Gourmet UK road trip; Travelling the UK tasting amazing local food.
In October last year I took just over a week’s holiday, after a very busy summer of Devon weddings, family celebrations, business and corporate lunches and events, community gatherings and food festivals. I decided I would like to visit some friends who live in cities I’ve never been to.
I started the trip early on a Monday morning and stopped at Gloucester services not long after the sun rose. What a little paradise it is! To find a service station where good catering, ethically sourced coffee, locally made food and gifts can be found is totally alien and delightful! Normally, stopping at motorway services is the only time I will buy coffee from a chainstore because that’s all that’s often available. I had an amazing organic coffee and bought some lovely West Country artisan ale to take to my friends and read the story of the business and felt heart-warmed – if all businesses were run with this ethos (to source locally, support small businesses and provide delicious and quality produce to their customers), the world would be a better place.
Onwards I continued to have a short amble in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was beautiful to see this little town I last visited 15 years previously. The autumnal leaves were in golden and red glory and the river was beautiful to wonder beside. But, my friend and his canal boat awaited me so I went on to Leamington Spa. We took the boat through several lochs and to a lovely canal-side pub for some local ale and salty crisps. When we got back to the boat we roasted an organic, free-range rolled stuffed pork (bought from Gloucester services) with seasonal veg sides, homemade gravy with some more artisanal beer.
The next day I drove on to Birmingham, where I’d graduated from UCE in 2001 to meet uni friends and see how much the city has changed. On the first evening we went to Bodega in the centre of town and had the most delicious food – homemade fried wheat nachos with a gorgeous salsa, amazing rum cocktails followed by soft flour tacos filled with pork chimichuri. My friends had chilli and rice and large nachos – we loved it all – really impressed with the quality and creativity of the meal and it’s so fantastic to eat delicious and authentic Mexican food. After that, we went to The Victoria and had a dirty orange martini – great way to end the evening!
The next day, my friend Jay and I wondered round the Bull Ring and the centre – I was suitably awed with how much Birmingham has changed and pleased to see a vibrant independent business community. We stopped for lunch in Martineau Place at Pat Blacks Talk of the Town – out of horrible polystyrene containers we ate absolutely delicious jerk chicken, rice and beans – spicy but not too much, followed by mango juice for the fully West Indian experience!
That evening we went to Blue Ginger in Kings Heath and I ordered a seafood laksa after Jay and I shared sweet potato wrapped in rice paper and deep fried with a spicy dip and a gado gado salad. I felt pleased with myself – I was making my road trip to see friends, a culinary exploration of British and immigrant cuisine and it was delicious!!
Before leaving Birmingham, to continue my gourmet road trip, I met an old school friend in The Kitchen Garden Cafe – a really great, inspirational cafe with indoor plants, wood walls, local food and a really lovely atmosphere. From Birmingham I went to Liverpool because I’d never been there. I loved the city – wandering by the quayside, winding my way through the large, arty city, with big fancy shops (which I avoided but admired architecturally) and the new and old structures juxtaposed together forming beautiful shapes on the horizon. Exhausted in the early evening, I headed to Crosby and ate at The Albina. This was special. My friend had recommended the place to me and specifically told me to have a gin pickled egg which I was very unconvinced by. I told the waiter (who turned out to be the owner) but he was so sure I would like it, he brought it to me free of charge. Now, I hate pickled eggs. I really think they’re the worst food thing ever! But this was really tasty. Delicate, floral and fragrant with soft yolk and a delicious peppercorn sprinkle. This boded well. With it I had Beavertown Neckoil IPA then Scouse Lamb – a delicious and quite light, but rich stew with al dente carrots, vinegary onion marmalade which cut through the rich lamb and the most insanely tasty chips, twice cooked in beef fat!! With this, I had Hawkshead Great White beer from the Lake District. It was a wheat beer, again something I wouldn’t normally like, but again the owner convinced me to try. By now I was full and very happy but the owner insisted I have a dessert – when I told them I was dairy intolerant they compiled a special seasonal fruit crumble with honeycomb topping – very sweet and incredibly tasty!
Before I left, I noticed a quote I really liked; “Has anyone ever added a single hour to the length of his life by worrying about it” – I liked that!
As I don’t know anyone in Liverpool, I camped by the sea a few minutes drive out of Crosby. I woke to a beach dotted with sculptures of men – ‘Another Place’ by Antony Gormley. It was one of the most moving mornings I have ever experienced. The haunting men in different states of rust and decay, some covered in barnacles others less so.. They were identical and I found the scene absolutely breathtaking. Some info regarding Antony Gormley’s art here.
Next I arrived in Manchester and made a hungry bee-line for the food market at Picadilly Gardens where I enjoyed a spicy Indian kofte wrap. I then wondered around the Northern Quarter and found myself wondering round second hand shops, quirky art boutiques and studenty graffitted bars and cafes. I loved it! It looked a little like Melbourne, Australia where I lived for two years before I moved to Devon. I found Nexus Art Cafe and stopped for a coffee – “Nexus Art Cafe is a creative community space in the heart of the city centre striving to build community based on an ethos of inclusion, respect and hospitality.”
After a brief stop in Barnsley to see another old uni friend, I arrived in Leeds to see a friend from Cambridge. The next day another friend joined us and we went for lunch at the Hepworth Deli in Thornton Arcade – amazing little place with great home-made cakes, pastries, salads, sandwiches served with local beers and soft drinks. James had lamb shoulder slow cooked with Moroccan spices with tztatziki and chickpeas, I had free-range ham hock terrine with homemade picadilly pickle. We shared sweet potato chips and Bad Seed Brewery IPA – it was all fantastic! I’d like to always be on a gourmet road trip! To end the trip, we had a late night curry in city curry house with Indian beer followed by a few more drinks in some cool bars. This Totnes girl had a great time in some really fantastic British cities. I think I’ll have to do some more exploring some time soon!