WHILE THE pork scratching is often heralded as the apex of Midlands culinary tradition, there is plenty more on offer if you're prepared to dig a little deeper.
Every region has its specialities, and while Midlands fare might not always flaunt its provenance in the same rather forward way that delicacies such as Lancashire hotpot or Cumberland sausages do, that's not to say it isn't on offer.
From Hereford beef to Worcestershire sausages, pubs in the region are increasingly working with local suppliers to make a feature of locally-sourced produce on the menu - and to cut down on food miles too.
At the Fountain Inn in Clent, Worcestershire, Marston's Pub Company lessees Richard and Jacqui Macey have gradually built up the number of local suppliers they work with over the course of a decade or so at the pub. This includes meat from the village butcher in Clent and, in season, game from local shoots.
Quality and price
The pub's success in appealing to customers with this approach has made it a regular in industry awards. As well as holding a number of Marston's own awards, it has won the Sunday Lunch title at The Publican's Pub Food Awards, and Customer Service pub of the Year at The Publican Awards.
"I like to have a couple of suppliers for each product," says Richard, "to keep a check on quality and price. But we're now at the stage where we've been working with some of our suppliers for a long time."
The Fountain's approach is to pay the additional cost that fresh, local produce tends to command, and to source kitchen staples more economically through trade wholesale channels.
The menu changes on a daily basis, reflecting the availability of produce, while lunchtime menu offers use food 'left over' from the à la carte menu at reduced cost to minimise wastage.
The pub even offers daily fish specials. Richard is the first to acknowledge that landlocked Worcestershire is about as far from the sea as you can get, but his thrice weekly visits to the M&J Seafood warehouse in Birmingham ensures fresh and seasonal products.
Good-quality simple food
Another Midlands pub which recognises the need to make an exception for fish is the New Inn at St Owen's Cross, Hereford. Another Marston's Pub Company house, licensees Nigel and Tee Maudtook on the lease in 2006 - and like the Fountain, the pub was a finalist in the Food Pub of the Year category at The Publican Awards in March.
The New Inn has a bar area as well as a restaurant, with food served from noon to 9pm seven days a week. While the same menu is served throughout, the restaurant tends to attract a higher spend, with customers ordering three courses or spending more on wine and spirits. "We offer good-quality, simple food," says Nigel.
Wednesday night is fish night at the New Inn, with freshly caught fish landed in Cornwall featured on a specials menu, helping to drive midweek trade.
The rest of the menu is built around local produce, including Hereford beef, and the pub features traditional dishes such as rabbit and faggots, billed as 'old favourites', which differs depending on what is available through local suppliers.
While the New Inn is their first pub, Nigel and Tee's long-standing involvement with local food groups and farmers' markets stood them in good stead when it came to tracking down suppliers, who are fully credited on the menu. The pub has also become involved in events such as the Hereford Food and Drink Festival.
Pubs looking for local suppliers can track them down through Heart of England fine foods (HEFF), the regional food group for the West Midlands.
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