Curry tasting in Fife, oysters on Exmoor: expert tips for foodie holidays around Britain

<span>Illustration: Paul Thurlby/The Observer</span>
Illustration: Paul Thurlby/The Observer

The West Country

“Glastonbury was crying out for more food venues but we had to exercise caution,” says Ayesha Kalaji who runs Queen of Cups, a contemporary Middle Eastern restaurant in the heart of the boho Somerset town. “The restaurant had to be accessible to everyone as community is so important to the people here.”

Kalaji’s cooking is inspired by her Jordanian roots, as much as her background in Michelin-starred restaurants and OFM favourites the Palomar and Bubala, but Queen of Cups’s appeal goes way beyond the food. Kalaji has kept the 17th-century pub’s much-loved Sunday music sessions and the town’s “Queer Cabaret” night. “Glastonbury is quirky – we have a town wizard – but we are comfortable in our skin,” she says. “We may not be as well known as the bigger culinary towns, but we are hot on their heels, crystals and tie-dye in tow.”

  • Ayesha Kalaji, chef patron of the Queen of Cups. Photograph: Harry Borden.

Somerset has become a hotspot in recent years, thanks to high-profile openings such as Osip in Bruton and Three Horseshoes in Batcombe. Yet there are still plenty of lesser-known gems in the region, including the High Pavement in Frome, which started life as a supper club and has grown into a full-blown Moorish tapas restaurant, jealously guarded by locals. Run by Stuart Bastiman and Aimee Snell, it’s on the ground floor of their family townhouse in Frome’s artisan quarter. Bastiman cut his teeth at Moro and his food follows a similar Spanish and North African influence.

One of the most notable new openings in Somerset is the Kitchen, an oyster and seafood restaurant in the heart of the Exmoor national park. It’s owned by Porlock Bay Oysters, which carries on a century-old tradition of oyster farming in the area. Chef Merrick Webber has created a menu of simple seafood tapas dishes with oysters served with a variety of dressings. Bestsellers include deep-fried oyster with wasabi mayo, ginger and sesame.

Tim Blanchard has opened his own place after earning his stripes in London, where he worked at St John and Sabor before heading west to Mitch Tonks’s Dartmouth flagship the Seahorse. He has recently taken over the Church House Inn, a 13th-century pub at Harberton near Totnes in Devon. There’s rabbit stew and devilled shrimps on toast, and bar snacks include egg and cress sandwiches to help soak up local real ale and cider. “It’s hearty cooking that does not distract from the reason people head to the pub in the first place,” says Blanchard. “What we are building is not just a restaurant but a local meeting place that just happens to serve the best steak and kidney pudding in the south-west.”

  • Glebe House, Southleigh, Colyton, Devon. Photographs: Karen Robinson.

Glebe House is a restaurant with rooms set within a bucolic 15-acre smallholding in Colyton, east Devon, run by Hugo and Olive Guest who bought the former Georgian vicarage from Hugo’s parents. Its Italian-influenced food is conjured from ingredients either grown on site or sourced from the immediate area. The couple introduced food workshops and events, including a mackerel fishing day that culminates with a twilight dinner on the beach.

There is a similar plot-to-plate philosophy at the Parlour on Bredy Farm near the Dorset village of Burton Bradstock. In the same family since 1949, the farm was a dairy operation but since diversification, it has been home to a beef herd, sheep, a campsite, music venue and restaurant serving Italian food and Sunday roasts, using meat and vegetables from the farm.

“Our ethos is local where possible but quality is paramount,” says head chef Simon Payne. “We also host feasting events where everyone sits and shares big platters at long tables. It might be aubergine involtini or a whole suckling pig.”

There is a new wave of chefs emerging in Cornwall, sitting alongside more established names such as Nathan Outlaw, Emily Scott, Paul Ainsworth and, of course, Rick Stein. Philippines-born, self-taught Ana Marie Morales moved to Cornwall when she was 10 and last year opened Ana’s Kusina, a tiny cafe in Wadebridge, a 10-minute drive from Padstow. “I wanted to use my heritage to cook Asian flavours with Cornish produce,” says Morales. “I am lucky to get Cornish wagyu from Tintagel and seafood from Newlyn. I also make Filipino ice-cream with local clotted cream.”

