Stroud farmers market run by “Made in Stroud” and trading under the name: Fresh-n-Local, has been hailed for years now, as one of the “must see” and "BEST" farmer’s markets in the country.
How I haven’t ever visited, I am not sure. Last Saturday I made the pilgrimage.
The Stroud Railway station car park might not seem the right place to start a story about a food market in Stroud; nevertheless it’s probably an important part of why the Stroud farmers market is one of the most popular in the country after almost 17 years of successful operating.
Going anywhere in this country in a car can be a stressful experience, to say the least. We all seem to have cars and want to be on the road and in the same parking space at the same time of day.
Travelling from Somerset to Stroud to meet family and knowing that there is not only parking but reasonably priced parking, makes the almost 100mile each way journey almost worthwhile in itself.
Arriving at the station with zero change and heading to the ticket office to pay the sum total of £1.70 for a whole day’s parking was a cathartic experience. As was the fact that the car park is massive. There are in fact two of them, both appearing pretty safe with plenty of people about.
So with the cost of the journey offset by the cheap parking, it was time to get a coffee.
The name of the coffee stop was “Dinner at 6” an unassuming slate blue frontage on the main town’s pedestrianised walkway in front of many of the main stalls.
The quality of the coffee and Bakewell tart with scrummy homemade raspberry jam centre scored another point in favour of Stroud!
It also offered a clear sign that any food served here is done with flair and loyalty to the flavour of each ingredient. Therefore a mental note to return for lunch instantaneously popped into my brain.
We in fact visited too early for lunch but the late breakfast which included homemade breads jams and a fantastic Spanish omelette showed that this place doesn’t just do nice cakes.
Dinner at 6 can be found at number 6 Union Street Stroud Gloucester so I guess the 6 is the address rather than the time they serve dinner. I didn't take a picture of the place but here is their website: http://www.dinneratsix.co.uk/#/1
So moving onto the Market which is why this piece is being written:
The Market web site: http://fresh-n-local.co.uk/ shows that this outfit are pretty organised compared to some farmers markets. They also successfully run farmers markets in Swindon, Stow on the Wold and in Gloucester.
The fresh and local website has plenty of information for the customer and for people who are thinking of becoming stallholders. However some of the information is a little bit dated, their blog has not had much input recently.
Having said that there is a great little article about British apples and how there are over two and a half thousand varieties of apples in this country. The events section is more up-to-date and that has some items on what else is going on in Stroud and also some spotlights on various Traders.
If you are keen to do a little bit more research before heading down or up to Stroud I would recommend some time browsing the TripAdvisor reviews of which there are more than 100. Most of them give a very strong thumbs up to the market and especially to the doughnut people called Pippins and Hobbs house bread which I guess everybody who loves food has heard of now because Tom and Henry Herbert, the two guys that run it, are on television as the Fabulous Baker Brothers.
Stroud itself has some similarities to settings such as Bath in terms of its layout. It’s a town in a bowl with some of the settlement meandering up the Hills.
Originally a centre for woollen manufacturing the town now has an arty independent feel to it.
The main shopping streets are all pedestrianised which is obviously a great plus point when setting up market stalls and expecting customers to wander freely around them. This means the market isnt bunched up but part of the whole town centre.
I would think this brings a win win to the town as everyone benefits by people walking past their “doors”.
Another big plus point of this area is that historically it has always been a food destination with proximity to the Cotswolds, Severn valley, Wales and the vale of Evesham.
Amongst other things, Gloucestershire has its own historic cheeses, the double and single Gloucesters, which have a protected designation of origin status.
This means they can only be produced in Gloucestershire from specific milk.
There is certainly a buzz to the place. One of the things that I noticed immediately was how cheerful many of the stallholders looked while I was walking around.
This is in harsh contrast to many shopping experiences in faceless retail parks where the average shop assistant may dive for cover when they see you or at least avoid eye contact.
As someone with as finely tuned "customer service radar” as mine, it means a pleasurable time wandering around talking to the stallholders rather than wishing there was someplace else I could go to spend my money.
Market stalls are obviously run by People who put their own money on the line to produce food for the public to buy. It is in their interest to attract customers and produce not only memorable products but happy memories associated with the purchase. It is something that is very close to my heart as I strongly believe that anyone running their own business has much more commitment to the customer than someone working for a Faceless plc.
So it’s not just the quality of the products on sale that is driving crowds of people to come to Stroud farmers market. It’s also the experience and you cannot underestimate this.
People want to enjoy themselves when they’re spending their money and they certainly are at Stroud farmers market.
