The Hollies… the Hollies…the Hollies! I’d heard of this famed place from the lips of several friends over the years, but not living that close to it although in the same county, I’d never been. Then this year I ended up driving past the original Hollies at Little Budworth twice when I went to explore new places to me: Tarporley and the Cheshire Ice Cream Farm. However on each occasion I just didn’t have enough time to call in.
So when I drew a ‘H’ out of my scrabble tiles bag as part of my 2017 quest to explore new places in Cheshire (read about that here) I decided I was going to make a special journey just to visit the Hollies Farm Shop! I had my mother-in-law, aunt and hubby with me and they all love going to such places and yes, it was an experience worth the drive!
The full car park on arrival testified to the popularity of the farm shop! Mr TJG dropped us off at the door as it was raining (aww, he’s such a gentlemen) and went to locate a parking space. Our aim was to go for lunch first, so we set off round to the restaurant entrance. If you arrive at peak time like we did, you may have to wait a short while for a table, but within 10 minutes we were sat at a window table and glad we were inside as it was throwing it down on the other side of the glass!
The Cheshire Coffee Shop, as the Hollies have called their original restaurant, features a varied menu with a wide choice of options. As firm believers that produce should come fresh from local producers, everything on the menu falls into that category and so you’ll be treated to quality local ingredients, all of which are available in the farm shop; so if you taste something ‘out of this world’ you can go and get some to take home for later. We did just this with the pork pie!
The menu certainly heralded mouth-watering descriptions and choosing was hard! The salads sounded creative which is always a good sign, not just the usual Caesar salad and chicken and bacon which are the staples. However, you could get variations of these too. The chicken and mango salad caught my eye, but I ended up ordering the ploughman’s platter instead, tempted by the pork pie, one of my favourite comfort foods.
There are homemade quiches, pies, pork pies or you can order a simple jacket potato but with some more unusual fillings such as roast vegetable, pesto, goats cheese and caramelised onion. That combination sounded divine to me.
There’s also wraps, gourmet sandwiches and burgers and my mother-in-law ordered a chicken, bacon and brie sandwich and Mr TJG a steak and onion one.
Both came with a fresh side salad, and it really was fresh – not a trace of brown shrivelled lettuce in sight. It’s not a lot to ask is it, but so many cafes and restaurants get side salads so wrong. There’s an assumption that people don’t generally eat it and it’s treated as an afterthought to your meal; but in my opinion, if it’s served up to the public, it should be the same quality as the rest of the meal aims to be.
The ploughman’s platter was delicious, though I only realised once I’d nearly finished that there was no cheese on my plate which had been listed on the menu (not that I was too fussed by this – it was a massive plate of food.) I don’t think I quite got my head around being delivered a full apple as part of the meal, lol…
I can recommend the hot chocolate and the Winsors apple juice which is of course local to the area, produced just down the road by Willington Fruit Farm near Tarporley. I loved fresh pressed apple juice so it’s nice to know there’s once produced locally, not brought up from popular Kent or Cornwall.
The coffee shop is a lovely space to grab a bite of lunch and their cakes looked pretty good too if you’re just after a cuppa and a snack. The only thing I wasn’t a fan off were the material flowers on the table. It’s possible of course that these were being sold in the gift shop, but I always prefer fresh flowers on a table.
Once the rain had passed, we left our cosy table to explore the shops. If it had been a nicer day, the outdoor seating area looked a lovely space to relax in…
…and if you’re lucky enough to beat anyone else to it, check out the really cute ‘pod’ (for want of a better descriptive term) for eating in. So cool!
First up was The Barn gift shop where all manner of gifts are on sale. The overpowering smell of candles and diffusers greet you as you walk in, so I couldn’t linger too long in the entrance, moving past to the card section, an area I always spend time browsing through as I send lots of cards and design and make them myself too.
There’s also jewellery, clothes and accessories, home ware, beauty products, toys and gift wrap products. The Barn team pride themselves on sourcing ‘fabulous and unique products, through extensive research and an innate passion for awesome displays and fantastic things.’
When I visited there was a fabulous and imaginative Easter display, and I expect that this area will be dedicated to changing seasonal displays.
Next, and perhaps the main reason for coming to the farm shop, is just that, the farm shop itself.
The place is a feast for the senses, not just the amazing look of it all from the moment you lay eyes on the colourful cut flowers and fruit display on entering, but it’s an assault on all the other ones too…the smell which changes as you move through the different areas of the shop, the inability to stop yourself touching various foods and picking things up for closer inspection, and taste! Yes, there are tasters available in the delicatessen area, assuming you don’t get there too late on in the day when all the pies and pastries have gone! It wasn’t long before pork pies had accidentally fallen in to my basket. Made by Stanway Pies, I can certainly recommend these!
Then next to the deli I spotted a huge variety of oils and vinegars. Now that my eyes (and nose) had ventured beyond the delectable range of pies, I noticed the jars of vinegar and oil behind the counter and realised it was a refilling station for oil and vinegar. Excellent! I am a balsamic vinegar snob and love a good night in with my bestie and a DVD, freshly baked artisan breads and balsamic vinegars in oil. I have a whole shelf in one of my kitchen cupboards just for oils and vinegars, right above my chutney shelf, so this find was just perfect for me! Before I knew it, I’d added some Fig & Date Balsamic Vinegar to my basket – not a flavour I’d tried before, and registered that they make Mango vinegar, which I have lots of already and is divine. Now I know it’s a refilling station, I can bring back my bottles, rather than starting from scratch which of course is a cheaper option than having to buy the bottles too.
The next find were “Merangz”, totally awesome and rather large meringues that I discovered at the NEC Good Food Show a few years ago! They’ve been very hard to find outside of Selfridges (who sell the mini ones) so learning of a local supplier has made Mr TJG extremely happy, as he just loves them! They found their way into my basket before I even knew of their existence, (funny that!) They are pretty good though to be fair, our favourite being the white chocolate and raspberry ones. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better meringue.
Add to these some sausages, pate and cake, then we thought we better make a bolt for the till before a trolley and a second mortgage was required.
If you want to take a look at the 50+ local producers that are available at the farm shop, there’s a full list on The Hollies website. I was surprised to see some big names on there that I see around the country such as Mornflake cereals and Mrs Darlington’s, which if you’re not familiar with, produce a fantastic range of chutneys and preserves. I was and still am amazed at the diversity of Cheshire’s producers and I whole-heartedly support any venture that utilises and promotes the use of local produce. I really need to investigate more of the company’s on that list.
Oh, and I am even happier to learn (while researching for this post) that there is an even more local (to me) outlet of The Hollies Farm Shop, just off junction 10 of the M56 motorway in Lower Stretton near Warrington. I always thought it odd that the brown sign signalling the direction of The Hollies from that motorway junction had it pointing the way it does as to get to the Little Budworth outlet, you’d actually take the next junction. I did not realise there were two outlets, however now I am aware of this, I can see more frequent trips popping up in my diary from now on! I can see Mr TJG sending me on Merangz runs at short notice and on a semi-regular basis too!
Have you been to The Hollies? What local products would you recommend from here?
If not The Hollies, which is your favourite farm shop?
As always, please leave your comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.
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