When I asked for advice on which Ashbourne shops to cover, the two responses which received the most were Natural Choice – the subject of #5 and AL Hulme.
What has surprised me about talking to all the retailers in the series is the differences between them. I am more certain than ever that three is a huge gap between people’s perception of what Ashbourne’s shops have to offer and the price they will have to pay and the reality. As someone who thought they knew the lie of the Ashbourne High Street land I freely confess I have learned a lot through the exercise.
Hulme’s, for those who don’t know it, is on Church Street and is one of the last retailers heading out of town on the side of the Methodist Church. The shop specialises in fish and game but the essence of the shop is the changing nature of what it sells. As well as having many regular local customers the shop supplies a number of high quality local restaurants and gastropubs – you are in good company. Foodies will tell you, and it’s the subject of the excellent Derbyshire food magazine http://www.tastetheseasons.co.uk, to eat what’s in season now – it’s fresher and greener to do so. While you can go to the supermarkets year round and buy pretty much anything every month, the consequence is that the food has to be sourced from further afield or preserved for longer before it reaches your plate.
AL Hulme has a daily delivery from Grimsby fish market and twice a week from Birmingham wholesale market which ensures their counter is stocked with the catch landed yesterday – but it’s not always easy to predict what it will be. The shop does have a stock of frozen fish too. Mick told me that the Birmingham delivery means that he can supply special requests from regular customers when they need it. Highlights of the fish section include Arbroath smokies along with other smoked fish.
The same principle applies with game. The stock will next be available in reasonable amounts in October time but the first grouse from the start of the grouse shooting season was in over the last couple of weeks. It really is the kind of shop that could be a weekly visit, like the market, to check what’s new in stock and to pick up something on the spur of the moment. It’s also a great place to buy some of the healthiest and tastiest food you can buy.
The business is a family run business that has a fantastic reputation for service. Mick took over the reins from his father Alan in 2002 (although Alan is still seen serving in the shop regularly). Alan’s father started the business in 1924 and Alan himself first worked in the shop in 1946 on leaving QEGS. Mick runs the business day-to-day with his brother – this really is a great example of part of Ashbourne’s high street heritage. History stands for nothing but the lesson from this is that they really know fish and game and they know their customers – in the shop are proudly displayed their High Street Heroes Awards which are an annual event.
What it means in practise is that not only do they buy good produce but that they can help their customers get the most from them. Fish can appear quite daunting to the novice cook but the guys can advise what to do and have everything in the shop to make a meal of what they sell. A great example are the packaged bags of breadcrumbs which cost a fraction of the supermarket ones. They get samphire in when it is in season and sell it loose at much lower cost than you can get elsewhere.
Ultimately this is what the Try Ashbourne First message is about – understanding what the Ashbourne High Street has to offer Ashbourne customers and how much it costs to buy locally. AL Hulme is yet another example of a local independent retailer that sells produce you simply can’t buy from the supermarkets – game, for example, is part of our community life and we should be eating more of it. But here is the AL Hulme price comparison (this proved difficult to find items which were actually available for comparisons on the supermarket fresh fish counter – many searches just show a packet or tinned alternative. Quality and freshness is crucial with fish and we all know how many different sources of salmon there are. Just looking at the photos online demonstrates we are not really talking about the same products here).
Golden Breadcrumbs: AL Hulme 45p, Tesco.com 99p (smallest quantity 228g)
Gutted Rainbow Trout: AL Hulme £7.59 per kilo, Tesco.com £8.99 per kilo
Undyed Smoked Haddock: Al Hulme £12.15 per kilo, Tesco.com £12.15 per kilo
Lemon Sole: AL Hulme £15.84 per kilo, Tesco.com £18 per kilo
This is a lovely shop which has stood on our streets for generations. It has great produce and a team behind the counter that really know their customers and how to look after them. Just go and say hello and fix yourself a weekly meal or two.