There are a plethora of stalls ranging from Mediterranean olives, free range eggs, Isle of Wight garlic, cheeses, meats and pies.
I counted four different stall holders selling the most delicious looking bread.
There were beauty products curries being sold next to a guy selling sheepskins, carved wood, locally made cards and Christmas ornaments and more. In one of the shops there was even a spinning wool out of DOG HAIR!
Many of these stalls are regulars and have been here for years.
TripAdvisor reviews mention the doughnuts and how you need to get there early before they sell out.
The only things I didn’t see were someone selling hot roast chestnuts as this visit was in October and also maybe someone selling hot roast meat sandwiches, especially pastrami or salt beef. Food for thought!
As the market is dotted around the whole town you can easily spend most of a morning browsing the stalls and local shops of which there are quite a few independents.
Lunch locations are many and varied and as parking is so reasonable there is little motivation to head home, other than the ever growing weight of bags full of goodies which is starting to cut into your hands.
A great way to spend a Saturday and one to put a smile on your face and great quality food in your fridge. I will return!
The comments and observations in this blog are personal, there was no payment to write this piece.
The content this piece was accurate at the time of writing.
I had never heard of Brill.
The word either meant Fab, Great, Brilliant, or it meant, "flat fish which has superb flavour". Until last Sunday.
A village not too far from both Bicester and Oxford also carries the name Brill.
Considering I spent three years at college in Oxford and more days than I would care to admit at the Bicester retail outlet park just a few miles away, its a surprise that I have never heard of it.
A fine destination in its own right, Brill is a picture perfect Olde English village complete with windmill and sunset views.
Owing to its growing reputation and stellar quality of the food at the Pointer Pub and Restaurant. Brill is now well and truly on the gastronomic map. Diners flock to the restaurant like the Bisto kids following the aroma of Mum’s gravy.
There’s no Bisto in this Chef’s cupboards.
Three AA Rosette Chef Mini Patel, who has recently been seen on BBC TV’s Great British Menu series compressing blackberries and burning mackerel with a blowtorch , works on the philosophy of prioritising fresh seasonal local ingredients for his menus. Many of these ingredients hail from the Pointer’s own gardens and farm. Longhorn Beef and Middlewhite Pork are a speciality.
The fruits of Mini’s labours delight not only the gastro tourists and regulars but also locals who pop in for a pint, some pork scratchings and a few slices of house made salami.
Sunday lunch is a fine tradition in this country, especially when weather turns cooler and the desire is to be indoors with a hearty plate of food and a heat source nearby. The Pointer ticks these boxes and more.
The place embodies all that is desired when heading out to spend hard earned cash on a meal out.
This is no accident, as anyone with passion who works in the hospitality industry will validate. It takes hours/days/months/years of effort and fine tuning to produce a product which becomes established as a favourite restaurant, bar, café or hotel. Once created it then takes a similar amount of effort to retain the consistency of those achievements. Little wonder there are so few which can do this.
The team at the Pointer have the passion and creativity to create a local pub restaurant and butchers shop which is appealing to not only them that want a £40 Sunday Lunch but also the locals who want a decent pint and some conversation.
Attention to detail is one of the strong points here where décor at the moment includes home grown gourds of many colours adorning any flat surface, including a giant of a pumpkin which sits on the bar asking customers to guess its weight. Attentive and sunny staff attend to guests in a manner I rarely see in most customer facing businesses (don’t get me started). And then there’s the food!
The menu (which can be seen on the restaurant’s website: http://www.thepointerbrill.co.uk/ ) has plenty to choose from. French classical descriptions such as Amuse Bouche, Pithiviers, petit fours etc etc are banned by Yorkshireman Mini who believes in calling a pie a pie!
Breads arrive in brown paper bags and platters of local butters, one made in house with beef goodness amongst other things. Swirls of thyme in one, sour yeasty scent from the other ensure that customers know this isn’t your average bread.
Chicken liver parfait pillows arrive with a citrus dust and marmalade of red onions and a smoky toast.
From this time on you know the attention to detail on not only flavour but visuals are a priority.
As mentioned the Pointer’s own farm produces prime grass fed Longhorn beef.
The Roast beef dinner sits at the top of the main course list in pride of place and although not as adventurous gastronomically as veal shin pie with crisp sweetbreads, can hold its own owing to quality of ingredients and the care given before the plate gets to its destination. Roast potatoes were some of the best I have ever had, no mean feat when cooking a menu which runs from 1.00pm to 5.00pm. Two were just not enough!.
