Traveling to the UK this summer? Don't miss these food lovers' havens!
SPLENDID SEAFOOD at Gairloch, north-west Scotland
Ever since Victorian days, Gairloch has been a renowned holiday resort, with fine sandy beaches, stunning scenery and year-round tranquillity. Nowadays the lure of splendid and affordable food has become an added attraction, making this a true slice of foodie heaven.
The beach is still a good place to start. Within the past year, Gairloch and four nearby beaches have been awarded flags for best beach. So as you drag your picnic hamper down over the stretch of sand, it is good to know that you are on one of the cleanest beaches in the land.
Once you tire of sand-castle digging, walk down to the harbour. This is where Victorian visitors arrived by steamer; now there is a ferry service from here to Portree on Skye during the summer. You can also take a sea-angling or wildlife-watching trip from here.
One of the best inns in north-west Scotland – for its friendly welcome and superb, local food – is award-winning The Old Inn in Gairloch. Try Loch Ewe scallops – the most delicious imaginable. The Old Inn also serves a superb ‘Seafood kettle’ with local langoustines, skate, squat lobsters and mussels with aïoli. Or try the home-smoked halibut with rocket salad.
Take the stunning drive from Gairloch over the Pass of the Cattle to Applecross. Here you can sit on the beach with a glass of wine from The Applecross Inn, looking over to the island of Raasay, as you order one of their memorable prawn sandwiches. As you drive home ready for dinner, you could opt for butcher Kenny Morrison’s wild venison sausages barbecued on the beach – remember, northern Scotland has long hours of daylight. Then, if you are feeling thirsty, take a short drive over the hills to the Drumchork Lodge Hotel in Aultbea – where you can find over 500 single malts.
And if you feel you need to work up an appetite for all the specialities of the area, Gairloch also offers falconry, a heritage museum, and pony-trekking as well as an excellent nine-hole golf course overlooking the sea.
BUY THE BEST - The Whitstable Shellfish Company (whitstableoystercompany.com) offers rock oysters from the west coast of Scotland.
Enchanting isle in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight
This tiny fishing and yacht port – the island’s oldest town – retains its 16th-century appearance with its castle built in 1547. Surrounded by water, Yarmouth is the place to watch the boats go by over sundowners of the island’s excellent wine.
A five-minute signed walk leads to Sandhard beach, in a nature reserve with barbecue facilities – grill the lobster or sea bass you’ve bought fresh from boats on the quay. Shop for goodies in town – Hopkins in the High Street and Wavells in James Street sell fish, groceries, fresh local produce and wines; Angela’s Deli in Quay Street has a delicious selection of homemade picnic treats. If you want crab then go to Bembridge on the east coast – Best Dressed Crab in Town offers fresh cooked crab and lobster direct from the owner’s boat. While in Bembridge, visit Island Mustards whose Victorian recipes include whisky, ginger, orange, Wight wine flavours, plus jams and preserves, herb jellies, ‘hellish relish’ and chutneys.
From Yarmouth, explore the island by car or bike. Discover the range of produce from wines and ciders to garlic, asparagus, tomatoes on the vine, bacon and dairy produce. The Garlic Farm at Newchurch will sell you everything to spice up your picnic and your kitchen, from garlic (of course) to pickles, chutneys and garlic bread made from flour from Calbourne Water Mill.
Minghella’s Luxury Ice Cream at Wootton Bridge is worth a visit. It’s run by the parents of film director Anthony and sells award-winning ice creams, including Piña Colada and Crème brûlée. At Adgestone Vineyard, there are vineyard tours, free wine tastings, a café, and a gift shop. At Rosemary Vineyard, there are self-guided trails, wine talks and free tastings, as well as a café, all in 30 acres. After a busy day, dine at The George, a 17th-century townhouse on Yarmouth seafront owned by Amy Willcock of Aga fame. Seaview Restaurant in Seaview lives up to its name, and is popular with yachties and celebs. If you prefer a pub, then the Red Lion, at Freshwater, offers fish pie and fishcakes. The Wight Mouse Inn, at Chale, offers 365 different whiskies.
