Fenwick’s Food Hall in Newcastle is a proud supporter of local produce with dozens of locally-made lines taking up coveted shelf and floor space. KATHARINE CAPOCCI pays a visit to the food and drink emporium
IT’S just as well Rhys McKinnell is a big food-lover, as he lives and breathes food and drink, whether at work or at play.
As head of food and catering at Fenwick department store in Newcastle he looks after the legendary food hall and the shop’s own six restaurants, plus the staff restaurant, as well as helping to manage the relationship between the store’s four concessions and Fenwick.
The 36-year-old has worked at Fenwick for nearly 18 months and has been responsible for the food hall for about six months.
And it’s a job the self-confessed foodie absolutely relishes, as Rhys himself says: “The food hall is an institution in Newcastle. It’s a fabulous job.” Indeed it is – the store in Newcastle dates back to 1882 and the food hall has been a big draw for many decades.
Rhys is married to Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, and the pair live in Gosforth with their children, aged five and three.
Rhys and Catherine between them juggle very busy lives. Catherine is based in London several days a week but Rhys says they manage, as they both come from large families. “Catherine’s one of eight and I’m one of four.”
Sat having a cappuccino with Rhys at Pret a Manger, one of the concessions fringing the food hall, the local producer names leap out from the shop floor.
In fact, there’s 30-odd different producers and suppliers from around the region taking up coveted shelf and floor space, for everything from their flours, cheeses, coffees, teas, ice- creams, meats and eggs, to cakes, honey, preserves and sticky toffee pud.
Household names include the likes of Doddington Dairy cheeses, Embleton Hall’s milk, Pumphrey’s coffee, Ringtons’ tea and South Shields-based Dicksons’ sausages and pies.
Others include Heatherslaw Bakery of Berwick, preserves from Durham Green Lane, Gilchesters Organics flours of Northumberland and The TeaShed’s teas.
Supporting local is something Rhys is proud to champion in the eclectic food hall. “We are one of the biggest single permanent retail outlets representing regional producers.
“It’s something that has grown as the number of regional producers has grown over the last 10 years.
“And it’s something I’m keen to grow, definitely.
“We have about 30 to 40 local producers and we’re a big producer ourselves with our bakery.”
As well as freshly-made Indian meals made by the acclaimed Sachins Punjabi restaurant in Newcastle, available to buy at one of the focal-point glass counters, and frozen ready meals from Oldfields eaterie in Durham City, the craft butchery is run by Wark-based Northumberland Sausage Company. Part of their range includes 32 different varieties of sausage.
And then there’s the store’s artisan bakery and patisserie section, where among the myriad lines, they sell 22 different artisan breads, from sourdoughs and ciabattas to focaccia, made in their own bakery, housed on the lower ground floor.
“We have a team of eight in the bakery,” says Rhys. “It’s headed up by our executive chef Brian James who also heads up all the kitchens too.”
Over on the cream cake counter – a sight for sore eyes if ever there was one – most of the tempting sweet treats are also made in-house.