When it comes to eating out in Bedfordshire, there really is food for all palates, whether exotic or British, homely or lavish.
In Elstow, south of the county town, the elegant St Helena Restaurant is a must-visit restaurant, situated in an elegant, 16th-century country house which was once the home of author John Bunyan. Dine to a backdrop of fine antiques and paintings, or in the new conservatory or outdoor walled garden in the charming country village. Raffaele and Franco, brothers in law, have been wining and dining locals and visitors alike here for two decades.
For food in a glorious Tudor setting, pop into The Plough at Bolnhurst, meanwhile, with its low beams, cosy feel – and a curious lack of windows, due to the building’s historic origins. The kitchen is open to view from the bar and restaurant. Try the roast pigeon.
In the west of the county, the stately village of Woburn has more than its fair share of culinary offerings, many of them around The Pitchings, which is dominated by a Town Hall designed by Sir Edward Blore, architect to William IV and Queen Victoria, and the man behind Buckingham House. Woburn was a Saxon hamlet as far back as 969, and is named after Wo meaning crooked, and ‘burn’, meaning small stream.
Here, Galloways is the standout offering, a family-owned restaurant at Aberdeen House serving a mix of European and British cuisine (including haggis), with great wine.
Woburn Brasserie on Bedford Street, meanwhile, offers a great brunch, plus superb venison and local Woburn lamb shank. The Devonshire crab thermidor is also worth trying. There are enough restaurants in Woburn to keep you occupied for weeks.
Flootes Food on the marketplace is an affordable combination of champagne and wine bar, with a range of retro basket meals. For a weekend afternoon tea in the most elegant of settings, pop into the boutique Woburn Coffee House and Woburn Orangery, with its wonderful walled garden.
Olivier’s Restaurant at The Woburn Hotel offers a stylish and relaxed setting to enjoy the very best of English and continental dining. Expect classic French and English dishes with an imaginative twist from this 2 AA Rosette award-winning restaurant.
For high-end dining, Paris House, offers sumptuous creations set in 22 acres of beautiful deer park on the Woburn Estate, with seasonal food-related art on the walls. The restaurant works with local craftsmen, sculptors, furniture makers and silversmiths to adorn their dining room. It offers different tasting menus (some of which run to eight courses) with highlights including rabbit, mackerel, Malaysian beef and Fideua. For a wonderfully bespoke experience ask for the Chef’s Table, with 14 courses, including quail, Hamachi, Hua Juan Bun, and pineapple cake.
For food in a glorious Tudor setting, pop into The Plough at Bolnhurst, meanwhile, with its low beams, cosy feel – and a curious lack of windows
Back in Bedford, the town’s substantial Asian and Italian communities combine with the town’s own traditions in serving up a mouth-watering, multicultural feast.
The Italian community has lent a decidedly continental air to much of the town’s offering, liberally sprinkled around the city centre. On Castle Lane, try the Higgins Pantry and Kremo’s Restaurant and Pizzeria. Around the corner on Castle Road, you’ll find 2likeusbistro. Peter’s Street, meanwhile, has Amici Italian and Mamma Mia.
For the best pizza in Bedford, try Bellini’s, Mamma Concetta, or Zizzi on Riverside Square. Other Italians include Eatalia on High Street, Figaro on Commercial Road, Riobello Italian Ristorante on Mary’s Street. Riobello, owned by Giovanni, is the quintessential Italian restaurant, serving specialities like Ortolana vegetarian pizza and pollo con funghi.
For lunch or dinner in a hotel setting, try d’Parys in Bedford; the River Room Restaurant in the Bedford Swan Hotel on the Embankment; the Embankment Hotel itself; or RVG Bar and Grill on St Mary’s Street.
It has a great selection of restaurants offering cuisine from South Asia. Look no further than Tavistock Street, just northwest from High Street via the Broadway. There you have a dozen restaurants from the Subcontinent competing for your attention. The standouts include Magna Tandoori No 1; the Cochin, Alamin and the Grand Indian Restaurant on Tavistock Street; while on the Broadway, go for Indiya, Choudhury and the Bengal Brasserie. Three Rooms on the Kimbolton Road, Deshi Spice, and Saffron are also worth popping into. For other excellent Indian restaurants, visit Diya Royal in Kempston.