Feast in the east
in Brancaster Staithe, north Norfolk
There’s a place on the northern curve of East Anglia where sky and sea merge into the horizon of a vast and empty beach; where salt marshes reach crooked fingers out towards the North Sea; where migrant birds settle for a season or two. On this already significant and ancient spot, the Romans constructed a fort, at the harbour they knew as Brandonum – now called Brancaster Staithe.
Today, the Staithe is a bustling place. A narrow twisting channel snakes through the salt marsh, among bullrushes and grey-green marram grass; long, incoming tides fill the creeks for people in little boats to row, to sail, to picnic and to fish. And when the catch is abundant, it will probably go to The Fish Shed on the coast road, where Margaret and Stephen Bocking preside over their pescatorial paradise.
Delicious local mussels give way to crabs and lobsters in summer, vying for attention with every kind of fish, caught by longshoremen and trawlers off the coast or brought in from the beach by local lads.
Just across the road is The White Horse, an excellent pub with views over the marshes, whose new chef is the enthusiastic young Nicholas Parker. His cooking is superb, but it is rivalled by the adventurous Eric Snaith, a few miles down the road at the elegant Titchwell Manor, and by Andy Bruce, fresh from Odette’s in London and now at The Gin Trap in Ringstead. Ten minutes away from Brancaster Staithe, The Victoria, at Holkham, sends restaurant critics into an ecstasy of delight, while at the smart little town of Burnham Market you could happily fall into the Hoste Arms.
Grooms Bakery produces a different speciality every day of the week while Humble Pie, a tiny delicatessen, is a treasure trove offering lovely local cheeses. In season, succulent samphire is sold for a song all along this coast road, which is also dotted with market gardens, pick-your-owns and a farm shop.
Although people and sophistication are coming in faster than the tide, this is a broadly generous and accommodating place where you can still feel completely alone and at ease under enormous skies.
in Fishguard, west Wales
The herring boats have long gone from the pretty harbour of Fishguard, but you can still see the remnants of the fishing industry on which this Pembrokeshire town’s prosperity was based.
Individual inshore fishermen still bring in lobsters and crabs and the quayside is often strewn with their pots, but unless you are there at just the right moment, the only place in town you can still buy locally caught fresh fish is from Peter and Beverley Hughes, the High Street butchers (hughesbutcherstclears.co.uk). While there, shop for honey, chutneys, farm-produced cheeses like Llangloffan, and cooked lamb, ‘pickled’ using an old recipe that makes it less fatty. And try Peter’s award-winning sausages: he makes 46 different varieties.
At Castle Morris, Leon and Joan Downey run Llangloffan Farmhouse Cheese Centre (welshcheese.co.uk). Their daughter Emma Lewis runs Tides Restaurant & Coffee Shop where she uses their traditional farmhouse cheese as well as shellfish caught by her husband. Dishes include organic Welsh Black beef and chilli jam, and seared Cardigan Bay scallops with soya and honey.
Fish is also strongly featured at Cnapan in Newport and decent crab sandwiches, plus well-kept beer, may be found at The Sloop Inn, Porthgain beside the picturesque old harbour from where slate used to be shipped. Almost next door, The Shed Tea Room offers a good selection of homemade cakes, cream teas, crab sandwiches and salads. And in the evening it becomes a wine bar and bistro with Caroline Jones making the best use of her fisherman husband’s catch. Dishes include warm Porthgain crab with pink grapefruit and mustard dressing or Fillet of gurnard with saffron and potato broth.
For sweet treats, try a cream tea with local Drim Farm clotted cream, homebaked scones and Sharon’s Kitchen jams a short stroll from the harbour. Or visit the Oriel-Y Felin gallery and tea room, Trefin. They have great local clotted cream teas, with homemade jam, plus Welsh black beef from their own Ty Dewi herd as well as crab sandwiches.