  • Clockwise from top: Flora on the Lizard Peninsula, grilled monkfish at Argoe, Newlyn, prawn nori sushi taco at Ana’s Kusina Wadebridge, Cornwall.

One of the most sought-after tables in the county is in an old stable yard within the Trelowarren Estate on the Lizard Peninsula. Flora is run by chef Tim Spedding and partner Louise Roedkjaer who moved to Cornwall, where Tim had started his career, in 2017. After Spedding’s stints at celebrated London spots, including the Ledbury in Notting Hill and The Clove Club in Shoreditch, the duo returned via a spell at the acclaimed Coombeshead Farm and local pop-ups before setting up Flora.

“Flora is all the things we love to make and do,” says Spedding. “It’s a space that allows us to grow our own vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. The Lizard always felt like a really long way from anywhere and very remote but Trelowarren is that rare thing in Cornwall – it’s unspoilt, undeveloped and not over commercialised.”

  • A feast at the Parlour restaurant on Bredy Farm.

For what is their first business venture, Ethan Friskney-Bryer and wife Hazel took over North Street Kitchen in Fowey in March 2023. The restaurant is in an old boat shed overlooking the river. “We have a small walled garden on a nearby farm where we grow some of our own produce,” says Friskney-Bryer. “We also buy directly from boats fishing out of Fowey and Looe, which means we get to pay fishermen a good price for their catch and keep the cost down for customers.”

It’s a similar story at Argoe, a small seafood shack on the quayside next to Newlyn’s fish market. Started by Rich Adams, who grew up working in his family’s wholesale fish business, with friends Kara Alcorn and chef Ben Coombs (ex-Rochelle Canteen), the menu showcases locally landed fish cooked over wood and charcoal, often utilising less fashionable species.

Adams says: “Fish like scad [horse mackerel], megrim and flounder are on the menu, alongside more luxury choices like turbot, lemon sole and lobster. This ensures the entirety of our fishermens’ catch ends up on plates, rather than used for crab bait or wasted.” Mark Taylor

Six of the best

Goujons of local fish, fries, tartare
Beach House, South Milton, Devon

Wild garlic butter beans, cavolo nero, ewes’ curd
Root, Wells, Somerset

Mortadella, Cornish gouda and green tomato chutney sandwich
North Street Kitchen, Fowey, Cornwall

Lyme bay scallop crudo, blood orange and chilli
Glebe House, Colyton, Devon

Braised Breedy Farm mutton shoulder and cannellini beans
The Parlour, Burton Bradstock, Dorset

Boiled pork dumplings, garlic shrimp chilli oil, black vinegar
Ana’s Kusina, Wadebridge, Cornwall

Edinburgh and Fife

  • The Beach House cafe on Portobello seafront. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod.

Eighteen months ago, on the sort of November day that makes summer seem an impossible dream, I spotted a sign going up on the front of a building in Canonmills, Edinburgh. Its words – Singapore Coffee House – seemed hopeful, so I knew where to start when, more recently, I spent some time exploring the culinary terrain around Edinburgh and Fife, ahead of the peak summer crowds.

Chef Dylan Qureshi-Smith was behind the Coffee House’s tiny counter as I nabbed the last of the four tables. I ordered breakfast: murtabak, a rich roti envelope stuffed with onion, egg and local haggis, plus a helping of flaky roti canai paired with bowls of curry sauce and acar pickles. Qureshi-Smith is half-Singaporean and travels there “every year to get more ideas”. The Coffee House’s surging popularity means he needs help as it’s not just breakfast that is served but laksa lunches plus the odd supper night. “I’m keen to hire another cook this summer to do more dinners,” he told me from behind billowing steam. The cafe’s appeal goes deeper than its food: it’s a welcome slice of Singapore in the chilly Scottish capital.

