Five fantastic autumn food weekends in the UK

Felicity Cloake recommends oysters in Whitstable, porridge and whisky in the Highlands and fish and chips everywhere

Dartmouth food festival, 21-23 October

Autumn sees a bumper crop of UK food festivals, in Devizes, Abergavenny, Aldeburgh and Melton Mowbray, among others. The Dartmouth Food Festival, which takes place on the waterfront, boasts chefs and speakers including Matt Tebbutt, Prof Tim Spector and … ahem, yours truly. And once you’ve sampled your way around the many stalls, tasting events and workshops, you’re well placed for the area’s other edible attractions, including South Devon Chilli Farm, with its display tunnel and shop, the Manna from Devon wood-fired cookery school, and Riverford Field Kitchen (lunch from £29.50), as well as the Sandridge Barton vineyard. Notable restaurants include Mitch Tonks’s Seahorse (mains about £30) and, down the coast, Hope Cove House (mains about £16) and Jane Baxter’s Wild Artichokes in Kingsbridge (feasting menu £45). Or you could just get takeaway fish and chips (£9.95) from Tonks’s Rockfish and sit on the harbour wall. The chef-owned Brightham House B&B (doubles from £150) is just down the coast in Salcombe.

A sign saying “Beware trains” in front of apple trees in Kent
The Brogdale National Fruit Collection in Kent offers orchard walks Photograph: PR

The Isle of Thanet, Kent

Well known as a summer destination for Londoners, thanks to the high-speed train from St Pancras, Thanet – a lump of chalk that was joined to the rest of Kent only a few centuries ago – is fast becoming a food hotspot all year round. Breakfast on superb sourdough or pastries at one of the Staple Stores bakeries, or at Forts Coffee in Margate; lunch at Barletta in Margate’s Turner Contemporary gallery (mains about £20); and finish off with drinks and small plates (about £8.50) at Sargasso on the harbour arm, or dine at Angela’s seafood restaurant (mains about £21) round the corner.

For a more traditional British seaside experience, neighbouring Broadstairs offers its own take on fish and chips (battered cod cheeks for £7.50, and a £3.50 cone of frites) at Flotsam and Jetsam, which can be followed by a trip to the happily unreconstructed 1950s glamour of Morelli’s Gelato.

Elsewhere in Kent, the Brogdale National Fruit Collection is worth a visit – it offers orchard walks and short courses on things like beekeeping – as is Simpsons Vineyard in Barham and Whitstable for oysters. There are also two famously good gastropubs within easy reach: the Sportsman at Seasalter (tasting menu £70), and the Fordwich Arms (mains from £33). At the brand new Fort Road Hotel in Margate (double rooms from £190), the head chef is Daisy Cecil, formerly of the River Cafe. Yes, that one.

A roll cut in half sits next to a ceramic bowl of food and a wooden spoon resting on top
The Ynyshir is the first two Michelin-starred restaurant in Wales. Photograph: Chris Fynes

Machynlleth, Powys

The self-styled ancient capital of Wales has acquired a reputation as a bit of a hippy hotspot, thanks in part to the nearby Centre for Alternative Technology – a blueprint for sustainable living, with kitchen gardens and a cafe serving its own produce. Machynlleth itself is a prosperous market town (the market, dating from 1292, is on Wednesdays), and although the butcher closed last year, the wholefoods shop is still going strong.

Most greedy visitors will, however, be here for Ynyshir, Wales’s first two Michelin-starred restaurant, in dense forest a 10-minute drive away (tasting menu only, £350). If you can’t get a reservation, you may get luckier at its chef Gareth Ward’s Legless Fach bar in the garden, which serves small plates (around £14) – it keeps several tables open for walk-ins, and dogs and children are welcome.

Otherwise, head half an hour along the coast to the one Michelin-starred SY23 in Aberystwyth, which showcases local produce cooked over an open fire (tasting menu, £120). More low-key options can be found at Hennighan’s Top Shop chippie back in Machynlleth, celebrating its 40th birthday this year and former winner of best fish and chip shop in Wales (haddock and chips, £7), or the Aberdyfi Ice Cream Company, which also has a shop in Aberystwyth.

Gin fans should not miss the multi-award-winning Dyfi (pronounced “Dovey”) Distillery, which uses botanicals foraged from Wales’ only designated Unesco biosphere reserve. Those who can’t get there in person can sample its work at the Wynnstay in Machynlleth, a lovely, eccentric inn with good cooking, an 11-page wine list and doubles from £105 B&B. Birdwatchers and romantics may prefer to snuggle up on a cosy glamping boat with stunning views of the Dyfi estuary at the Smugglers Cove Boatyard near Aberdyfi (rooms from £60).

A woman, grinning, holding a flat basket of loaves of bread outside KJ’s Bothy Bakery
Bread at KJ’s Bothy Bakery in Grantown-on-Spey. Photograph: Catriona Parmenter Photography

Porridge making championship, Carrbridge, Highlands, 8 October

Originally designed to attract visitors to this small Highland village after the summer season, the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship now draws oat-loving competitors from all over the world. Hopefuls will be battling it out in the village hall in two categories – traditional and “speciality” (think piña colada porridge). In between, there are whisky tastings and, afterwards, a celebratory ceilidh.

If that’s whetted the appetite, book a Speyside distillery tour in nearby Grantown-on-Spey, also home to KJ’s Bothy Bakery, or head to the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore. Kitchen gardeners or aspiring smallholders may be more interested in a tour of Lynbreck Croft to admire its fruit and veg and meet the Highland cows, rare breed pigs and hens.

Cute, tin-roofed Mole Catcher’s Cottage sleeps four, on the banks of the river in Carrbridge (from £135 a night). Dinner can be ordered in from Heavy Metal Munchies – don’t miss its haggis pierogi – or Alvie Forest Food (mains about £9), a street food kitchen using locally grown and foraged ingredients.

Patissier Florian Poirot smiling next to a wooden table in front of the window to his shop
Award-winning patissier Florian Poirot outside his North Yorkshire shop. Photograph: PR Image

Malton, North Yorkshire

Yorkshire’s not shy about its many attractions but, batter puddings aside, food rarely gets a look-in amid all the countryside and cricket – which is a shame, because it does that extremely well, too.

Malton, once described by the late chef Antonio Carluccio as the county’s food capital, makes a great base for exploring the hills and moors. There is a cookery school (The Cook’s Place), a gratifying number of independent shops, from award-winning patissier Florian Poirot to traditional butcher Derek Fox – enough to keep most people busy for a good few hours, especially with a session at the Brass Castle Brewery Tap House.

This autumn, it’s worth trying to book a space on one of Yorkshire Arboretum’s mushroom-hunting tours in the Castle Howard estate, a 15-minute drive from the town – though in fine weather, seaside fish and chips from Trenchers of Whitby (£9.95), winner of the UK’s fish and chip shop of the year award 2019, may be more tempting.

Sue Nelson’s Yorkshire Food Finder tours showcase the region’s lesser-known delights. Big names locally include the Michelin-starred Black Swan at Oldstead (lunch from £135pp) and the Star Inn at Harome (which is reopening for weekend lunch only in October after a fire last year). The Talbot in Malton (doubles from £149.50 B&B) is a refurbished coaching inn which now also boasts the outstanding Bluebird Bakery.


Felicity Cloake

The GuardianTramp

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