Gill Meller’s taste of Dorset: A food and drink guide

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Gill Meller

5 min read

When you’re looking for someone to introduce you to the culinary wonders of Dorset, you can’t do better than Gill Meller. The chef, award-winning food writer, and cookery teacher works closely with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and River Cottage, foraging and feasting on all that Dorset has to offer. He’s given us a couple of recipes, one for fried mackerel, one for roasted fennel, but here’s his expert advice on tasting your way round the county.

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Bridport market

Dorset is a very magical place to live, but if you love to cook, like me, it’s even better. I grew up near the market town of Bridport, in west Dorset. It’s a vibrant place a stone’s throw from the Jurassic coast, full of creative, like-minded people. I’m pleased to say, I still call this beautiful part of the world home. I love to pop into Bridport on Saturday mornings, when the streets are lined with an eclectic mix of traders, many of which sell locally grown ingredients. There are stalls selling fresh organic vegetables, look out for Five Penny Farm and Springtail farm in particular. You’ll find countless cheeses to buy, an abundance of preserves, honey, eggs, local lamb, fish and shellfish from Lyme Bay, and everything in between. There’s always an air of excitement at the Bridport market, particularly in the summer, but it’s worth getting there early, as it can get busy. 

Getting out of town

There are lots of small towns like Bridport, with bustling high streets, where you’ll find wonderful seasonal ingredients, but food shopping in Dorset isn’t limited to the urban centres. Quite often, the best stuff is found off the beaten track. Just north of the little seaside village of Burton Bradstock you’ll find Modbury Farm Shop. Their herd of Jersey cows produce some of the best raw milk I’ve tasted. Modbury beef is exceptional, as is their rare breed pork, and they have their own vegetables throughout the summer. A short drive (or cycle ride) from Modbury, is the breathtaking vineyard of Bride Valley wine. Where a delicious champagne-style sparkling wine is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines, grown on sunny south facing climbs. Visit The Cellar Door or book a tour and tasting at the vineyard, then maybe round things off with supper at The Parlour, a gorgeous restaurant on an old farm nearby. 

Unmissable seafood

One of the joys of living in Dorset is the wonderfully diverse coastline, which runs from Lyme Regis in the west of the county, right up towards The Solent and the Isle of Wight (There are some stunning walks to be had along all it). Fishing has always been part of the coastal industry here, but there’s nothing quite like catching the fish yourself. Harry May, a local fisherman I know well, runs a small fishing boat out of Lyme Regis harbour. We love to join Harry for a morning’s fishing over the summer months. Not only can you take in the full magnificence of the Jurassic coastline from the sea, you get to bring home a few fish too, or a bucket of them, if you’re lucky. The last time we went out we caught quite a few pouting, a relative of cod, and a common white fish in inshore waters. Lots of people don’t rate pouting, but I think it’s great, and makes fantastic beer-battered goujons when it’s super fresh. I serve them with a homemade tartar sauce and buttery new potatoes it really takes some beating! When the mackerel starts running, from June onwards, you can expect to haul in at least one or two for the pot. Freshly caught barbequed mackerel is what summers are all about, and it’s one of the simplest ways to enjoy this very special fish. 

If you can’t get out on a fishing trip with Harry, or the weather’s not on side, you could make a pit stop at The wet fish shop in Lyme Regis, set back from the ancient ‘cobb’ a sea wall that surrounds the harbour. They sell great locally landed seafood in this tiny little shop by the slipway.  

If you’re a bit further east, make a beeline for Chesil Smokery. My wife’s father helped set up this smokery in the 80’s, and today, under new ownership, it’s still going strong. Think home-smoked mackerel, kippers and haddock. Dressed crab and oysters, as well as hot smoked duck and oak smoked free-range chicken. I particularly love their cold smoked cod’s roe, which I make into a delightfully rich taramasalata by blending the soft smoky roe with a little garlic, olive oil and lemon. I tend to serve this simple dip with warm flat breads made with organic flour grown and milled just down the road at Tamarisk farm You can also pick up grass fed, slow matured, organic meat from Tamarisk. 

If you’re staying in Dorset this summer and you want to do a ‘supermarket sweep’, without actually going to a supermarket, you’ll do well to swing by Felicity’s or Washingpool farm shop, where everything you could need for a gastronomic break can be picked up in the one place. They are both inspiring, independent businesses who work closely with a network of growers and farmers within the community, so always have an abundance of lovely seasonal produce available, from soft fruit and veg to home reared meat and locally caught fish, right through to bread and pastries and craft beers and ciders. Well worth a visit. 

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All photography (c) Andrew Montgomery.

Gill Meller

Gill Meller is a chef, award-winning food writer, food stylist and cookery teacher who lives and works in Dorset. Gill works closely with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and River Cottage. He appears regularly on the celebrated Channel 4 series, and teaches both at the River Cottage Cookery School and internationally. A contributor to the Observer, Guardian, Waitrose Food, Telegraph, Delicious and Country Living to name but a few. Gill's first book, Gather (2016), won the Fortnum & Mason Award for Best Debut Food Book, and both Time (2018) and Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower (2020) were nominated for the Guild of Food Writers Cookbook of the Year. He is also the author of the River Cottage Handbook on Outdoor Cooking and his latest book, 'Outside recipes for a wilder way of eating' is available now. 
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