Visitors unsure of where to dine in Edinburgh should simply wander down Leith Walk, where I stopped at Mirin, another new-ish owner-operated spot serving dumplings stuffed with mallard and ’nduja, sliders filled with pork and pickled daikon, and a pleasurable dish whose deliciousness lingers in the memory: an instantly cheering chilli crunch noodles with parmesan cheese.

  • Matthew Mallia at his small batch artisan Hobz bakery in Leith (left) and tuna bao at Mirin in Edinburgh. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod.

Further down the walk is Hobz, a cafe-bakery that opens at the accommodating hour of 7.30am on weekdays and is run by Matthew Mallia who came to Scotland from Malta where hobz means bread. He mills Scottish grain in-house for his loaves, although he confesses his bestseller is the cardamom croissant bun (“it’s very buttery and full of freshly ground cardamom, and usually it sells out an hour after opening”). It is a charming spot, full of camaraderie and with inviting benches outside to rest your feet.

If it’s tops off and sandals weather, then beachfront Portobello calls. For years, I’ve been going to the Beach House for its goat’s cheese and beetroot toastie, hospitality and sublime, uninterrupted sea views. Its bakery and deli are nearby, on the high street, selling jars of kimchi and slaw from Edinburgh-based Aye Pickled and honey from the Scottish Bee Company, whose pots are stickered with accolades from the Great Taste awards.

If I’m in Portobello, I’ll hang about until it’s a respectable hour to walk into Smith & Gertrude wine bar and shop, where the art of eating is about ordering a plate of white anchovies, another of east coast cured salami with garlic and red wine, and pairing it with a bottle of exceptional, amber-hued Georgian rkatsitelil. Go and you’ll be treated like a regular by your second visit.

Another day, I take my appetite over the Firth of Forth to Fife and what might be the most uplifting restaurant in Scotland. Dhoom is in Dunfermline and, to keep things fresh, chef-proprietor Dhaneshwar Prasad undertakes regular research trips to different Indian states. “Hiring a driver, and sometimes a local guide, we’ll eat in the really small places, the places that open at 5am,” he says. Every six months the menu changes, reflecting his travels. Tucking into the 10-course Mumbai taster menu, priced at a very reasonable £27.95, there are chickpea kotlets (patties) inspired by Mumbai’s Parsi cafés, and a sweetcorn chaat inspired by the Wankhede cricket stadium in Mumbai, but best of all is the fragrant Sichuan fish-fry curry. Last year Prasad and his team won the Scottish Curry award for most wanted restaurant of the year, which is no surprise. Everything at Dhoom tastes of greatness.

  • Clockwise from top: Pittenweem harbour, hake mussel and saffron sauce at The Dory Bistro & Gallery, Fisher & Donaldson in St Andrews.

The Dory Bistro & Gallery is a harbourside restaurant in the fishing village of Pittenweem run by chef Ruth Robinson and her partner, maritime artist Malcolm Cheape, who shared a vision. “For the 25 years we lived here, there wasn’t a proper seafood restaurant until we opened in 2018,” says Robinson. “If this was Cornwall, they’d be stacked on top of one another. It just didn’t make sense.” When Robinson left academia, they bought the building, a former shop, transforming it into a superb restaurant that is moderately priced and altogether satisfying. The Pittenweem surf clams in white wine with lardons, and the hake with mussels were both excellent but you can’t go wrong. Everything is carefully cooked and has integrity, with lobsters, langoustines and crabs all locally landed.

