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The female gastros behind our buzzing local food scene

From farm shops and delis to cafes, restaurants and catering businesses, there are some bright stars in Bucks and Oxon, many of whom are women. And now lockdown is easing, we'll get to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

The foodie scene in Bucks and Oxon is alight right now and lockdown has done little to put a dampener on it – from gastro meal boxes to gourmet coffee to go, food has been one of our few lockdown indulgences.

Hospitality is an area where women are really shining across Bucks & Oxon. Here are some of the fab female foodies who are top of our nosh list:

Eilidh Ferguson-Hill, Cuxham Mill

Becoming a pub landlady at 19 was a punchy start to my career in the food business, but the long days and hard graft didn’t put me off a life-long love of food and good service. That was the Half Moon in Cuxham, Oxfordshire, from where me and my husband Andrew went on to win lots of awards and a county-wide reputation at The Red Lion in Britwell Salome.

Leaving that business was tough – we had just been asked to be on The Great British Menu and Andrew had won Gastropub Chef of the Year, but we wanted our own business and so we switched to event catering. The thrill of incredible venues and spectacular events is a buzz and we haven’t lost our connection to local suppliers. We’re both huge fans of Rectory Farm for its fruit and vegetables, Blue Tin pork and cheese from Nettlebed Creamery and the Oxford Cheese Company, plus chocolates from Annabel’s Patisserie feature regularly on our menus.

No two days are the same in events and while I miss the relationship with regulars that running a pub offers, the lockdown business we’ve launched has brought that connection back. Our Cuxham Mill meal boxes now sell out in under 12 hours with dishes like Eight Hour Lamb Shoulder and Oxford Blue Frittata with Anchovy & Chilli Mayo. When we’re off-duty, we love walking with our two dogs for Sunday lunch at The Chequers in Berrick Salome then taxi-ing back. Or heading for a glass of wine and plate of Iberico ham at Le Clos in Wallingford with Stefan and Sam. I also really rate the Top Fox (the Fox and Hounds on Christmas Common) for its beer and the walking nearby.  

Rose Grimond, Nettlebed Creamery

I have always worked in food, starting a business in my 20s that imported scallops from Orkney as well as kippers, oatcakes and more. I sold to restaurants and had a stall in Borough Market, so when we decided to move our family out to the family farm in Nettlebed, I guess the seeds of my next business were sown. We had the gorgeous organic milk already so the obvious next step was cheese.

We launched in 2015 and we have shelves of awards, plus we supply restaurants and have a contract with Waitrose. The latest addition to the Creamery is the Cheese Shed, where we use our Highmoor and Witheridge cheese in sourdough toasties and serve them alongside fabulous coffee. We even had Tom Hanks queueing for his coffee and toastie last Saturday. Our coffee comes from Emily at Horsebox Coffee Co so only travels a few miles from the roastery in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell.

When I’m off the farm, it has to be outdoors, exercise, dogs, and good food. I love the cinnamon buns at Orange Bakery (Watlington) and I buy my wine from Blackwoods in Nuffield. I’m really excited by the momentum around food at the moment and the connected community in Oxfordshire. People have started local food buying habits and I hope they will carry on.

Aimee Hunt, Lata Lata

My life was always heading in a foodie direction. My Mum was a fabulous cook, she travelled extensively and I moved to Brixton at a time when the local food scene was hotting up. It all made not getting into the food industry impossible. I opened Lata Lata in High Wycombe in 2018 after the success of my first venture, Tin Kitchen. I’ve always been a massive fan of buying local and seasonal. Everything from the milk to the meat, the snails(!) and even the plates, is local. I feel strongly about championing other women in the business like Victoria at Chiltern Escargot, Rose at Nettlebed Creamery, and Emily at Horsebox Coffee. It’s about so much more than feeding people.

I live in Wallingford and for a special dinner out, I’ll head to Oxford: to Arbequina on Cowley Road for its tapas, or (the charcuterie and wine bar) Pompette in Summertown. I often pop into the Cartshed at Preston Crowmarsh for coffee, while for the evening, it has to be Le Clos, a French wine bar in Wallingford or The Keep, a gin bar where I met my business partners for my next venture, Five Little Pigs. We launched a really successful crowd-funding campaign and doubled our target. The plan is to open in May, with the same focus on local and seasonal, but with an equally strong spotlight on the bar – a fab cocktail menu alongside the tapas and brunch dishes.  

Emma Darke, The Blue Tin farm shop

Our farm shop was conceived by a chicken, or rather its eggs – whichever came first?! My husband, Jed, and I moved onto the arable farm where Jed’s Dad had been the tenant for 40 years. He bought six chickens as a venture into livestock and left a box of eggs at the end of the drive to the farm. When we came back from the pub, to our utter delight and surprise, the box had sold… and so the farm shop dream was born. Jed bought pigs and we found a portacabin and Blue Tin farm shop opened in 2009, but we’ve come a long way from how we started. Jed rears every single thing on the farm – field to fork, with provenance, food miles, traceability, pasture-fed and free range farming at the core of everything we do.

At least 85% of what’s on sale comes from a few miles radius – we were the first to stock Dark Horse Coffee and our bread and quiches are made nearby – there’s too many amazing local suppliers to mention. What has earnt the Blue Tin pork and beef its reputation is the taste, which comes down to the breed, the way it’s reared and fed, and the slaughter – every aspect of the animal’s life is handled with care. Customers who discovered Blue Tin as a lifeline for groceries in lockdown have become loyal regulars and lots of people tell me they won’t buy meat from anywhere else.

