The reputation of England as a place unconcerned with food is so old and outdated that it shouldn’t still need to be refuted. Yet I still encounter visitors and all sorts of random acquaintances from North America and mainland Europe who joke about the quality of the food in England. I love to correct their misimpressions, ideally with a visit to an outstanding restaurant. There are scads of great restaurants in London and beyond. But more to the point, I think, is England’s embrace of local produce, food sustainability, organic production, and general food information.
A great many people in England and across the UK don’t just want to know that their food was produced ethically and locally – they also want to know about growing seasons, food production, and local food traditions. Local food in the Cotswolds is of high quality, and the Cotswolds themselves, dotted with affluent little villages whose mainstay is tourism, are full of fantastic little restaurants. High-quality pork, trout, cheese, vegetables, and fruit are all produced in the region.
I kicked off my recent Cotswold adventure with a train journey from London to Moreton-in-Marsh with the aim of starting in Chipping Campden. I walked from Chipping Campden to Broadway on day one, continued on from Broadway to Winchcombe on day two, and finished up on day three with a ramble from Winchcombe to Dowdeswell. I researched local food production in advance, plotting out various farms, outlets, shops, and other producers across Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. The Cotswold Food Store, in Longborough not far from Moreton-in-Marsh, looked like a great place to overview local products. When I caught a taxi in Moreton-in-Marsh for Chipping Campden, I asked the driver if he could take me first to the Cotswold Food Store. The store is a locavore’s fantasy, with “food miles” calculated and listed for various products, a technique that enforces a rigorous understanding of “local.” While the store also carries a good number of products from beyond the UK, the attention to local provenance is impressive and exciting. I ordered a delicious takeaway sandwich for lunch.
And then there are the local restaurants themselves. On my first night, I wandered from my lovely bed & breakfast into the heart of Broadway. And there, right in front of me, was a restaurant called Luke’s Broadway. Could this restaurant, I wondered to myself, possibly have something to do with Luke Thomas, the extraordinarily young chef behind Luke’s Dining Room in Berkshire? And it was. And I was seated without a booking. The main, a chicken and risotto with a single wedge of artichoke, was fantastic, the richness of the artichoke exceptional – and this from someone who grew up in California, whose favourite childhood vegetable was artichoke. The next night, I had the good fortune to have dinner in the dining room at Wesley House restaurant, the inn where I was lucky enough to be bedding down for the evening. I opted for the tasting menu, at £35, and was delighted with it. If forced I would probably say that the second course, a savoury panna cotta with peas and a delicate wisp of bacon, was its crowning glory, but it was a solid meal throughout.
Were I the sort of person who ever felt guilty about what he ate, surely the knowledge that I’d be walking for 11 hours in the rain just 12 hours later would have been a comfort.