As you may recall from my last post, I mentioned how while working in Thailand last fall I did a lot of work with UK traders. I realized how little I actually knew about the UK market. This needed to be remedied before I went back to Thailand so I made a quick stop in England to gain a little more knowledge on the subject.
I was met in London by one of my assistants, Khun Joob and the New Product Development Manager, Khun Young. We had meetings set up with our marketing team and Chef to discuss current food trends found in the UK and do a food tour in Leeds near Newly Weds Foods European headquarters.
One thing I will say is that the food I had in mind was nothing compared to what I actually experienced. When you think of great food countries you think of Italy, France, India, Thailand, Greece, Mexico, US and Japan. When I think of England, all I think of are Meat Pies, Mushy Peas and English breakfast. What I don’t think of is healthy gourmet foods and innovation in retail. However, the week in England proved my perceptions wrong and changed my perspective on the English market.
For the first leg of our trip we took a train from London to Leeds to take a tour of Newly Weds Foods facilities and do some training on market trends. Leeds was a very interesting town, not at all like London. It was more of a blue collar city with many similarities to a smaller version of my hometown, Chicago. We stayed at a very English hotel, Oulton Hall in West Yorkshire. It was an old eighteenth-century house that was once home to a WWI and WWII hospital for soldiers and then later turned into an insane asylum. It was big and beautiful and I think the best part was having proper English tea that was served with scones, finger sandwiches, and puddings.
We did tours of all of the major food retailers like Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Tesco. It was similar to the US markets but slightly different. They were more focused on convenience and ready to eat foods that were fresh not frozen. The main aisles were lined with refrigerated coolers and had pre packaged lunches, dinners, snacks, and desserts. There were also many healthy options. With all of the government restrictions in Europe and the UK, I got the idea that the food had a little more love and care built into it. For the most part the physical stores were also similar to the US but with small variations. It was still good to get out and see what the UK had to offer.
Later in the day we took a food tour of the city center of Leeds near Greek Street and Trinity Shopping Center. It had loads of dining options from quick service restaurants to fine dining. We hit all of the QSRs and looked over the menus and wandered in and out of various restaurant concepts. It was easy for me to tell this was a college town. It had many young hip and trendy restaurants mixed with coffee shops and plenty of shopping.
We had dinner at Meat Liquors, a hipster burger joint with punk music and fun drinks. It looked like we were eating in a punk rock grandma’s basement decked out with wood panel walls, old juke box, retro furniture and graffiti everywhere . This place was amazing and I loved the burger I ordered, called the “Dead Hippie” which to me was a doppelganger to a gourmet In & Out Burger. Leeds showed me how off I was in my thinking about the English food scene. The next few days we did more market research and then headed back down to London to finish up the week.
We took the train back down and stayed in the Kings Cross area of London. I met up with an English mate of mine to get a local tour of the gastropubs and the very trendy area of Covent Garden. We finished the night off with some amazing Indian cuisine. Due to the large Indian population, that food style is quite popular in London.
The next day we decided to mix some work with pleasure, and found our way onto the big red double deck tour buses that took us all over the city. We stopped at a few street markets and saw many food vendors and artisan foods. My favorites were Boroughs Market and Leather Lane.
Boroughs Market is a wholesale and retail food market in Southwark, Central London, England. It is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, and sells a large variety of foods from all over the world. After a few hours of browsing all it had to offer we made stops at the London tower for tea and then to see the Crown Jewels, then saw the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace.
For our last night Chef Chris made reservations for us at HKK . We had an amazing 10 course prefix menu by Chef Tong Chee Hwee. It was a menu that was created in celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Sheep, with a culinary journey through China. He served the most influential of the eight Chinese regional cuisines, pairing them with teas and fresh juices.
My favorite dish was the last one; a sheep’s mouse dessert. I was again very impressed by the different food I discovered in England and have a completely different concept of what English cuisine really is. With our trip coming to an end and our bellies full we packed up all of our new knowledge and hit the airport to return to my new home, Bangkok.