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Tickling your tastebuds

DO you enjoy dining out? Can you tell your linguini from your lasagna? Do you know the difference between a super sauvignon and a poor pinot?

If so, the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards team would love to hear from you.

Ahead of the launch later this month of the eleventh year of the competition, which will again celebrate all that is great in the county’s culinary sector, the search is on for keen foodies to become Mystery Shoppers in its four venue categories – Restaurant, World Cuisine Restaurant, Booker Food Pub, Independent Cafe / Tea Room and Restaurant of the Year – the category for which Business Times is the proud media partner.

The challenge? Simply to dine at one of the many venues to enter the competition (which will be randomly assigned) and complete a brief review of your visit, giving scores and passing comments on everything from service and portion size, to food quality and even the cleanliness of the toilets.

The review would then be used (anonymously) by the judges to help determine the finalists in each category as well as offer really useful feedback to those who entered – so that input is vital.

Last year, Nic in Northampton was among the willing volunteers to take up the task: “My wife and I were really excited to be given the opportunity to support the awards by taking on this role and experienced a real sense of anticipation as we arrived at the two venues to which we were assigned,” said Nic.

“In fact, they were places we’d never thought of visiting before so it was great to be trying somewhere different, rather than sticking to old favourites, and indeed we were delighted when one of them was subsequently named as a finalist.

“We thoroughly enjoyed seeing how both places celebrated and promoted quality local produce too, and so we’re already looking forward to getting involved again this year and discovering to which delicious venues we might be despatched.”

All entrants into the venues categories, regardless of how well they fare, are offered independent feedback and it’s now viewed as a very valuable element of the competition, especially as the awards are free to enter.

Jennie Bowmaker from Bread and Pullet in Northampton, which was shortlisted in the Restaurant of the Year category, was one of those to request the feedback and found the process really helpful. She said: “We were absolutely delighted when we were named as a finalist in this prestigious competition and although we were disappointed not to win, the first thing we wanted to know was what we could do better to make sure we win next time.

“Getting such constructive criticism – as well as some very pleasing comments – from the four independent diners who visited us during the course of the judging has proved invaluable for our staff training and menu planning, so not only have we improved the experience for our customers but also we hope those changes will take us even further in the awards this year!”

If you are available between early-July and the end of August, are happy to pick up the cost of your visit and would like to help the awards team in raising dining standards here in the county – or would simply like more details – contact Anna at The Mallows Company on 01933 664437 or email

Full coverage of the Awards launch will be published in next month’s Business Times while you can also find out more about the competition, including how to get involved as an entrant or a sponsor at www.northamptonshirefoodanddrink.co.uk or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/foodawards or on twitter and Instagram at @foodawardsHQ

Meanwhile if you have a favourite pub, restaurant or cafe which you think should be encouraged to take part – for free – in the competition, let the awards team know by calling 01933 664437.