opheem is the work of Birmingham superchef Aktar Islam who had a vision for a progressive Indian restaurant. Situated on Summer Row, the former chef at Lasan, who has also scooped numerous awards and TV appearances has said that his new restaurant will set the bar higher for Indian fine dining. Opheem is a beautifully decorated location, from the cherry blossom-decked bar to the bustling open kitchen, with the emphasis is firmly on style and expression. As expected, the food is inspired and stunning, particularly his reimagining of classics like laal maans and hyderabadi biryani.

Raja Monkey

Based in Hall Green, Raja Monkey is a little more forward-thinking and comfortable with modern marketing methods than other South Asian restaurants. It presents a range of thalis and street food, while the artfully aged interior aims to evoke nostalgia for the roadside diners of India, yet with all the facilities the modern diner expects.

Rajdoot

Arguably the highlight of the Jewellery Quarter, Rajdoot is the epitome of dining luxury and sets the standard for all Birmingham curry houses. It is also one of the oldest eateries in the city, having served fine Indian food for almost 50 years, with a list of clients that apparently includes the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Princess Margaret. Rajdoot offers a distinctive ambience, with its dark wood and plush furnishings and offers some of the best North Indian curry dishes around.

Itihaas

While Birmingham has long been famous for its South Asian cuisine, some of the best restaurants in the city have transcended a local audience, and Itihaas is among them. It is ideally placed at the edge of both the Jewellery Quarter and the Colmore Business District, and draws plenty of custom from professionals, as well as from the growing band of dedicated English foodies.

Asha’s Restaurant

Located on Newhall Street, this is the Birmingham version of the restaurant businesses that has proven successful in both Dubai and Kuwait. Asha’s Restaurant offers a great combination of Indian music and Indian food. The interior of the dining space is large but manages to maintain intimacy, and is decorated in a warm, welcoming style. And the food is sumptuous, from the fabulous tandoori kebabs to their distinctive and unmissable curries.

Zindiya

This Indian street food restaurant is rooted in Indian tradition but with a modern twist to suit an urban audience. The interior features artfully mismatched furniture, exposed brick walls and huge murals of Indian brand logos, while the street food is delightful. It includes thalis, which feature the popular pani puri, along with chilli cheese on toast and okra fries. You will also find a healthy selection of craft beers, lassis, masala chai and Indian soft drinks.

Pushkar

This restaurant on Broad Street is a winner of the award for best restaurant in the Midlands at the National Curry Awards, and it’s not hard to see why as it offers a classy refuge on the city’s craziest nightlife strip. The restaurant offers a fabulous cocktail bar, where you can order a signature mojito before getting stuck into a delightful menu of Punjabi and north Indian dishes. Pushkar is reputedly a big hit with the Indian cricket team, who often eat there when they’re playing at Edgbaston.  

Shababs

Shababs is one of the last remaining original Birmingham Balti houses, complete with kitsch paisley and swirl decorations and graphic prints on the wall. For those used to a more modern Indian dining experience, this may seem a little out of place, but the food more than makes up for it, as this restaurant is all about the menu, which is packed with tasty delights.

Indian Brewery Co

Bringing together the crisp craft beers of the Indian Brewery Company and a delicious take on Indian street food, this cool and vibrant restaurant under the railway arches on Snow Hill is a must for fashionable fans of Indian food. Exposed brickwork featuring an array of Bollywood posters gives the place a pleasing downtown Delhi feel, and the food is incredible, including the fat naans with chicken, veg or chilli fish and Bombay sprinkle, which are perfect with a pint of Birmingham Lager.

The Pick of English Fromageries

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The English cheesemaking tradition may not quite have attained the heights of popularity of that in France, but there is a long and proud history behind it.

It is thought that cheese making dates back as early as 8000 BCE when the first sheep farmers made the slightly grizzly discover that rennet was naturally present in the stomachs of sheep. Rennet, of course, is the enzyme that plays a major role in the creation of cheese. At some point, sheep’s’ stomachs were used as containers for milk, and the combination of the rennet and a little summer heat is likely to have produced the first forms of cheese.

As our ancestors began to fully understand this magical new food source, they also learned how to strain the resulting milk curds and later, to add salt for extra preservation, the effect being to produce a final product that we might recognise as cheese.

Of course, this was a long time before the invention of refrigeration, so even with the use of salt, there was a limit on how long cheese could be stored. So most cheeses in warm climates were made daily and eaten fresh. A few Roman texts describe how popular cheese was throughout their Empire. In fact, the Romans enjoyed a range of cheeses, considering cheese making an art form.

The word cheese also owes something to the Romans, being derived from the Latin word caseus, although the root of this may be the proto-Indo-European root kwat, meaning to ferment.