Desserts can have less wow factor (or any part of a meal for that matter) when visiting a restaurant with a small team in the kitchen. This is because it’s up to the Head Chef’s knowledge and love of each topic to drive the quality in all areas.
Mini, thank goodness, is a pudding man, possibly down to his Yorkshire roots (get him a flat cap!) or just because he loves to cook them.
Puds at the Pointer entice diners with their masterful structures and precise positioning of flourishes. Promised flavours are delivered with every mouthful. My liquorice set cream had apple, honeycomb, wine, blackberry and probably five other flavours bouncing around my mouth.
And that’s not all. Order coffees or hot drinks after your meal and a procession of little sweet items arrive to accompany them: Madelines with a lemon curd dip, fantastic chocolate almond truffles rolled in pistachio and a variety of cookies. If we weren’t full before we were now at breaking point!
We often talk about “home from home” hospitality when staying in hotels or dining out.
It’s what we would like. But how many times does this actually happen?
The Pointer doesn’t disappoint in this department. It’s one of the few places I have visited where diners are actually waved off when they leave, just like would happen in our own homes.
How hard is that to do?
How many restaurants do it?
How much does it cost to do it?
What is the value of doing it………………….Priceless!
I was lucky enough to be invited to the AA Hotel of the Year awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
As this coincided with my trip back to the UK to see family and friends I was delighted to accept.
These awards are some of the most prestigious national awards of their kind with winners categories covering many aspects of catering and hotel keeping. They are incredibly sought after- as I know from when I worked for the AA Hotel Inspection team.
The awards which followed gave recognition to many in the industry. Some of the most coveted awards are Hotel of the Year, Restaurant of the Year, and Chef’s Chef of the year which this year went to Cornish Chef Nathan Outlaw
The AA Lifetime Achievement award which recognises someone in the industry who has committed their lives to the pursuit of perfection within their discipline. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to Ruth Rogers MBE of the River Café in west London.
Like many trades the UK Hospitality industry is incredibly small, or it seems so when one reaches a certain age and knows most people in a room of over 1000 people.
It was a fantastic evening and I was lucky enough to bump into many old colleagues and friends although I didn’t quite make it to the 5.30am finish which was when the evening allegedly ended!
Food markets were high on the agenda across the whole visit as it has been identified that this style of catering is cheap and versatile and therefore well suited to this little island.
The Orangezicht City Farm market on Saturdays has a stunning backdrop at the base of Table Mountain in the area behind the Mount Nelson Hotel.
The surrounding market gardens supply the market with dew fresh greens of all colours and sizes.
Veggie stalls are backed up by a mass of home prepared goods such as chutneys, breads, cakes and confectionary. Food stalls offer Dim Sum, Salads, Paella and plenty of coffee! One of the most interesting stalls was a guy making ice cream with liquid Nitrogen-.something I have seen done by Heston Blumenthal.
Moving on from there we then travelled to Stellenbosch where yet another market has evolved.
On Route 44, just outside of town there is a small village of tents, stalls and a stretch of grass with a stage at the end. This was the second experience of the combination of live music and food and boy does it work well.
There must have been in the region of 1000 or more people milling around, eating, people watching and generally enjoying their day. All age groups and nationalities took advantage of the warm sunshine with no one going anywhere in a hurry.
Our food experiences that day included representation from the following countries: Thai Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexico, USA, France, Greece, Korea and of course a Massive hit of South Africa in not only food but the massive array of wines to sample.
Monday’s visit to Unilever’s test kitchens in Century City gave us all an opportunity to sample many of the convenience offerings from one of the world’s biggest catering food suppliers.
We were shown a variety of stocks and sauces plus seasonings and magic things to do with instant mash potato!
The gang were split into teams and then were given a couple of hours to come up with a meal using a number of ingredients and the Unilever products.
There was no clear winner as all entered into the challenge with enthusiasm, butternut squash had never been cooked in so many ways in one kitchen!
The Last Word in Constantia is a small luxury hotel owned by the Mantis Hotel Group.
This was another opportunity to examine what our international visitors might expect from a hotel and why they might return to that same hotel year after year.
One of the great selling points of this place were the enormous rooms (Suites actually) with sumptuous and calming décor enhanced by massive windows onto tropical gardens. As the hotel has only 9 suites, the level of service here is naturally top notch with guests almost feeling as if they are almost family by the time they leave.
Following our Constantia visit we managed to fit in a lightning tour of Kirstenbosch Gardens. The world famous gardens had just opened their Tree Canopy Walkway; a cross between a bridge and a flyover for people to walk above the treeline.
