Eat well while visiting Britain's beautiful south-western counties. We have the lowdown on the best local delicacies like stargazy pie and Somerset cider.
A region of rolling hills and silty estuaries, the south-west of England is fertile ground for some of the UK's best-known produce. Local chef Josh Eggleton takes us on a tour that's marked out by his favourite things to eat, including salt-marsh lamb grazed at Bridgwater Bay, Gloucester Old Spot pork, rapeseed oil from Bath and golden Somerset cider.
There probably isn’t a dish more synonymous with the south-west than the Cornish pasty. I’ve had some bad ones over the years, but I’ve had some absolute crackers, too. As the name gives away, these beauties hail from Cornwall and now have protected status. The best Cornish pasty I’ve ever had was from Philip Warren Butchers and they were given to me by my good friend and fellow chef Paul Ainsworth, because he’s nice like that.
- Try our lighter Cornish pasties for plenty of taste and half the fat.
You can do so much with crab. It’s an incredible versatile ingredient; use it in fresh seasonal salads, amazing sandwiches, risotto or cooked whole and cracked open right there at the table. Some of the best crab anywhere in the world comes from the south-west. Spider crabs are very common around Cornwall’s coast and they can grow to a massive size. The claws are amazing and packed with delicious white meat. If ever you visit Cornwall, you have to try Crab.
- Take a look at our crab collection for fresh, creative recipes.
You can’t visit the south-west without sampling some much-imitated West Country cider. The Long Ashton Cider Company’s Ashton Press would be my recommendation. I have this cider stocked in all of my restaurants and while it’s great for drinking, it’s also great for cooking. I like to take some amazing local mussels and steam them in Ashton Press and serve them up with fresh bread. It takes some beating.
Another dish that’s inextricably linked with the south-west, the cream tea is a British institution and a top quality one that takes some beating. You can get one anywhere in the country, but I think they taste best in this part of the country. I don’t want to get into the minutia of Cornish vs Devon and whether you should spread jam first or second – though you should definitely go jam, second...
- Bake a batch of our classic scones.
The first time you try proper Somerset cheddar, I promise you’ll never look back. There are a lot of varieties of cheddar; certain types that have naturally occurring build-up of calcium lactate that gives the cheese a distinctive crunch. But the absolute daddy has to be Montgomery Cheddar. The Montgomery family have been making cheese in Yeovil for generations. Most are aged for a minimum of 12 months and are the absolute definition of what proper cheddar ought to be.
Bath Harvest rapeseed oil
Early summer is a great time to drive around this part of the world along country lanes between fields of brilliant yellow rapeseed. Bath Harvest get theirs from a Somerset farm where it’s double-filtered and comes with an incredible nutty taste. There’s a lot you can do with this oil – it’s incredibly versatile – from using it in cakes to add a lovely texture, or for something different, when frying fish or vegetables.
You might call them snails, or even escargot, but round these parts they’re known as wallfish. Eating them with a knob of butter and some herbs and seasoning was very popular in the Mendips during the 1960s and they’ve enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as people explore older recipes and sample genuinely local produce.
Somerset salt-marsh lamb
The coast of Kent is famous for producing the delicious flavour that comes from lamb fed on the salt marshes. What you may not know is that you can get it in Somerset as well. Down near Bridgwater Bay you’ll find flocks grazing on the salt marshes, producing that rich, delicious meat that makes it hard to go back to normal lamb.
While Cornwall is famous around the world for its beaches and landscape, not everyone has heard of this recipe. It gets its name because, traditionally, it involves a fish head poking through the pastry crust appearing to look up at the stars. The classic recipe features pilchards or sardines with egg and potatoes. But I like to use some locally sourced rabbit along with some top south-west seafood. It’s a dish that comes with its own legend based on the story of Tom Bawcock who, so the story goes, caught so much fish one stormy night that he was able to make a huge stargazy pie and save his fellow villagers from starvation.
- Try a twist on the classic with these golden brown stargazy pasties.
Gloucester Old Spot pork
This is the king of sausagemeat and if you see it on a pub menu, ignore all the other options and have yourself a feast. You can get it all over the country but it all began in Gloucestershire and they’re rightly very proud of the wonderful flavour and texture these pigs produce. The crackling is top-notch as well.
About the author: Chef and champion of south-west food Josh Eggleton runs the Michelin-starred Pony & Trap and Salt & Malt, both in Chew Magna, Somerset. A second Salt & Malt (ethical fish & chips) is slated for Bristol’s harbour, joining Eggleton’s Root (formerly Chicken Shed) and Yurt Lush.
For more info on food and travel in the south-west, go to Visit South West.
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