Each year, the Cotswolds attracts millions of visitors to its mixture of picturesque honey-coloured villages, great food and rolling hills. I won’t deny that it is a stunning part of the world. But if you’re looking for all of this – without the hordes – then cast your eyes further north…. at Northamptonshire.
The villages are gorgeous. Stone houses the colour of fudge (it’s part of the same geological seam as the stone in Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire), a verdant landscape and some fabulous places to dine make this a hidden gem of a county. Around 70% of it is farmland, with roughly 1 in 7 of the workforce employed in the food and drink industry. That’s an incredible 50,000 jobs.
And so we go on to the Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards, now entering its seventh year. Winning one of these trophies is truly prestigious for the chefs, cafes, restaurants and food producers who take part. And rightly so, for in an age of mass-produced , low quality junk food, here is a county packed with artisanal producers lovingly crafting amazing food – like Cobbler’s Nibble cheese or The Good Loaf's bread – and food outlets where you can enjoy incredible meals, cooked with passion, made with produce from local suppliers.
For instance, you’d be hard pressed to find a more delightful town than Oundle, which looks like Cambridge in miniature. There is a stack of great eateries here, many of which are finalists in various categories. Don’t miss the Tap & Kitchen, which won the Restaurant of the Year Award last year for its home-from-home hospitality mixed with stellar cooking. Or head to the market town of Daventry, where the Evergreen Art Café, winner of last year’s Independent Café/Tea Room Award, is expanding thanks in no small part to its success.
Or if villages are more your thing, don’t miss the chocolate-box prettiness of Yardley Hastings, where the Food Pub winner Rose & Crown is your classic ‘ye olde pub’, rammed full of oak beams and enough character to fill your boots and then some. And if you'd prefer a curry you’ll still find outstanding choices (try Dhan Shiri in Brackley or Mem-Saab in Northampton).
The comprehensive Made in Northamptonshire Food & Drink Directory gives a list of produce and suppliers, while this website gives more details of winners and finalists in the awards, which reach their climax in November. The winners and finalists are all examples of British excellence – perfect for a special day out.