St Andrews is only 10 miles away but as it is late afternoon I arrive at the famous family baker Fisher and Donaldson just as they are closing (“we’re all out of fudge doughnuts I’m afraid” – a classic that locals queue for). Instead, I grab a teacake to take home which, toasted later on, proved itself light and close to perfection. Finally, I head to Dune, a new cocktail loft bar from chef and restaurateur Dean Banks of Haar fame. I settle in for a plate of gougères (cheese puffs), filled with St Andrews cheddar, and a Toasty Shack negroni topped with a matching cheese tuile. Caroline Eden

Six of the best
All-day morning roll
The Beach House, 57 Bath St, Portobello, Edinburgh

Homemade sausage rolls
Smith & Gertrude, 254 Portobello High St, Portobello, Edinburgh

Haddock & chips,
Anstruther Fish Bar, Anstruther, Fife

Char siu wanton noodles
Singapore Coffee House, 5 Canonmills, Edinburgh

Scottish tablet sundae
The Perfect Scoop, 23 Main St, East Wemyss, Kirkcaldy

Roast potatoes, capers, pickled onions, raclette and mozzarella toastie
Hobz, 106 Leith Walk, Edinburgh

Caroline Eden’s latest book is Cold Kitchen: a Year of Culinary Journeys (Bloomsbury, £18.99). To buy a copy for £16.71, go to


  • Sargasso, Harbour Arm, Margate.

The Kent coast has had a boost over the past decade, with new arrivals and new restaurants adding to its foodie credentials. In Whitstable, the all-seafood menu at the family-run Wheelers Oyster Bar is a stalwart. In Margate, your cooler friends will take you to Bottega Caruso for silky pasta, Sargasso on the harbour for breezy wine and small plates, or Dive for margaritas and crab tostadas.

There’s plenty of choice for families at Folkestone Harbour Arm, with a street-food stalls and deckchair cinema, ocean-front coffee roaster, lighthouse champagne bar, plus beach bars and restaurants with sea views. A walk up the hill is rewarded with a serene lunch at Folkestone Wine Company, and a justly lauded creme brulee. Deal boasts a long beach, pier cafe, midweek set lunch and seaweed martini at the Rose hotel, and Japanese flavours at the Blue Pelican.

In summer, the countryside is glorious. Lines of vines striate along the road, giving way to almost too idyllic scenes of sheep grazing by stone bridges; fields rolling past train windows – the garden of England in full bloom and filled with food discoveries.

Tip: always follow a road leading to a cluster of businesses behind a field. You might end up at Gilda bakery in Bishopsbourne, with the best bun in the UK and a chocolate Basque cheesecake on the counter that’s a link to San Sebastián, home to owner Jon Warren for 14 years. Three years ago, he moved back with his family to Kent, where he grew up, and noticed a change. “When I left, the food scene was in its infancy,” he says. Apart from all the vineyards popping up, he noticed the quality in restaurants. “Before, there was Read’s in Faversham and the Sportsman at Seasalter – now there are so many places.”

Many of those places serve Gilda bread and, in turn, Warren supports local producers – the jambon croissant is filled with ham from Fern & Farrow next door and cheese from the Cheesemakers of Canterbury. “I’ve always been passion-led,” says Warren, who started baking from home, giving loaves to the neighbours. Here, along the winding roads near Canterbury, his neighbours include Michelin-starred restaurants.

  • Clockwise from top: owner and chef Dan Smith at the Bridge Arms near Canterbury, The Fordwich Arms, cinnamon buns at Gilda bakery. Photographs: Sonja Horsman, Sophia Evans.

About a mile away, in the village of Bridge, is one of Daniel Smith’s two Michelin-starred restaurants, the Bridge Arms. You’ll need a reservation to enjoy Smith’s clever menus at Fordwich Arms in Fordwich, but if you don’t have one at the Bridge Arms, which has a large garden and a focus on local ingredients cooked over charcoal, you can order oysters and cheddar beignets and cheddar beignets from the bar menu and know that the Michelin-level of accomplishment extends to the snacks.

Back round the corner, you don’t need a room reservation to experience the Kent outpost of the hotel group the Pig. Drive up on a nice weekend, head towards the kitchen garden and check to see if the oven is in action, firing pizza topped with spring onions picked just metres away. Inside, the dining room offers a menu sourced from within a 25-mile radius, a true regional showcase.