Alongside the farm shop there’s the smokehouse, a growing charcuterie business and our coffee bar with its giant industrial fire pit made by Jed. We started doing pop-up suppers with Cuxham Mill a few years ago and our plan is to host more events in a field next to the farm shop. When we’re not working, we amble to the local King William for chips and cider and to The Black Horse in Checkendon, which is just the most wonderful local pub.

Donna Thacker, Seriously Good Food and Marlow FM

With her hero, Michel Roux, in 2018

I started my career in food early, training as a chef on a YTS scheme at 16. I didn’t finish it but moved to France in my 20s. I loved the French food markets and someone gave me a fish cookbook by Sophie Grigson and really those two things got me started. One day, a couple from next door gave me a pike and perch and showed me how to scale it and cut the heads off – after that I was dressing crab and lobster, and the rest is history. I cooked in the holiday homes of famous people like Bell Moonie, Chris Patten and Jonathan Dimbleby (I was once being helped in the kitchen by his son Henry, who has since had huge success with his restaurant chain, Leon).

From event catering with my company Seriously Good Food, I’ve now moved towards homecooked freezer meals, teaching after-school clubs and producing a range of meals for Hambleden village stores. Among all this, I’ve presented the food and drink show on Marlow FM for over ten years. There are so many amazing artisan producers in the area, it’s hard to name just a few, but I love the Marlow Cheese Company, Gourmet Gob cakes, Chiltern Charcuterie and Bucks Fish for its incredible turbot. I adore the coffees and pastries at Satollo in Marlow and for special meals out it has to be Tom Kerridge’s Coach, The Artichoke in Old Amersham, or The Crown in Burchetts Green. At home I tend to make simple food and love slow braises like lamb tagine over high end plated food. 

Vicki Marsh, Prescotts Chocolate

I didn’t set out to work with chocolate. I worked in HR and retail, but when I took up a part-time job at a Beaconsfield chocolate shop, my head was turned. When that shop closed, I re-trained and set up stalls at fairs, before finally opening my own chocolate shop, Prescotts Chocolate. Now I sell handmade, hand-delivered chocolate, and I’m dedicated to being involved at every stage of the process.

Though my business has grown, I still love getting to know my customers, and will tweak orders for a bespoke service. I grew up in London, but I love the communal atmosphere of Buckinghamshire – it’s full of likeminded, talented businesses supporting each other. I am so lucky to have loads of great delis nearby, from the Peterley Manor Farm shop (near Great Missenden) to Benedict’s Store in Beaconsfield. When it’s time to eat out again, you’ll find me at The Jolly Cricketer’s in Seer Green, and tucking into really genuine Italian food at Prelibato in Beaconsfield.

Katy Brill, Wild Strawberry Café

I sort of “fell into” being a chef. Whilst reading history at university, another student told me about how they made extra money cooking for families in the holidays. I wanted a piece of the action, so I did a short training course and took up private cooking jobs on the side. After I graduated I got a job in B2B publishing, but quickly realised that publishing wasn’t the life for me. It was straight back to food – I built on my existing client list, upped the stakes, and learnt on the job.

In 2014, I returned to my family farm, Peterley Manor, and set up a café there, working out of a second-hand Mongolian yurt for lack of any suitable buildings. Initially the Wild Strawberry Café was intended as a pop-up, but the café is still thriving seven years later, with a focus on changing menus of fresh, veg-centric, seasonal food (and lots of produce from the farm). We’ve long-outgrown the yurt, and are finally converting a tractor barn into a permanent café, keeping the yurt for events.

I really passionately believe that the Chilterns have just as much going for them as foodie destinations like the Cotswolds: it just needs shouting about, which is what I did in my previous role as deputy editor of Chilterns Food magazine. I learnt about some great local producers while writing for the magazine and use many of them now. The cheeses from the Nettlebed Creamery are incredible and we get the wonderful milk from the Lacey Family Farm. For a special evening out, I really recommend The Mash Inn for its phenomenal tasting menu that isn’t obnoxiously fancy, or Lata Lata in High Wycombe for small plates with a Mediterranean twist, or the Roots café in Chesham for delicious cakes.

Kim Bates, The Grocer Shops

Getting into food was a leap of faith for me. I needed a change in my working life, and my partner Marcello was missing work in hospitality, having grown up around restaurants. While Marcello is the chef, my expertise is in retail buying and marketing. Inspired by the vibrant café scene in London, we decided to use those skills to bring that buzzy quality back to Buckinghamshire, opening The Grocer at 15 in our home town of Old Amersham. Before we’d even opened, people were full of curiosity and support. Then lockdown hit, and we decided to pivot the business to become a grocery store that delivered, and our customers stuck with us.

Now we balance a café on one end of the high street and a grocery store (The Grocer at 91) at the other, and we love the challenge of having both. We champion local produce as well as Italian flavours in our grocery store, so I have to have my finger on the pulse of what’s good at home and on the continent. My current favourites are Marlow Cheese, Saft drinks, and Harrow & Hope wines. When Marcello and I dine out, it’s to Coopers in Marlow or Norsk in Haddenham, for great food and good coffee (that suits even our fussy tastes!). For takeaway, we love Sri Lankan food from our friend Hash’s pop-up, Cinnamon Gardens in Old Amersham, as well as Native Feasts for delicious gourmet food that’s ready to cook at home.

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