For the true gastronome, no feeling elicits wanderlust quite like wondering what’s for dinner. Globe-trotting is less about seeing the sights as it is tasting the dishes, cuisines and local flavours of the area, the culinary heart and soul of the region.
Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, gastronomes looking to more exotic climes might well be going hungry, at least for the next few months. However, turn your palate to home shores and you’ll find a wealth of delights both regional and world-leading.
Whether you long for traditionally hearty British fare, fresh from the farm, or you prefer the kind of experimental gastronomy that pushes the boundaries of taste and decency, Britain has it all. So rather than looking wistfully at Instagram pics of Peruvian ceviche, here are the home-grown destinations where any food-lover can get their fix.
For: The Michelin Star Capital of the UK
First up on the list is an area that’s only really on the map for its food. Of the four restaurants that hold three Michelin Stars in Britain, two of them are here. The first and most famous comes courtesy of the inimitable Heston Blumenthal, whose seminal spot, The Fat Duck, sits just moments away from the riverside. It’s a temple to creative, often scientific cooking that has helped transform the British culinary landscape.
Still, if molecular cuisine isn’t quite your thing, the equally-lauded Waterside Inn offers far less fussy fare, courtesy of the Roux family. Run by Alain Roux – son of Michel – the restaurant is a haven of fine French food, worthy of the family name and the other three Michelin Stars in Bray.
There are plenty of other good restaurants in Bray – and a good number of phenomenal gastropubs if that’s more your speed – but any visit should include at least one of the above. Good luck fitting it all in – both figuratively and literally.
For: Relaxed British Classics
This sleepy castle town might not seem like an epicurean paradise, but it has one major secret: the surrounding countryside is full of the finest produce in Britain. It’s little surprise then that the town has a quaint yet delectable gastropub on every corner, all offering traditional British food done better than well.
At The Clive Arms, local British is the mainstay of the menu, and the wines are joined by plentiful local ales. It’s obviously made the right people take note too, as it’s listed in both the Good Food Guide and the Michelin Guide. To get the French restaurant snobs interested in ale is worth a visit.
There’s also the renowned tasting menus of the Old Downton Lodge and oysters aplenty at The Fish House on Market Street. That said, make sure you get to Ludlow in Spring; the Spring Festival brings with it craft beers, fresh bread and local produce aplenty.
For: The Best Seafood in Britain
The seafood capital of the UK, Padstow’s reputation began its ascendency with Rick Stein, who set up The Seafood Restaurant way back in 1975 with food as simple as the name – yet far more delicious. It beats his original career choice – running a mobile disco.
Today he owns a good number of locales in Padstow, including St. Petroc’s Bistro, a cookery school and a fish-and-chip shop using beef dripping batter. Those last three words should get you buying a ticket already.
Yet there is a pretender to Stein’s crown in the form of Paul Ainsworth. Opting for meat alongside the seafood at Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, the menu shows off his tutelage under Gordon Ramsay, as does the more Mediterranean Rojano’s in the Square. He even has a hotel under his belt: the Padstow Townhouse.
Between the two chefs – and the other more-than-decent gastropubs and harbourside restaurants dotted around – Padstow is a site of pilgrimage for fish fans everywhere.
For: The Malt Whisky Trail
To experience the full impact of the picturesque area, try the Malt Whisky Trail. Taking in seven famous whisky makers, from Glenlivet to Dallas Dhu, you’ll want to go easy during the tastings at each. It’s an educational experience as much as an epicurean one, so if you’ve ever wanted to brush up on your whisky knowledge, this is where to do it.
There are plenty of places to pick up a bite to eat along the way of course, including local seafood to pair nicely with a well-peated dram or two – particularly at The Bothy, with its nautical theme, or the Malt Barn at the Glenfiddich distillery, which serves up some likely much-needed local fare.
Cartmel, Lake District
For: Fine Dining With a Village Feel
If a 20-dish 2-Michelin-Starred tasting menu is your speed, then Cartmel is the place for you. Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume earned its Stars back in 2008 and has kept them up ever since. It’s not hard to see why.
First off, the restaurant is housed in a dramatic 800 year-old smithy, with all the period features left intact. Then there’s the tasting menu, which is presented like Instagram bait, perfectly prepared and arranged dishes that look as good as they taste. The restaurant’s secret though is a simple one: it grows the larger portion of its own produce.
Rogan also has a couple more restaurants in the area, if you want not to be able to walk afterwards, namely Aulis, his training and development kitchen (more fun, less consistent) and Rogan & Co, a relaxed, casual experience with a lovely village feel.
Cartmel is also where the eponymous sticky toffee pudding was born; your tastebuds will regret not gorging on a couple while you’re there, even if your waistline with curse you for it. L’Enclume takes its name from the French for ‘anvil’, in a reference to the building’s past life as Cartmel’s village forge
Manchester, Greater Manchester
For: An Up-and-Coming Fine-Dining Destination
For decades, Manchester wasn’t given much thought as a culinary destination. Despite having more than its fair share of phenomenal restaurants, it couldn’t land a single Michelin Star. Until, that is, Mana. Opened by Noma chef Simon Martin last year, it earned the city its first French accolade – and about time, too.
It was generally considered a crime against good taste that Manchester had yet to receive a single Star and it’s still strange that it only has the one. Adam Reid at the French is a serious contender, with its modern British menus and more AA Rosettes than any other restaurant in Manchester – four.
The tiny Tast Cuina Catalana too is worthy of praise; the 15-course tasting menu with matching Catalan wines is a lesson in 5-Michelin-Star Executive Chef Paco Pérez’s family cuisine. It’s also part-owned by Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, so expect a few famous faces. Now that the city has broken the floodgates for Michelin recognition, get there before the rest of the world swarms on Manchester’s up-and-coming fine dining scene.
For: A Taste of Scotland
If the Edinburgh Fringe Festival goes ahead this year, you can get more than your funny bone tickled in the scenic Scottish city. As well as award-winning comics, it holds more Michelin Stars than anywhere else in the region.
There’s Paul Kitching’s 21212, with its quirky Mediterranean dishes and well-priced weekday menu (£70, but you’d better book); Scran & Scallie, the best gastropub you’ll ever visit; and the grand Number One at The Balmoral with its seven-course tasting menu.
However for my money, it’s all about The Kitchin. Tom Kitchin’s seminal restaurant, where he became the youngest winner of a Michelin Star, is an ode to Scottish cuisine, with local seafood alongside pigs’ heads and haggis. It’s a stunning place too, with bespoke everything to match the quality of the food. If you don’t like the Scottish delicacies here, you never will.
There are a lot more besides; leave yourself a solid week to work through them all.
North Downs, Kent
For: British Wine at Its Best
British wine is becoming one of the most sought after commodities among the less snobby epicureans out there and the North Downs seems to be hording it all. The area is home to a good cross-section of English wineries, especially as it travels towards Dover in Kent. Among them all however, one stands out: Tenterden’s Chapel Down.
Its 100 acres of vineyards produce sparkling and still wines that are stocked by Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and 10 Downing Street. The secret is its terroir, where the steep chalk hills block cooler winds and allow the grapes uninterrupted sunlight. Indeed, the Kit’s Coty vineyard is widely believed to be one of the best in Kent – and therefore in England – and is well worth a tour, complete with a sampling after the fact.
To make the most of the time there, you should also visit Simpsons, a smaller yet equally lovely vineyard, the British arm of the award-winning Languedoc-based Domaine Sainte Rose. Theirs is a slightly different approach, but you’ll find them just as welcoming, with a glorious sunset tasting session at around £30, complete with local food.