Food review: Simplicity is the beauty of Bill’s Kitchen, Ludlow
Andy Richardson discovers a cafe in Ludlow that serves as a potent reminder of just how good the town’s independents can be.
There’s a delightful restaurant chain that was founded in 2001 by Bill Collison. It is called Bill’s Restaurant and Bar.
Having been founded in Lewes, East Sussex, it started life as a greengrocer’s but after a flood was converted to a café.
Serving locally sourced produce and offering menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and teatime, it became widely popular and presently has around 75 branches in the UK.
The beauty of Bill’s is that it offers food that people like to eat, from eggs royale to brilliant pancakes topped with streaky bacon or banana, strawberries and blueberries.
There are decent soups, sharing plates, burgers and fish finger sandwiches, as well as mac’n’cheese, fish pie and steak and eggs.
In a nutshell, Bill’s offers an unchallenging menu that offers choices for every time of the day at a reasonable price. It makes eating fun and the atmosphere is habitually convivial.
There’s a Bill’s recently opened in Ludlow. It is, however, not in any way related to, erm, Bill’s – and manages to distinguish itself by adding the suffix Kitchen to its title.
Based in the town’s former Assembly Rooms, Bill’s Kitchen does what Bill’s used to when it was in its infancy. It brings together the best local producers, provides a stuff-you-like-to-eat menu and offers service with a smile in a hustling, bustling dining room.
It also has the same eager-to-please, hungry-to-succeed willingness that Bill’s – no relation – would have had when it was a start-up and when the guy with his name above the door was busy on site.
Bill’s Kitchen not only dazzles in respect of service and food, it also serves as a potent reminder of just how good Ludlow’s independents can be – though Ludlow long since lost its Michelin sheen, hough a number of rock-solid restaurants remain.
Ludlow is a stunning town. Walking to Bill’s on a busy market day where stalls are stacked with fresh, local produce is a joy.
Good food isn’t the only reason to visit Ludlow, which was famously described by John Betjeman as ‘the loveliest town in England’. It remains a feast for the senses with more than 500 listed buildings, including many that are Georgian or half-timbered.
When it comes to food, Ludlow’s reputation was built around a culture of great seasonal produce. Though the town is well served by a supermarket, it also has good independent butchers and bakers – though no candlestick maker. There are shops selling great charcuterie and deli goods. People make a trip into town to buy a fresh loaf, rather than buying pre-sliced, chemical-infused pap from their local superstore.
That ethos of supporting local producers by buying from independent stores and the brilliant market is what Bill’s Kitchen taps into. The sausages are from a local farm, the apple juice is pressed from fruit grown in local orchards; there are numerous examples of locals earning a small piece of the pie by supplying great local produce that doesn’t cost the earth and is kind to the environment.
The restaurant has the feeling of a university refectory. It’s a big, open space with a buzzy atmosphere and the main courses for the day are cooked and kept warm at a counter in the back of the venue.
People head to the tills to self-serve, selecting the things that look nice, while there’s also an experienced, high-quality front-of-house team that keeps things ticking over.
Tables aren’t booked in advance, patrons simply enter, find a space and make themselves comfortable.
My friend and I met for a natter and a light lunch, ordering the Tudge’s sausage sandwich with a onion marmalade, served on light, spongey ciabatta, with a simple, dressed side salad.
The sausages were delicious. Sure, you can buy them at a local farm shop and cook them at home – but then you miss out on the ecstasy of our release from lockdown.
Bill’s Kitchen provides a vibrant ambience with people of all ages enjoying their time there. From students to great-grandparents, it’s a space in which all-comers are welcome – the perfect community eating space.
It’s worth doffing our cap to the producers of the marvellous bangers served in Bill’s Kitchen. Tudge Meats is run by Gordon, Rosemary, Guy, Kate, Chris and Charlotte Tudge, who all have an active involvement in the production and selling of home-reared produce. As a family they farm just over 300 acres of Herefordshire’s wonderful countryside. They have been rearing Berkshire pigs for more than 20 years and sell their succulent pork products at farmers’ markets throughout Shropshire, Herefordshire and beyond.
As well as Bill’s Kitchen, they also supply other, discerning restaurants and pubs in Ludlow and its hinterland.
That means their pork tastes just like pork used to, before the introduction of intensive farming methods.
That level of provenance is important to customers, as Bill Sewell, owner of Bill’s Kitchen, attests: “The bacon, ham, sausages and chicken that my cafes get from the Tudge family is incomparable.
“The sausages taste of pork, not absurd flavourings; and the bacon makes you want to have bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning.”
We ate cake. How could we not? I ordered a slice of peach and almond tart while my friend ordered a sticky lemon and almond friand.
And then we realised that both were so good that the only safe way to navigate lunch with our friendship still in tact was by cutting them in half and sharing.
Oh, and ordering another 15 friands to take home. They. Were. Utterly. Delicious.
Bill’s Kitchen is magnificent. Housed in a splendid, light and airy space with great service and a fabulous front-of-house team, it is doing Bill Sewell proud.
The food is great, a happy showcase of the best of local produce.
It reminded me a lot of the brilliant early days of a café on Dinham Green, that was similarly enjoyable.
A thrilling venue with a great ethos, stunning food and fair prices – what’s not to love?
Bill’s Kitchen Ludlow, Ludlow Assembly Rooms, 1 Mill Street, Ludlow SY8 1AZ