After conquering Crouch End, Andrew Thornton arrives in Belsize Park
Well, what do we think of the new-look Budgens, now called Thornton s Budgens, since Andrew Thornton acquired it almost a year ago, having bought the store in Crouch End in 2006? Isn t it vastly more expensive than the high street supermarket chains? Well
Well, what do we think of the new-look Budgens, now called Thornton's Budgens, since Andrew Thornton acquired it almost a year ago, having bought the store in Crouch End in 2006? Isn't it vastly more expensive than the high street supermarket chains? Well no, actually. One day in August they were selling Johnson's Baby Powder for 99p when it was £1.02 in Tesco. And when I checked another day, La Brea bread was £1.99 in Thornton's Budgens and £2.09 in Tesco.
But much more than with its prices, Thornton's Budgens, now also on Haverstock Hill in Belsize Park, impresses with its content and its commitment to local producers and to sourcing as directly as possible. Some of its ranges are still purchased through Budgens itself, and the vegetable selection has left something to be desired; far too many Dutch tomatoes when there were plenty of good English tomatoes available, but improvements are on the way, I am told.
Apart from Monday, there is a wet fish counter with most of the fish coming direct from Cornwall five evenings a week, so the fish you buy on Tuesday will have been delivered on Monday evening and caught Monday morning, most of it from day boats. Seymour, behind the counter, displays it well and will fillet anything on request, but sensibly, for those in a hurry, he also fillets some in advance. I recently bought a large John Dory and have never tasted better, apart from when we lived in Cornwall for a while. Marco at the deli counter has some good English farmhouse cheeses, (as well as the usual "cheese with everything" horrors) and in the cheese fridge, you will find Neal's Yard Finn and Ragstone, made in Herefordshire. Artisan bread from Flourish in Tottenham and Marine Ices from Chalk Farm are just two of the local producers. Hema has been a 'check-out' lady at the Belsize shop for eleven years and you will find her delicious Indian food also in the delicatessen area. I know it's delicious because I sampled some when the store held an open day earlier in the year, at which we were able to meet a number of Andrew Thornton's suppliers as well as the man himself. He has wide experience of the food retailing business and appears to have created an unusual food shopping experience.
I enjoy shopping there, which I cannot say about any other high street supermarket. Certainly, Sainsbury's at the O2 Centre has made improvements in the layout, but nothing tempts me there except their Taste the Difference Dewlay Lancashire. And I cannot get on with the new-look Waitrose John Barnes. What about M & S in South End Green? I go there for a stunning English blue goat's cheese, Beacon Blue. But at none of those shops would I be tempted to shop for a whole meal, as I frequently am at Thornton's. I like the way, too, the store caters for the needs of the many different cultures which make up this part of London; whether you are from Cape Town or Dublin, Prague or Warsaw, and many other cities besides, you will find something from home.
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On Saturday September 20, there will be another open day on the forecourt outside the store, so go along for a taste and a chat to the suppliers. Thornton's Budgens is also one of the sponsors of Belsize Eco Week from September 22 to 27, which is pressing all the right buttons, reminding us to drink tap water instead of bottled water, take our own re-usable bags when shopping, to eat locally produced seasonal food, to eat less meat and dairy produce as it is energy intensive and more fruit and vegetables, suggesting, too, that we check out the various vegetable box schemes operating in the area.
As my contribution to local seasonal food combined with eco-friendly entertaining, I suggest a meal this weekend might start with a bowl of pasta with an English sweet corn chowder, then some fresh fish, perhaps as a fish stew or some pieces of skate wing, poached then finished off with extra virgin olive oil, capers and lemon.
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For dessert, some baked Bramleys spiked with vanilla or cinnamon, served with caramel sauce. Thornton's Budgens has an ample selection of organic wines, some of the more unusual and better ciders and a fascinating array of English beers from small breweries.