For me, the food is one of the best things about being in Hampshire. I adore the picturesque scenery – the views on a ramble through the New Forest or walk along the South Downs are simply stunning – but even they’re made better by knowing there’s a flask of fresh, fruity cordial in my backpack.
The thing is, with all the farms, dairies and bakeries in the area, there are just so many people here willing to take time and care over what they’re growing, making or cooking up. So in case you’re planning to take the hour-long train ride out of London on a day-trip, to drop in on relatives for the weekend or come and stay at Riverside Cottage, here are a few of my favourite ways to satisfy your appetite for local, independent flavour while you’re in the area.
Picnic in the Paddock
When I’m at Riverside on a clear day, one of my favourite ways to while away an afternoon is over a lazy, tasty picnic. I might only be heading out to our paddock, but I love the ritual of packing up a basket of goodies for the family. I don’t always have time to jump in the car and do the rounds, of course, but if I did, this would be my dream hamper:
Hill Farm Apple Juice
It’s so much fun choosing a new flavour to try from the juices made on the farm in Meon Valley. They have everything from traditional cloudy Hampshire apple juice to English russet, Cox & Bramley and, in autumn, apple with damson and sloe.
Lantern Bakery Bread
Everything at the Lantern Bakery is organic – from the cakes, pastries and biscuits to all kinds of bread – and since they’re part of the Real Bread Campaign, it’s all made the old-fashioned way too. There’s everything from cheese buns with a pumpkinseed topping to walnut, sesame and harvester breads, and since the bakery is part of the Lantern Community, all the profits go back into the charity.
There’s nothing quite like getting stuck into a good gooey camembert out in the sun, and Tunworth Soft Cheese have got it spot on. But don’t just take my word for it; I hear Raymond Blanc, Neal’s Yard Dairy and food critics at The Times and The Observer are fans, too.
It wouldn’t be a Riverside picnic without some of our own goodies; I always pack one of our tasty jams or marmalades to spread on my crusty bread, along with a flask of lavender tea and a few packs of Bonilla crisps. As for the picnic blanket, that’s one of our luxury cashmere throws, of course!
Best of British
Psst… Alright, I’m cheating a little here. These guys aren’t from Hampshire, but they’ve got to be among the best of British.
First up: Patchwork’s flavoursome Welsh pâté, which you can get online or pick up at delis all over the place. You can’t go wrong with something hearty like their chicken liver, mushroom and ale pâté; and they even do veggie versions such as spinach and nutmeg or Tuscan bean.
Then there’s The Garlic Farm in the Isle of Wight. Again, you can get their goodies online, and this time they include super-tasty snackage in the form of their wild garlic mixed nuts; flavoursome and prettily packaged in a Kilner jar you’ll find a hundred uses for.
Finally there’s the picnic basket itself; and I’ve got my eye on the British-designed Optima hampers from Weybridge, Surrey. My pick – the four-person naturals picnic tea basket – comes with everything from plates and cups to cutlery, cool bag and even salt and pepper shakers.
Pubs & Restaurants
When you don’t feel like buttering bread and spreading pâté.
The Black Boy Pub
Not far from Riverside Cottage, this Winchester pub is your traditional alehouse, complete with five local brands and tasty pub grub such as beer-battered cod and chips and toad in the hole. In summer there’s the rustic sheltered garden, and in winter cosy log fires.
The Black Rat Restaurant
Another Winchester stalwart, the Black Rat is something altogether different; converted from its public-house origins, it’s now a Michelin-starred restaurant, serving up the likes of smoked carnaroli risotto, Hampshire wood pigeon, and elderflower panna cotta with New Forest gooseberries, crème fraiche, doughnuts, and champagne sorbet.
The Mayfly Pub
This is one for the fishermen; looking out on the River Test with its famous trout stocks, the Mayfly welcomes outdoor types in from the cold for the likes of salmon and monkfish terrine, rib-eye steak, spinach and mascarpone lasagne and pan-fried sea bass.
The Plough Inn
Over in Longparish, the Plough is the perfect blend of picnic and pub; they’ll bring food out to their garden if you want to lay a blanket out in the sunshine, or you can escape inside if the weather starts to change. Expect to see the likes of roasted quail, butter-roasted cod, and sticky toffee pudding on the menu.
The Wykeham Arms
If you like your pubs with character, you’ve got to give this one a go; from the pictures crammed quirkily all over the walls to the inventive ways its dishes are served, it’s a talking point from bar to secret garden. Personally, I can’t wait to try their new menu; think rack of lamb, fillet of bream, Hampshire beef burger and delicate desserts.
The Drift Inn
Right in the middle of the New Forest, The Drift Inn is the place to be during pony-sales season, when you can watch all the action across the way at Beaulieu Road Station over a real ale and a doorstep bacon, Brie and cranberry sandwich, or a plate of box-baked camembert with crudités or Fordingbridge trout baked whole.
That precious local produce meets authentic Spanish ingredients at the family-run Winchester tapas bar and restaurant. You’ve just got to try the bite-size meat paella, patatas bravas, char-grilled chorizo and hand-rolled pork and beef meatballs.
Cook it Yourself
…and when you feel like doing it all from scratch.
From late September to late November, it’s worth getting out and about in the New Forest on a fungi foraging course; you’ll soon learn to tell your chanterelle from your oyster and your bay bolete from your amethyst deceiver (yes, really).
Winchester Cathedral Harvest Festival
The first weekend in October is all about the Winchester Cathedral market; which is, ahem, jam-packed with local produce. This year it’s being held under the tress from The Square to the cathedral from 10am to 5pm on the 5th and 6th, and you’ll be able to pick up everything from apples and game to squash and, of course, pumpkins for Halloween.