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From its rolling hills to its wooded river valleys, Monmouthshire is a delight to explore and has numerous decent watering holes. If you’re seeking trendy bars, you’ll probably need to look elsewhere (try heading south to Cardiff) but if you enjoy a good pint of real ale in a country boozer, Monmouthshire will delight you.
Well-to-do Monmouthshire has a vibrant eating-out scene. The geography of the area (verdant hills, wooded river valleys, small market towns) means the focus is on country pubs and restaurants. Many of the county’s traditional boozers have received the full-on gastro treatment, so if you’re seeking smart food, rustic chic and real fires you’re in the right place.
A small fishing harbour to the west of the Camel estuary, Padstow is the ideal base for exploring the stunning north Cornwall coast. Much of the town's culinary reputation stems from its long association with fish guru and celeb chef Rick Stein, but there are plenty of other eateries, boozers, tearooms and food shops to savour.
Lancashire’s gentle, rolling landscape is dotted with great pubs – some take a bit of finding, but are all the better for that. You’re spoilt for choice, whether you’re heading for the Trough of Bowland, the Lune Valley or the coast; discover stunning villages, fabulous walks and fine ales from the county’s independent breweries such as Arkwright’s, Moorhouse’s, Thwaites and Worsthorne.
The great and the good are drawn to the glorious and often unsung delights of rural Lancashire, and its terrific food. From the bling of Blackpool to the stunning Forest of Bowland, Lancashire’s artisan food producers and growers are ensuring that this heritage-rich, unspoilt part of northern England is fast becoming a foodie destination.
From quaint, ivy-clad hostelries on village greens to welcoming beacons on windswept moorland, Derbyshire’s pub culture is alive and kicking – a counter-punch to those who think rural inns are on the way out.
This stunningly beautiful county might have been a bit of a gastronomic desert a decade or so ago (give or take a handful of decent restaurants), but today it’s chock full of choices to suit all tastes – from sophisticated, five-star dining rooms bristling with white linen to cool, contemporary bistros.
Much has been said about Scouse humour and Liverpool’s character – just check out its bullish pub and bar scene if you want tune in to the spirit of the city.
Liverpool's dining scene is a lively and integral part of the city. In short, there’s something interesting round every corner of this bijou and multicultural city.
Traditional is the watchword for the pubs of Whitby, the north-east coast and inland to the North York Moors National Park. You’ll look in vain for trendy leather sofas or the Farrow & Ball paint chart hereabouts – the watering holes in this corner of North Yorkshire are determinedly old school.
The rugged Jurassic coastline that runs from Ravenscar north to Staithes and rises sharply to the North York Moors is a prime foodie spot for a bank-holiday getaway.
Cheltenham has a huge and diverse range of restaurants, pubs and cafés offering visitors a mix of international cuisines, from informal gastropub lunches to fine-dining experiences in Michelin-starred venues.
It’s said that there are 365 pubs in York – that’s one for every day of the year and more than enough to satisfy the drinking needs of local residents, a thirsty student population and a yearly influx of tourists. Meanwhile, the neighbouring spa town of Harrogate is well-endowed with traditional watering holes and clubbing venues for those who want to pout and pose.
Until quite recently, York and Harrogate’s culinary landscapes were limited to tourist-trap teahouses, antiquated hotel dining rooms, sandwich shops and the occasional carvery. Happily, times are changing and each has acquired a handful of serious restaurants deserving of their rich history and quaint cobbled streets.
A city that depends greatly on its tourists and visitors, Bath has a suitably wide range of bars and pubs that cater for all tastes and pockets. There are a number of small traditional watering holes in the city centre and many of them now stock an ever-increasing range of locally produced ales and ciders. Those in search of something a little more contemporary can choose one of the many bars offering cutting-edge cocktails and spirits created by the city's new wave of innovative mixologists.
Ever since George Perry-Smith opened his ground-breaking Hole in the Wall restaurant in the 1950s, Bath has been a destination for food lovers in addition to the swarms of tourists who come to see the city’s historic Roman remains and Jane Austen attractions. The local restaurant scene is ever-evolving and, despite the arrival of countless chains, the independents are standing their ground as ambitious and creative young chefs open interesting new places showcasing the region’s finest seasonal produce.
