Norfolk produce wins pub-goers vote

When pubs and restaurants added a key ingredient to even the simplest of tasty dishes, sales started soaring as consumers voted with their knives and forks.

By MICHAEL POLLITT

Rural affairs editor

When pubs and restaurants added a key ingredient to even the simplest of tasty dishes, sales started soaring as consumers voted with their knives and forks.

A campaign to promote local food has been going down a treat after the word "Norfolk" was added to menus and lists of special blackboard dishes.

It follows hot on the heels of the EDP's "Support Your Pub" initiative as consumers yesterday were urged by Prime Minister Tony Blair to "Just Ask?" where food has been produced.

Since pubs started des-cribing dishes as "Norfolk" or locally-pro-duced, sales have soared, said Paul Thomas, land-lord of the Swan at Ingham, near Stalham.

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A tasty plate of bangers and mash becomes extra special when it has the added spice of being prepared from award-winning Norfolk ingredients, he added.

"When they come in on a Saturday night for a three-course meal, they still choose Norfolk Pickerings' Sausages and Mash. They do it because they want a nice local product," said Mr Thomas, who said that sales of this dish increased by more than half since he added the description "Norfolk" to his blackboard menu.

"People like to know where the product is coming from. As soon as we put Norfolk ham on, our custo-mers said: 'That's nice. We know it doesn't come from Tesco or has not been bought in bulk from Taiwan."

"We went from bangers and mash which could have been Walls or someone else's to our speciality food. Where once mash was a mediocre line for us - something just to fill the bar-snack menu - it has now become one of our signature dishes," said Mr Thomas, who runs the 14th-century pub with his wife Jan.

A local and Norfolk food policy has been a winning formula for landlord Matthew Colchester, of the Recruiting Sergeant, Horstead, and the Black Boys at Aylsham. All his beef, pork and lamb comes from Janet Mutimer and her son, Rob, who launched their Farm to Fork venture at Swannington, near Reepham.

"On the menus, we'll say if it is from Swannington. We always say specifically where it comes from. With a lot of chains, it can come from anywhere.

"It costs a bit more, to be fair, but I think that the quality is better," said Mr Colchester.

One of his most popular dishes features locally-reared venison. "It comes from James Ellis at Gunton Park. We use Norfolk potatoes - they're from Tunstead," he added.

Mid-Norfolk pub landlord Peter Hammond, who reopened the Ploughshare at Beeston, near Dereham, said when his chef put "Norfolk partridges" on his list of blackboard specials, they were virtually flying out of the door.

"We serve a lot of game - hare or tenderloin of Norfolk pork stuffed with rabbit - and it is very popular," he added.

"We buy our partridges and pheasants from a local game dealer which is all locally gathered. We use Impsons, of Swaffham, who are a very good local butcher. He knows where every beast that he handles comes from," he added.

Bev Kembery, of the Crown at Burston, near Diss, said: "We try to get everything as locally to Burston as we can. Our meat is from Halesworth - pork, beef."

Simon Rowling, managing partner of the Broom Hall Country Hotel at Saham Toney, near Watton, for the past 13 years, said: "We make a point in our menus of saying where we source our meat. Our sausages are from Steven Smith of Watton and our meat from David Barnard at Shropham. Our customers like that because they're becoming more aware of food miles."

Mr Blair and environment secretary David Miliband joined celebrity chef Lesley Waters from BBC's Ready Steady Cook for the launch of the Country Land and Business Association's campaign at Downing Street.

It will encourage the public to ask where their food comes from whenever they are out for a meal - whether in a hotel, restaurant, pub, canteen or fast-food outlet.

David Fursdon, president of the CLA, said: "Asking where the food on your plate comes from is the first step in raising awareness of British food."

Suffolk food campaigner Caroline Cranbrook said: "All the research I have done shows that the British consumer is anxious about their food and wants to be reconnected with food and where it comes from."

Landlord Mr Colchester said: "It is going back to the old way really but no one really realised at the time. You can go to a multiple chain, they're more expensive and they use worse stuff really."