In the shadow of Canterbury cathedral is Corkk, a wine shop and bar specialising in English wine, with a strong showing from local vineyards. Want a classic sparkling? Enthusiastic staff will tell you that Kent shares the same chalky ground as Champagne, and that Tattinger has invested in nearby vineyards. Show an interest in low-intervention wine? They’ll pour you a taster from Westwell’s thrilling bottles, left over from the night before because that was the subject of the fortnightly tasting. Head to the enomatic machines and do your own tasting. Book in for a dinner with local chefs popping-up, from Kent traiteur Wilson’s Provisions or Quince in Westgate-on-Sea.

“Kent has 26% of all the vineyards in the country,” says Jonathan Piggins, the owner. The boom isn’t just down to terroir. “Families here have been farmers for generations, know how to grow fruit, deal with the idiosyncrasies of English weather, and still produce something very good.”

A vineyard visit is a must for any Kent food trip. “Any one,” Piggins says. “You’re going to discover some lovely wines, and you’re going to hear their stories – often direct from the owner or winemaker – and that’s a lovely thing.”

  • The cider barn at Woolton Farm.

Gusborne and Balfour are beautiful, both well-known, and Simpsons has a helter-skelter to transport visitors from tasting room to winery, but Piggins also recommends taking in smaller interesting wineries, like Cary Wine Estate.

Vineyard touring can be tricky without a car, but on a Saturday morning, pick up Canterbury’s best coffee to go from Fringe & Ginge, maybe a slice of homemade cake, and take a pretty walk west along the Great Stour for an hour and a bit to Chartham Vineyard. Try a few, choose your favourites and get the train back to Canterbury (or have a local cab company number at the ready), clinking gently with your spoils.

  • Gathering veg at The Pig near Canterbury. Photograph: Sonja Horsman.

If grapes are part of Kent’s future, a more traditional crop is apples. Eastern Counties cider is light in colour and flavour, with low tannins, and fruit forward, floral characteristics, often down to using eating and cooking apples, rather than cider apples. In Bekesbourne, Sam Mount’s family uses all three kinds to combine the styles for Kentish Pip. From April to September, their Woolton Barn opens its doors Friday to Sunday for sunny pints, orchard tours and wine tastings from the family’s vineyard. There’s an outdoor kitchen, sometimes music, festival days with guest ciders, hedgerows to backdrop tipsy selfies, and campsites or furnished yurts if you fancy an actual farm stay.

Farms with changing seasonal bounty, says Mount, are a great reason to keep your eyes peeled as you drive: “Lots of cherry growers will have a little stall at the end of their farm drive, and you’ll never get better cherries than that – straight from the orchard.”

  • Supper on the Goods Shed’s farm.

Likewise, any farm shop in Kent is likely worth a visit. At Canterbury’s Goods Shed, the actual restaurant is on brilliant form at the moment; also, you can visit its own farm for a supper in the field and dine on the season’s best with almost zero food miles. Providing the weather holds, it’s hard to think of something more bucolic.

Those near Faversham should make a bee-line for Macknade food hall, while even smaller farm shops come through with the local goods – Gibsons near Wingham has a brilliant range of drinks and cheese, plus Wilmhurst’s gypsy tarts (filled with evaporated milk whipped with muscovado sugar, little seen outside Kent). Perry Court Farm has a shop in Wye. Nearby, the Tickled Trout has local beers and outdoor seating right on the water, so you can hear the Stour trickle by. The final great Kent countryside tip: any pub garden on a sunny day is a good bet. Holly O’Neill & Kate Guest

Six of the best

Vending machine, Kelsey Farm, Grove Road, Wickhambreaux

Cinnamon morning bun
Gilda, Unit 1, Court Lodge Farm, Frog Ln, Bishopsbourne,

Oysters 3 waysThe Bridge Arms, 53 High St, Bridge

Gypsy tarts
Gibson’s farm shop, Crockshard Hill, Wingham

Gruff goat’s cheese, celery, shallot, lovage
Goods Shed restaurant, Station Rd, Canterbury West

Creme brulee
Folkestone Wine Company, 5 Church St, Folkestone