Yorkshire has never been short of a decent pint with Timothy Taylor, Black Sheep and Samuel Smith’s all brewed in the county. Leeds’ very own Tetley’s was the biggest cask brewery in Britain, filling the air with a sweet, hoppy smell, until they were shunted to Wolverhampton in 2011. Thankfully, the gap has been happily filled by half-a-dozen burgeoning microbreweries. With 200,000 students, Leeds has no shortage of drinkers, although the proliferation of chain watering holes is balanced by traditional boozers, emergent new-wave pubs and buzzing cocktail bars.
A first-time visitor to Leeds could be forgiven for thinking the city has little more to offer than café/bars and chain restaurants – all fine in their own way, but short on personality and local individuality. So fly beneath the radar to zero-in on the best places to eat in the city, from Anthony’s for creative fine dining to the glamorous Fourth Floor Café at Harvey Nichols. Then there are the enduring Leeds institutions: Raja’s for curry; La Grillade for the best steak-frites this side of Calais, and Salvo’s where the legendary queues for wood-fired pizzas have been snaking round the block for 35 years.
Dubbed ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ because of its popularity with the ‘up from London’ crowd, this stretch of the Norfolk coast from Hunstanton in the west to Sheringham and Cromer is hardly a well-kept secret, but it’s well worth exploring if you’re fond of seascapes and sailing, expanses of marshland, muddy creeks and local fish.
An outing to the increasingly trendy North Norfolk coast (aka Chelsea-on-Sea) generally involves a few trips to the area’s splendid country boozers – dogged survivors at a time when many of their kind are going to the wall. Some have been given the gastro-treatment; others prosper thanks to good beer and ancient pubby virtues.
With its rolling green hills, spectacularly rugged coastline and turquoise waves lapping at golden sands, the Cornish coast is an unbeatable setting for a quiet pint of local ale or cider in tucked-away, centuries-old hostelries. Many of the region’s watering holes have barely changed over the years despite the masses of tourists who arrive by the coach-load every summer. And if these flagstoned inns aren’t enough, there are also funky beach bars (such as Blue Beach Bar & Brasserie, pictured) for the full-on Cornish surf vibe and some serious sunset-watching.
It may be better known for its pasties, ice creams and saffron cake but Cornwall is a beautiful, sprawling county packed with great places to eat. Whether it’s a remote beachside shack serving the freshest seafood or a top-end, fine dining experience, the region has plenty to suit every taste and budget. Throw into the mix a rising number of farmers’ markets, delicatessens, farm shops and excellent producers, microbreweries and cider makers, and it’s not hard to see why Cornwall is one of Britain’s top holiday destinations for foodies.
Drinking in West Dorset will usually require a designated driver, given that many of its best watering holes are way out in the sticks. Pub crawling is pretty tricky in these parts and ‘muddling a cocktail’ often means getting the order wrong, but you can be sure of charm-drenched locations, breathtaking views and a selection of fresh, pokey local brews, all served with a friendly smile. Just make sure your ride home is sorted.
If you’re heading to Weymouth and Portland this month to watch the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events, or are holidaying elsewhere in Dorset this summer, make a date at one of the unpretentious, easy-going eateries the area has to offer. From Lyme Regis to the mammoth Jurassic Coast and the rolling hills of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, you’ll find ramshackle beach cafés, hidden farmhouses, quirky street-food hangouts and time-honoured, in-the-know institutions.
While London sets the national pace for big-city restaurants, the Thames Valley is home to some of the UK’s most progressive countryside eateries. Quaint village pubs have become gastronomic fun palaces, grand country houses are now a stage for local ingredients, inns have their own kitchen gardens and foragers, and the river itself sets a sedate pace for cute cafés or the most luxurious fine dining. Thames Valley restaurants are defined by their location but, even better, they’re rarely more than an hour away from the capital.
Isolated ancient inns and sleepy waterside hostelries abound, but pubs and bars in the Thames Valley aren’t all the stuff of low-beamed nostalgia and real ale. UK tech-hub, Reading, has a lively cocktail scene typified by mixology as serious as any in the capital, and many grand country houses hereabouts have similar boozy aspirations. Factor in views of the river and the rolling green Chilterns, plus a terrific assortment of independent breweries young and old, and the region’s allure is guaranteed.
The diamond-shaped Isle of Wight is packed with natural assets, from broad-backed, open downs to sandy bays – but these days it’s all about the thriving food culture. The last five years has seen a quiet revolution on the island, with farm cafés and artisan producers setting up shop, and top chefs migrating to the island, attracted by the easy-going lifestyle and superior local produce. Find the best restaurants for a bank holiday break with Square Meal.