Back in Bedford, the town’s substantial Asian and Italian communities combine with the town’s own traditions in serving up a mouth-watering, multicultural feast
Bedford’s coffee culture is booming. For a good introduction, just pop into Coffee with Art on High Street. Opened five years ago and locally owned by Mike and Ian, it takes a wonderfully idiosyncratic approach to décor, with a full wall made up of salvaged books. The home-made décor has been designed by the owners. There are comfortable leather seats at tables made from whole slices of tree, and a floor reclaimed from factory floorboards over a century old. One wall section has books bursting through a crack, while gorgeous old-fashioned lightbulbs dangle from the ceiling, illuminating the photography and artworks on the walls.
This spacious eatery is perfect for a quick panini, or somewhere to grab some wonderful cake and work on the laptop amid a perfect atmosphere. The ice-cream sundaes and vegan orange and chocolate cake are ridiculously nice. They even do great gluten-free cakes and direct-trade coffee. Also on High Street is Café Crema Restaurant, which has better, fresher food than some of the fancier international coffee chains.
Moving down High Street to the Old Arcade, you’ll find Seventh Heaven, which supplies the finest wedding cakes to the area – and also does a mean ‘sugar school’ course in cake-making. Its window display alone is worth a visit. Pop in and grab a slice of what’s on offer, or get a celebration cake made specially.
Down Howard Street, on the corner with Mill Street you’ll find Frescoes Coffee House and Wine Bar, which does fantastic breakfasts, including gluten-free scones. It’s the type of place to while away an afternoon with a coffee – or a glass of wine – while reading a good book.
There are plenty of options nearby. The Mill Yard Coffee Lounge on Mill Street is a great lunch spot. The Vanilla Tree Bakery on St Cuthbert’s Street do a great selection of Portuguese-style custard tarts, plus hand-made cakes and biscuits, with their signature Italian blend coffee.
Bedford’s coffee culture is booming. For a good introduction, just pop into Coffee with Art on High Street
For a coffee shop at the heart of the River Great Ouse, try the Longholme Café on the Embankment, a destination coffee shop if there ever was one. As well as offering great coffee and food, it hires out boats and bikes seven days a week. The cafe also serves up a mean brunch featuring British sausages and eggs and you must try their lip-smacking pancakes. The Cappucino Bar Newnham also does excellent vegetarian and vegan-friendly offerings, while Papillon Coffee House on Castle Road serves up tasty home-made cakes and other treats.
If you’re popping out to one of Bedford’s many parks, there are plenty of places to grab tea and a slice. Priory Country Park has the Cloverdale Retreat coffee shop; Mowsbury Park has the Four Seasons Café.
Gunn’s Bakery, meanwhile, is one of the last places you will find that old Bedfordshire delicacy the Clanger, a suet pudding with a meat filling and a dessert side, once the favourite food of food of field labourers due to its ability to be eaten portable cold or hot on returning home.
Gunn’s make their clangers using the same ingredients as of old, with suet pastry and a combination of savoury and sweet fillings at either end. They also cater for vegetarian clanger-lovers. They have has branches on the High Street in Bedford, on Hitchin Street Biggleswade and at their flagship shop in Market Square Sandy.
If you’re a fan of baked goods, the Companions Bread Club meet on the first Saturday of the month on Mill Street at the Companions Real Bread bakery. The location alone is worth a visit: the bakery is based in an old fire station across the road from the John Bunyan Meeting Church. They also train ex-offenders to bake, helping them learn new skills, build confidence and rehabilitate back into society. See if you can meet Maggie Rich, the social entrepreneur behind the bakery, and a very inspiring woman indeed. It’s not just a bakery – it’s a growing community hub.
For a dessert with a hint of Italian cuisine, there are also ice cream parlours aplenty, from the twin choices of Gallone’s and Sundaes Gelato in the Old Arcade and High Street respectively, to Creams Café on High Street, or Dessert Island on St Loyes Street.
Gunn’s Bakery, meanwhile, is one of the last places you will find that old Bedfordshire delicacy the Clanger, a suet pudding with a meat filling and a dessert side