The Romans undoubtedly brought their cheese making skills to Britain but by that time there was already a flourishing cheese making tradition. At this time, English cheesemaking was localised which helped lead to the development of countless local cheese traditions and styles. When Christianity arrived in England, monasteries also became key cheese making factors.

The monasteries kept the traditions of cheese making alive until the dissolution of their establishment in the 1530s, as Henry VIII fought to put himself at the head of the English church. The result was that the art of cheesemaking went into a decline until the 1600s.

Fortunately, the increasingly urban population of England and the development of new cheese making techniques meant that there was a revival in the fortunes of cheese. Larger dairies and creameries appeared to meet the needs of the growing populace of towns and cities. This had the unfortunate side effect of leading to the decline of artisanal cheesemaking.

Fortunately, this process has been reversed in recent decades and by the 2000s, there was a new and fast growing artisanal cheese movement, which has helped to revive some ancient English cheeses and created entire new cheese products for us all to enjoy.

The English cheesemaking sector has also faced a new challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns. With many restaurants closing down for the duration, there was a sudden drop in demand for cheese, leaving cheesemakers and dairies struggling to cope.

Fortunately, cheese shops were able to step up and help. Specialist cheese chops, which for decades have been promoting English artisan cheeses, have offered a lifeline for the makers of some of the UK’s best cheeses. Many of these fromageries offer a fascinating variety of cheeses and some of them are tourist destinations in their own right. To show your support for the English cheese industry, here are some of the top fromageries to check out this summer.

Country Cheeses

Owned by Gary and Elise Jungheim, Country Cheeses have sold English cheese in Devon for more than 30 years. They began with a stall at Pannier Market, in Tavistock, and now they operate three Country Cheeses shops in the county: in Topsham, Totnes and Tavistock. They sell an impressive range of 150 cheeses, mostly from the West Country, as well as bespoke cheeses ordered from local producers, such as the Sharpham Estate’s award-winning Celeste. 

The Cheese Hamlet

The Cheese Hamlet was set up way back in 1960 and over the last sixty years, has landed over forty awards, making it one of Manchester’s best places to find artisanal cheeses, from around the world – they are particularly renowned for their Swiss cheeses – and from homegrown cheese makers.

La Fromagerie

She started out by selling cheese from her garden shed, but Patricia Michelson went on to create La Fromagerie in Highbury, London, in 1992. Two more shops followed, the first in Marylebone in 2002 and then another in Bloomsbury in 2017. The stores are famous for their ‘cheese rooms’, which have replaced traditional glass counters with open shelves stacked high with products from the UK and Europe. La Fromagerie also works with the Academy of Cheese to offer day courses for professionals and cheese enthusiasts everywhere.

The Courtyard Dairy

This multi-award-winning The Courtyard Dairy in Settle, North Yorkshire is a must-visit destination for cheese-lovers. Run by Andy and Kathy Swinscoe, it comprises a beautiful shop selling artisan cheeses from the UK and Europe, a cafe serving fondue and toasties, and a cheese museum, where visitors can learn about the history of cheesemaking. 

The Old Cheese Shop

There is a tradition of cheese-making in Hartington, Derbyshire, that dates back to the 1870s, but local production ceased with the closure of the Hartington cheese factory in 2009. So a group of local cheesemakers formed Hartington Creamery to keep the tradition alive. One of those shops was the Old Cheese Shop in the centre of Hartington village, and it offers over 100 varieties of British and Irish cheeses, including the creamery’s award-winning stilton.

The Bristol Cheesemonger

The Bristol Cheesemonger won Best Cheese Retailer at the Great British Cheese Awards in 2017 and has a reputation as one of the trendiest cheese shops around. The Bristol Cheesemonger is housed inside a shipping container at the city’s Wapping Wharf development and is home to an expertly curated selection of the South West’s best cheeses.

The Mousetrap Cheese Shop

Based in Hereford, the Mousetrap Cheese Shop has been selling cheese since 1990 and the team involved have decades of experience and knowledge to share. Every week they focus on a particularly good cheese (with plenty of free samples), and their full range is one of the most comprehensive in England. They also have branches in Ludlow and Leominster.

Neal’s Yard Dairy

Founded in London’s Covent Garden in 1979, Neal’s Yard has played a major role in the great English cheese revival. It works with around 40 cheesemakers across the UK and Ireland, choosing the best cheeses to mature and sell on from its three London outposts. Its speciality is the curation of traditional UK regional cheeses, showcasing the nation’s unique cheese cultures.

Hamish Johnston

Based in Battersea, in London, Hamish Johnston has been operating since 1994 and has evolved to become one of the most important cheese shops in London. This outlet is particularly devoted to spreading a love of good cheese. They emphasise how important it is to taste what you’re buying, so they lay on plenty of free tasters to help you find just the right cheese.