Despite grotty student dives and the inevitable high-street chains, Oxford’s rich history, distinct districts and burgeoning food scene mean that its pubs and bars are an eclectic bunch, hopping from the ancient to the achingly hip. Backstreets around the town centre are a warren of centuries-old hostelries; bohemian Jericho invites quirky, laid-back lounging; the Cowley Road blends multiculturalism with affordability, and the winding Thames means countless opportunities for a waterside pint.
If eating in central Oxford was once something endured for the benefit of glorious history, architecture and education, recent years have seen an explosion in casual, affordable restaurants with offbeat personality and a fondness for quality ingredients. While you do need to know where to look, the shoots of a very promising dining scene are hiding among the chains and takeaways that pepper the streets of this high-profile tourist city.
London may be only an hour’s drive away, but its culture of cool bars and cocktails has yet to travel down the motorway. What passes for vibrant nightlife in a Kentish town tends to focus on the bingeing lost generation. However, the county is also blessed with some of the most ancient and picturesque country pubs in England – many so hard to find they will feel like your own personal discovery. Here you will encounter a dream team of Kentish heroes – the region is awash with brilliant microbreweries, cider makers and wineries. Be warned, you may also find yourself checking out the local house prices.
Salt marsh lamb, Whitstable oysters, apples, cherries, cheesemakers galore – the gentle landscape of the Garden of England is stuffed with artisan growers and producers. Add the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale (150 acres of orchards displaying 4,000 historic varieties), a profusion of farmers’ markets and independent food shops, and it’s obvious that Kent is no longer a place to pass through on the way to the Channel ports – it’s a place to relish, to explore. For the past decade, the county has been a magnate for talented chefs whose top priority is to promote the wealth of fantastic produce on their doorstep. With a choice ranging from Michelin stars to cheerful, budget eateries, Kent is a fabulous place to eat out.
Renowned for its vibrant nightlife, which offers everything from traditional olde-worlde pubs to flamboyant gay bars, Brighton has it all when it comes to drinking and socialising. The live-music scene also offers the full gamut from drum and bass, hard house and big-name DJs such as local Fatboy Slim, to latin beats and jazz. There’s something for everyone: read on for Square Meal’s top 10 bars to kickstart your night, plus perfect pubs in which to hole up.
Brighton’s creative and diverse food scene and stunning coastal location are a winning combination for trips out of the capital, whether for business or pleasure. The city’s reputation for flying in the face of all things mainstream extends to its restaurants: vegetarians and vegans are well served here, and residents value institutions that focus on sustainability and local produce. Plus, Brighton’s international scope and proximity to London ensure international cuisines are amply represented. Here’s Square Meal’s pick of the best restaurants Brighton has to offer.
It doesn’t do fancy wine bars or slick cocktails, but what the Lake District does do brilliantly is its host of characterful, unspoiled country pubs. Even better, Lakeland pubs invariably have fantastic beer on tap courtesy of a plethora of high-quality microbreweries and bigger regional brewers who know what they’re doing. Throw in the most glorious landscapes imaginable, and you’re in pub paradise.
It’s safe to say the Lake District is one of the best places to eat in Britain. From Herdwick lamb and Cumberland sausage to sticky-toffee pudding and damsons, the local larder is superb - and eating out is equally satisfying. There are more notable inns offering good food and real ale than any other rural area we can think of. There are duff notes, of course: you need to choose carefully to avoid the odd tired hotel or tea room, and the food offering is predominantly British, but with a bit of guidance, you can dine like a king - with the added bonus of five-star Lakeland views to stir your soul.
Stunningly beautiful year-round, the rolling Cotswolds’ landscape has remained virtually unchanged for centuries, and the same could have been said of its culinary scene - until recently that is. Traditional stalwarts – the country-house-hotel restaurant, trad pub grub and twee tearooms – remain, but a new generation offering local, seasonal produce and innovative cooking is muscling in. The result is a much-improving dining scene that’s swiftly updating the Cotswolds’ reputation from culinary backwater to a gastronomic destination.
A jaunt to the sticks is always an appealing prospect, and The Cotswolds is no exception. Expect to find quaint, history-steeped, honey-coloured hostleries set in gloriously unspoiled scenery, and quite possibly some exceptional food and drink, too. The Cotswolds bar scene is on the up. Maybe it’s because it’s where the money is, with people like Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz and Kate Moss always popping in for a swift half, or because owners are making the most of some of Britain’s best local producers and brewers. This is farming country, after all, and the only place worth buying a drink is the local pub. A few are fantastic, some remain pretty average, but with informed choices this part of the world won’t disappoint.