St Helena has many valleys and even more trees, some of which are only found on the island so perhaps some day a budding entrepreneur might think that this walkway would work well.
The views from this swaying platform were amazing, look at the pictures. The fact that it swayed was communicated in the notice before walking onto the walkway and I am glad I had read it as you could see the surprise on faces of those who hadn’t.
Three more big highlights to go before heading back to St Helena! The first was a morning spent at the Cape Town convention centre at the Hostex Exhibition which just happened to be on whilst we were in town.
This is an annual coming together of the major catering suppliers across South Africa. It was an eye opener for many of our team and all came away with brochures, samples and one even bought a pizza oven!
More of these events should be visited by Saints as the concentration of information in one area is a great advantage.
Our trip to the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa had been eagerly anticipated as we had driven past the hotel at least three times in the previous week and just wondered at the magnificence of the location.
It must be the most stunning location on the western cape as it is situated around 10 miles out of town on a pristine piece of coastline with a mountain backdrop.
What more would you need!
Numerous awards and accolades have been bestowed upon the hotel and spa in the 12 years it has been owned by the Red Carnation group of luxury hotels. We could see how well justified they are during the four or so hours we spent in the company of the hotel’s management team.
One of the most unique things about the hotel is the massive variety of South African Art on walls, floors and even a sculptured leopard in the middle of the bar.
Our finale to the visit was afternoon tea in the lounge with the stunning backdrop of the 12 Apostles Mountains just outside the window. We just didn't know where to look...was it the dainty cakes or the view which was the most attractive.
Perhaps if I return and do the whole thing again I might just make up my mind.
The final day before boarding the RMS St Helena back home was spent at the CPUT Hotel School which is one of the best Hotel Schools in South Africa.
Our team were shown the facilities, which included a working restaurant and bar area plus fabulous kitchens.
A superb lunch was enjoyed which was cooked and served by the first year students….. so a big thank you and credit to them for achieving such a lovely meal so soon into their training.
Our voyage back to the island gave all time to reflect on the array of experiences and learnings of the three weeks. There is great excitement to share new knowledge and skills back home and there will be plenty of opportunity to do this. St Helena being in such a remote location has many challenges ahead.
I hope that this trip will enable some to consider other solutions to problems and new ways of achieving results. Time will tell!
This was the week that each of the team went their separate ways in order to gain specific experience in the area of their own expertise.
We had work experience scheduled in local gastro pubs, a baking course in Stellenbosch, local supermarket’s food to go and front desk training at the Taj Hotel.
Our three students were embracing their shifts at the Cape Grace Hotel with gusto and returning to our guest house each evening with tales of new skills and new friends.
We were also treated to a show round of an in-flight catering facility which was just mind blowing and something I would recommend to ALL caterers at some time in their career.
The key point here was the incredibly high levels of hygiene and detail which come into place when making meals to go onto airplanes. The words of Riaan Blignaut MD will remain with me for a long time “airline food will never been the most exciting food in the world but it will ALWAYS be the safest”. Just to put it into perspective, I couldn’t take my Camera in as they don’t allow any glass on the premises! I did manage to persuade them to let me use a small camera so we do have some record of the visit!
Friday was a 4.00am start for us all because we had an invite by the owner Patrick Moreau of Cassis to visit one of the best Bakery/Patisseries in the Western Cape. Our fatigue soon departed on entering a wonderland of baking smells and sights. Our arrival was planned to coincide with the departure of bread and pastries which had been prepared that night being sent out on delivery across town. There were loaves and rolls and cakes and buns and tarts and macaroons and more. All looked just picture perfect as if ready for a cook book photo shoot.
We then observed some of the practices in place for the following day, tons of puff pastry being handmade and also Macaroons and a variety of breads and rolls.
Reward for the early start was a French style Brunch at the Cassis Café in the Garden Centre Mall. We endeavoured to sample as much of the menu as possible, managing to consume Croissants, Croque Monisieur, Pain au Chocolate and some gorgeous little potato puffs made from choux pastry plus a variety of pastries and macaroons and a cooked breakfast! All agreed it was well worth the early start.
We have just returned from the long awaited Hospitality upskilling visit to Cape Town. The objectives were varied although to caption them I would say we were looking at all aspects of the industry with a view to bringing back information, inspiration and a way forward. This ranged from health and safety through to customer service and food styles.
10 Saints from all aspects of the industry joined me on the adventure.
Our expedition was a great success, to the extent that I didn’t have time to update this blog whilst on the road. The sheer variety and volume of experiences have intrigued, enticed and inspired our group.
