"In the last decade British food has reinvented itself as a front runner in the battle of the culinary arts."
In the last decade British food has reinvented itself as a front runner in the battle of the culinary arts. Such has been Blighty's success that even our Continental critics (France, we're talking to you) have eaten humble pie - and a very tasty one at that! Never before have we been so concerned about what we eat and where it comes from and, best of all, we've rekindled our love affair with classic British fare. Join Explorer as we take a foodie foray across the network.
So, where to begin on our moveable feast? Let's start with a nod to an unsung hero: Grimsby. It may not be first on your list of coolest places to visit, but it's a fitting opener for our journey as it's the spiritual home of the fish finger (up until 2005, virtually every fish finger on Britain's tables came from here). So Grimsby, take a bow, they make a cracking sandwich. This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. As you'd expect with an island nation, we're more than a tad partial to our fish and chips. For many it's the ultimate British classic. There's no shortage of choice, but for something a bit special then Colmans of South Shields in the north east is well worth getting on the train for.
Colmans' award-winning fare has notched up numerous gongs including Best Fish and Chip Shop in England and was one of Gary Rhodes' Local Food Heroes in 2008. They've been serving up the day's catch since 1926, so it's no surprise they know their stuff.
It's not just the battered and fried that makes it on to our hotlist. Lancashire favourite potted shrimps are not to be missed. The succulent brown shrimps are caught mainly off the west coast in Morecambe Bay and are served in small pots, hence the name. The earliest known recipe can be found in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, published for the first time in 1861. If you're looking to try the shrimps for yourself, then head to The Midland Hotel restauramt overlooking the bay.
Moving away from food of a fishy nature, we turn our attention to Liverpool and, more specifically, scouse. This largely unknown, yet delicious, local dish is actually a stew made with steak, lamb, potatoes and carrots. It is traditionally served piping hot with either red cabbage or beetroot, and a chunk of crusty bread. If cooked well, the spoon should stand upright in the bowl. To try it at its best, head to Merseyside pub The Baltic Fleet, which also has its own brewery - very handy!
While we're on the treasure hunt for hearty grub, Scotland is the place to go to satisfy your inner carnivore. And from Highland game to the infamous haggis, there are few better places to get a taste of the wealth of Scottish flavours than at Glasgow restaurant Stravaigin. It has won awards for its innovative Scottish menus and home-grown approach.
A mouthwatering range of far from humble artisan breads, seasonal desserts and patisserie make More? The Artisan Bakery in Staveley a worthwhile stop-off. It's truly a bread-loving foodie's heaven.
If you have a nice crusty loaf then a chunk of cheese is the next logical must-have and few places can match up to Leagram Organic Dairy near Preston. Bringing together an elite group of expert cheese producers, the dairy is a one-stop shop for everything from a creamy, crumbly Lancashire to a buttery Double Gloucester, a smooth Red Leicester or a creamy, mellow sheep's cheese.
One way to measure how far British food has come is in the accolades awarded to pubs and restaurants around the network. The Star Inn, in Harome, near Malton, has not only held a Michelin star since 2002, but was voted the UK's best gastro pub last year. Not that Michelin-starred places are a rarity any longer. Edinburgh, for instance, is home to four eateries that have received the honour: The Martin Wishart, The Plumed Horse, The Kitchin, and Number One at the city's Balmoral Hotel.
A sweet finale
So, where to finish a foodie trip? Where else but with some sweet treats and we're in luck because the network is packed choc-full of classic sweets and puds. There's nothing more delicious than a bite of crumbly fudge - and, although it's more synonymous with the seaside, if you find yourself in Penrith, head to the bottom of the hill and pay a visit to The Toffee Shop. This historic gem has been going since 1910 and all of the fudge and toffee is handmade on the premises. Allow yourself to be drawn in by the glorious smell of bubbling caramel and sample a reminder of a bygone era.
Fudge not your thing? Then how about freshly-baked gingerbread? Nestled in the picture postcard Lakeland village of Grasmere, near Windermere, you'll find The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop. The home of Sarah Nelson's famed gingerbread - which dates back to the 1800s - the shop also makes its own rum butter, bringing together two sweetie favourites still made in the time-honoured tradition. Not that they make it quite as legend would have it. One old tale suggests that rum butter first came about when a drunken sailor crashed into a barrel of rum which leaked into a butter churn. Fortunately, The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop sticks to its own ways and means!
They clearly have a sweet tooth up in the north west, with the final stop bringing us everyone's favourite treat, chocolate. Kendal's The 1657 Chocolate House gives its history away in the title. Believed to have been built in the 1630s, long before the Lake District was a tourist haven, the staff keep up the tradition by dressing in period costume. Home to hundreds of handmade chocolates, 18 different chocolate drinks, an ice cream parlour and the 1657 Chocolate Fondue Feast, it's the place for every chocaholic to get the ultimate fix.
Which brings our foodie trip to an end. Although we've covered everything from fish fingers and potted shrimps to gingerbread and chocolate, it's still only a fraction of what's on offer across the regions. Don't just take our word for it though, get out and about on a magical tour for the tastebuds.