January 20 2011
Sometimes life takes you to Gloucester. Just the other side, on the A48 to the mysterious Forest of Dean, as the riverside road takes you a little way inland from the Severn up into small rolling hills, there is a hidden surprise for food lovers. The Severn and Wye Smokery has no name sign: “Of course not, nothing so obvious as that!” laughs the proprietor. You can tell you have got there when you have driven through the small hamlet of Chaxhill, past a Texaco garage on the left-hand side, and can see on the right a stone farmhouse with unprepossessing porch above which stands a large model of a salmon fisherman hooking a salmon.
The customer car park is basic, behind the corrugated iron-roofed buildings that house the smokery, but once inside the main shop you know you have landed well. Here are many of the luxurious jams, condiments, olives, smoked meats, perfectly conditioned exotic and local cheeses, biscuits and chocolates you might expect of a supplier to Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason.
Fresh and smoked fish, however, are the main event, with locally caught wild salmon a speciality. The choice of fresh fish is impressive but the reason we make the smokery a regular destination is the smoked eel, which is quite sublime – tender, juicy, with a subtle, dense flavour. The smokery will also smoke your own salmon for you, which is how we discovered it, and its particular smoking blend of oak chips, chipped whisky and calvados barrels can transform even an unexceptional grilse into a sensational treat. Sometimes the journey out there can seem intrepid enough to make staying for lunch a reasonable indulgence. Workaday wooden tables and chairs in the restaurant area (where there are viewing windows to watch the smoking process) belie the quality of the cooked-to-order fresh fish.