Fillet & Bone: the return of the fine food emporium
PUBLISHED: 12:35 24 July 2017 | UPDATED: 13:52 24 July 2017
A glance in an estate agent's window, a chance meeting with a renowned Cotswold foodie and almost by accident Chipping Campden had got its high-quality butcher back
Entrepreneurs Chris Gates and Pat Willins were looking for their forever home.
A country cottage, deep in the Cotswolds - the antithesis of their trendy flat in Birmingham city centre, which they’d called home for the past seven years.
Somewhere with a garden, where Pat could potter and enjoy her retirement from her role as financial director of an electrical contractors and from where Chris could commute to his global engineering company in the Midlands, until he decided to step out of the boardroom too.
But a visit to Chipping Campden last autumn and a glance through the window of estate agent Mark Annett changed all that.
The old L Smith family butchers - which had been trading in the High Street for more than a century - had just closed and the 700-year-old, honey-coloured shop with a warren of outbuildings had come on the market.
The couple were fascinated - particularly by the old abattoir at the back, complete with animal fasting pens and the grisly ironwork cattle crusher, which remained intact.
It was like a step back in time, and Chris and Pat were hooked.
“It was absolutely not what we were looking for in a property at all,” says Chris.
“It ticked very few of our boxes. But we absolutely fell in love with it.”
The butchers had been untouched for decades, save for small cosmetic changes.
It needed a visionary overhaul to bring it into the 21st century, and the couple knew planning permission wouldn’t come easily.
“We kept saying, ‘this isn’t what we were looking for’,” says Pat.
“But somehow, we kept being drawn back to it.
“Considering what this building was, what it was used for, it has the most wonderful, warm feel to it, and we fell in love with it.”
Chris and Pat jumped through hoops to buy the Grade II-listed property which, because it had been in the same family for more than 100 years, didn’t even feature on the Land Registry.
Initially, they planned to lease the shop to another trader, short-term.
But as they removed old butchery equipment, the character of the shop began to emerge - an old fireplace hidden behind walk-in fridges; a secret door; beautiful beams emerged from behind old plasterboard.
As time went on, Chris and Pat began to see the potential for a business they’d never planned to start, and a chance meeting with renowned restaurateur and Cotswold foodie Barry Hancox at Daylesford Organic, where Barry was working, planted the seed of a dream which has now come to fruition.
Fillet & Bone opened its doors to great acclaim in March, and Chris and Pat are justifiably proud of bringing back a business to its rightful home - and making it sustainable, fit for the modern age.
“It has so far exceed all our expectations,” says Chris.
“There’s something very pleasing about bringing a butchers back to Chipping Campden. It’s what the town told us they wanted, and we’ve responded to that.
“Pat and I always wanted to create something really special here - a shop with high-quality meat as its centrepiece, but a proper food emporium, with fresh fish and seasonal vegetables.
“It was very important for us to promote the very best food and drink the Cotswolds has to offer, encouraging good husbandry and responsible farming, selling everything in season and keeping food miles to an absolute minimum - but at prices fair to both our suppliers and consumers.”
The vision is clear in this dazzling urban farm shop, where shoppers bustle in and out, open-mouthed at the array of exceptional food and drink on the shelves, chatting happily with knowledgable staff in smart blue aprons, filling Fillet & Bone’s jute bags with all manner of goodies.
It’s almost impossible to leave without stocking up on Cotswold Gold oil, tubs of olives, slices of Parma ham hand carved from a hock on the cheese counter.
Once utilitarian, stainless steel butchers’ cabinets have - thanks to a skilful team of carpenters, painters and electricians, and Pat’s eye for design - been upcycled and born again.
Stunning graphics of food and farming equipment have transformed the white, plastic-clad walls of the original butchery and given it a warm, contemporary feel.
A tiny cupboard, once clad with utility tiles, has been transformed into a beautiful wine store - many of the bottles from Herefordshire and Gloucestershire vineyards - thanks to the ingenious re-purposing of old wine crates.
A huge old dresser - one of Pat’s antiques shop finds - has been transformed with Little Greene Dock blue and a charming, rickety dog cart is waiting patiently to find a home in the shop.
Quarry-tiled floors were scrubbed until they sparkled. Reclaimed floorboards were installed.
Funky lightbulbs were hung from the historic beams and a gnarled old butchers’ block became the perfect stand for jars of olives and bowls of pungent capers and grass-green pesto.
And all of a sudden, Fillet & Bone was born.
Barry spent months tracking down the finest Cotswolds suppliers for the shop; a mixture of old friends from his own experience running the Lygon Arms, Russell’s and Prego in Broadway, and working at The Daffodil and Daylesford Organic, and new faces recommended by trusted foodie contacts.
Chris and Pat’s tiny whitewashed back office because a hub for daily deliveries of samples and testers.
From pork pies to olives, charcuterie to cheeses, sauces to cakes, nothing made it on to Fillet & Bone’s glittering shelves without passing the Barry test.
And on the way, enthusiastic locals and old foodie contacts gravitated towards the trio - asking to help, getting stuck in.
“It was mad,” said Barry. “But we’ve found exactly the right people.
“Amazing food made by amazing people as close to Fillet & Bone as we possibly can, and fantastic staff who are as passionate about it as we are.
“It’s extraordinary, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.”
A deal was brokered with Drinkwaters - the Ebrington farmers who, until January this year, had a fruit and vegetable shop next to Fillet & Bone.
They agreed to supply seasonal produce - at this time of year, rounds of asparagus, Jersey royals, spring greens, vine tomatoes, globe artichokes, iridescent pink rhubarb - as dozens of other renowned Cotswold names quickly followed suit.
Now, as well as old vegetable crates piled high with glistening produce, Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot pork and Aberdeen Angus and South Devon beef comes from the exceptional Todenham Manor Farm, near Moreton in Marsh.
Here, Irayne Paikin and her team cure their own bacon and hang every piece of beef for 29 days, without fail.
Young Sam Walby, at Nolan Brook, delivers full-of-flavour Cotswold lamb from his pedigree flock up at Mickleton.
Cheese - including Charles Martell’s world-famous Stinking Bishop - comes from Fromage to Age, and charcuterie courtesy of the visionary farmer Alex Oxspring.
Fish - blood-red tuna, milky-white hake, halibut and enormous crabs at this time of year - is driven up from Cornwall on Friday and Saturday mornings, fresh from the Cornish day fleet.
There are cakes made by Chipping Campden baking stalwarts and artisan bread from Bath’s renowned Bertinet Bakery.
And shoppers are delighted.
“It was better than we ever expected,” said Chris. “People have been so warm, so welcoming, so positive.
“Our neighbours have been so supportive, too, and we’re getting lots of incredible feedback about the shop and our suppliers.
“We’re thrilled to be in Chipping Campden and are very much looking forward to the future.”
And what of the future?
At the back is still the abattoir – temporarily transformed into an incredibly inviting space for the opening party with gorgeous lighting courtesy of local event stylist Toby Edward.
With the combined forces of Barry, Chris and Pat, I get the feeling there’s much more to come from Fillet & Bone. Much, much more.
Fillet & Bone is open daily from 8am-6pm and on Sundays from 9am-3pm. Visit the website for more details.