Bristol's bar scene has music, culture and entertainment at its heart. Whether you opt for a pint of scrumpy in a dingy music venue, or a swanky cocktail made with perry liqueur and other fancy (but still local) booze, you'll find Bristol's bar-goers friendly, unaffected and nearly always up for it.
Bristol boasts plenty of cheery caffs and easy-going eateries, but neither ‘fine dining’ nor culinary risk-taking seem to be a top priority here (with one or two notable exceptions). Given the wealth of excellent produce on its doorstep, you might expect the city to have a more innovative restaurant scene. Still, if you're after wholesome, economical food, there are plenty of possibilities.
University is beckoning for freshers and seasoned students alike, and ritual demands Britain’s bright young things have a final farewell meal with their parents before getting sloshed with their new mates. If you’re looking to fill your offspring up with something hearty before sending them off to the land of crisp sandwiches and and cheese toasties, look no further than Square Meal. And for added street-cred, why not suggest a bar or two you can drop them off at afterwards?
Not so long ago, Cardiff was a down-at-heel city with an impoverished bay area. But now, it’s a slick capital city with a thriving arts scene and countless pubs and bars that reflect this shift. Some of the best offer a lively programme of live music and DJs – try Gwdihw (pronounced “goody hoo”) or Buffalo to mingle with an arty crowd and enjoy the music; Milgi and Cardiff Arts Institute are a good choice if you like the occasional arts happening thrown in. If beer is your priority, head to Zero Degrees, a bustling bar with its own microbrewery, or North Star, where there’s a worldwide selection of lagers and beers. For a touch of glamour, Ba Orient in the revitalised Bay area is worth a visit, as is Barocco, which sits close to the Millennium Stadium. Pica Pica, also close to the stadium, is another great-looking venue, and a good bet for wine and cocktails. For a relaxed pub environment, try the Vulcan Lounge or the North Star, both city boozers that, like so much of Cardiff, have undergone a stylish transformation in recent years.
A few years ago, the dining-out scene in Cardiff centred around a handful of trusty stalwarts such as Woods, the Thai House and Patagonia, but as Cardiff has blossomed into a vibrant capital city, an exciting new wave of restaurants has appeared. Take the Potted Pig, for example, with its passion for nose-to-tail eating, or The Canteen, where vegetarian options make up about 80% of the menu. The recent closure of Le Gallois – previously Cardiff’s finest – has been softened by two exciting new openings, both run by Le Gallois alumni: Garçon, a snappy French brasserie in the revitalised Bay area, and Pier 64, a stylish steakhouse in Penarth Marina. The general trend in Cardiff is towards an informal style of eating underpinned by excellent Welsh ingredients, from fish and seafood to Welsh Black beef. Here are some of our favourites.
It's Edinburgh Festival time again – meaning the Scottish capital is bracing itself for the descending hordes. Here, Square Meal recommends the best lunchtime bites, set-menu deals, posh dinners and post-gig pints to be had in the city – and more besides. Beat the crowds by planning your foodie pit-stops in advance and booking them through SquareMeal.co.uk.
Ian Brown observed that Manchester has everything except a beach, and that includes more great bars, pubs and offbeat drinking oddities than you can shake a bucket and spade at. A proud culture of creativity, as well as a keen collective thirst, has contributed to the development of the Northern Quarter as the drinking hub of the city. Here, late-night New York-style pool rooms share customers with revitalised heritage pubs, and real ale enthusiasts have a funky new place to call a home-from-home. Glamour lives across town on Deansgate where nights out are done in style and sometimes at great heights, while drinking and thinking are perfectly possible at the arty hangouts of Oxford Road. Luckily, Manchester is eminently walkable, so you don’t have to choose.
Home to one of the nation’s best-established urban food and drink festivals and surrounded by fabulous produce, Manchester is an endlessly diverting place to eat out. Hardcore foodies with Michelin stars in their eyes puzzle over the lack of really fancy places – the tough truth is that there aren’t enough people with enough money to sustain more than one or two – but what the city lacks in starched napery, it claws back in diversity. A thriving Chinatown is home to fabulous Szechuan food, the trend for small Italian plates is alive and well in an unlikely in-store spot, and there are independently-minded chefs with great experience ploughing brave furrows on the fringes of town. When Mancunians fall in love with a place, they fall en masse, so don’t forget to book.