To say the trip has changed lives might be a tad overstated, however the initial signs are pretty positive.
Cape Town in May can be cold and damp. This is a point many of us forgot and I for one spent much of the first week wishing I had packed warmer clothes and especially my socks!
Day one covered a trip down to the Two Oceans Restaurant on Cape Point, this restaurant serves up to 1000 very high quality meals a day in a fantastic setting, miles away from anywhere (sound familiar?). The difficulties of getting supplies and staff were discussed and comparisons made with St Helena.
We also spent a morning at the Cape Grace Hotel on the Waterfront. This was a highpoint for me as we have had a special relationship with the Cape Grace team and three of my sudents were spending part of their visit working in the kitchens of the hotel.
The morning commenced with breakfast in Signal, the hotel’s main restaurant. There was much to be impressed with as the hotel has been voted one of the best in the World! We didn’t even start to dent the buffet which contained fruits of all varieties, cakes, pastries and breads, cereals and yoghurts, meats, fish, fresh juices and much more. The choice of main courses is no less impressive with the full breakfast including steak being a favourite!
The tour of the basement whiskey bar and bedrooms gave the group some idea of the quality at which international Five Star Hotels operate. The talk by Barry Ross, the Head of HR was inspiring with an insight into why the hotel is one of the busiest in Cape Town and why it receives so many accolades: it’s all about the customer.
Weekends in Cape Town are all about food and getting out and about. The Old Biscuit Mill is one of the most popular destinations and rightly so.
. It certainly gave our visitors ideas on how to start a small food business with next to nothing and what quality can be achieved even though the stall is a couple of planks resting on boxes!
Wish we had more of these places in the UK although I guess the hygiene police would put a damper on the proceedings………..I didn’t see many coloured chopping boards!
Also on the cards that evening was the initiation of 2onmain into the Chaîne Des Rôtisseurs and the inauguration of 5 Saint Helenians and myself into the Chaîne!
The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is an international gastronomic society dedicated to bringing together professional and non-professional members from around the world who appreciate wine, cuisine and fine dining. Members of a local Bailliage are part of a worldwide organisation with more than 25,000 members in over 80 countries.
This week we are celebrating the signing of two new apprentices to the hospitality training programme.
This brings are number of apprentices up to three and we have two more joining us in two months’ time.
Numbers might sound small however the total school leavers for 2012 and 2013 are only in the region of 20 to 30 youngsters. Any Saint is welcome to join us to see whether they would like to work in this type of career and some are coming just to get some hands on training rather than going through an accreditation process.
In order to become an apprentice on the programme the student has to work with us for 12 weeks to demonstrate their commitment to working the antisocial hours which come with a career in this line.
We also have Chelsea with us who will be returning to school in September with the goal of getting enough qualifications to go to university in a couple of years’ time.
Our training team has increased in number with the addition of two new arrivals.
Both are Saints and have worked in a variety of catering establishments, not only in the UK but also on the Falkland Islands where many Saints currently work.
Sandra has been working as a Chef for over 20 years and is welcoming the opportunity to return home.
Mandy was in Swindon and before that the Falklands, Mandy’s background of admin, accounts and customer service will help keep things on a smooth pathway.
Our next challenge is to get more trainees signed up and start offering accredited Hospitality courses.
We are working on offering two Diploma courses. One is in Professional Cookery and the other, Food and Beverage
Service. Following on from this will be spin offs into supervisory and managerial qualifications.
It has taken us the six months that I have been here to get this far.
Roll on the next six months!
This week is one of the highlights of the St Helena Calendar as we are celebrating the discovery of this pinprick of an island in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1502.
The Portuguese navigator Joao da Nova is reported to be the one who discovered and named St Helena.
Following years saw no settlement forming although the island became a destination for replenishing supplies and water.
It was Oliver Cromwell who granted the East India Company a charter to govern St Helena in 1657 and therefore claim the island as a British Colony.
The island celebrates with a public holiday for all and a variety of events across the island. We offered a traditional afternoon tea at 2onMain
Sandra keeping check on the orders as they come in
Our trainees created the following menu which included the following:
Pickled Pork and Mango Chutney Sandwiches
Smoked Tuna and Cucumber Sandwiches
Egg and Cress Mayonnaise Sandwiches
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Scones with Jam and Cream
Outside the front door the party was just starting with a parade through the town.
The pictures below are the view from the restaurant!
Later on in the evening there are parties and fireworks and probably many a sore head the following day!