With the countdown to the Hereford Times Food and Drink Awards 2018 under way, restaurateur Bill Sewell invites Hereford Times editor John Wilson on a whistle-stop tour of the city's thriving independent food businesses, some of whom will be competing for honours at the gala evening next week.

BILL and I meet at Hereford's Left Bank Village, a former rundown site that was transformed by the millions of Dutch supermarket tycoon Albert Heijn into an architecturally striking entertainment venue. Despite a difficult history of changing ownership, it is now a stable business and has become a landmark – a sparkling beacon on the riverside that symbolises the city's cultural regeneration.

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Bill Sewell, left, and John Wilson at the start of their whistle-stop tour

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De Koffee Pot, Left Bank

1. Our first stop is De Koffie Pot, which is part of the Left Bank complex. It boasts a courtyard garden with views over the river and the old bridge. By day it is a cafe with an emphasis on organic, vegan, and gluten-free dishes. During the evening it hosts live music sessions, salsa nights and pub quizzes.

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Menu board at Adam Madam and Adam

2. Just a short walk, in Bridge Street, is Madam and Adam, a small restaurant with a big reputation. Run by Beth Thompson and Swav Lewandowski, it specialises in fine dining small plates, and its menu boasts adventurous dishes such as whipped goats cheese with boozy umeboshi plums, red cabbage, green tomato salsa, walnuts and nasturtiums.

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King Street Kitchen

3. We whizz by King Street Kitchen (time is short), but Bill tells me owners Dave and Katie strive to make it a traditional neighbourhood 'caff', with a twist here and there inspired by their travels. Its frontage, though, has a cool, modern, monochrome look that suggests it is about as far as you can get from your average greasy spoon.

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A Rule of Tum

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In the kitchen at A Rule of Tum

4. The Burger Shop and the Bookshop are part of the now-famous enterprise, A Rule of Tum, set up by brothers Dorian and Edwin Kirk, who are arguably responsible for putting Hereford on the food map. Dishes here are simple, but lovingly crafted. I poke my head into the kitchen where a beef carcass is being butchered for the fine steaks for which Rule of Tum is renowned.

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The Mousetrap Cheese Shop, Church Street

5. Now we are off to the Mousetrap Cheese Shop, which has been selling fine cheese in Church Street for almost 30 years. It is a Hereford institution, and in the run-up to Christmas – its busiest period of the year – long queues form outside as families repeat their annual ritual of buying a selection of cheeses for the festive table.

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Mark Hubbard, Fodder, Church Street

6. A few doors away is Fodder, where Mark Hubbard and Phil Wilson specialise in bread, fruit and veg, much of it locally grown. They soon plan to open a no-plastics, zero-packaging food store in the city's Butter Market. In a challenging market for retail, Fodder is a success story with turnover growing year on year.

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Rocket Kitchen, Church Street

7. Still in Church Street, Ben Holden's Rocket Kitchen is a place of high-energy excellence where the day passes in a blur of lovingly prepared breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas, with diners squeezing onto the bench seating and striking up conversations with the stranger sitting alongside them.

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The elegant dining room at Castle House

8. Next is Castle House, owned by a Herefordshire farming family. General manager George Watkins is on hand to show us the airy and elegant Castle Restaurant with its gardens overlooking the old castle moat. It is one of the most popular fine dining destinations in the county, and head chef Claire Nicholls is passionate about sourcing Herefordshire ingredients. Her pride in the local provenance of ingredients will emerge as a recurring theme among the businesses I visit on this tour.

9. Tanners Wine Merchants (whose Hereford branch was formerly William Pulling and Co) in St Peter's Square traces its roots back 200 years. It prides itself on its traditional service and in a drinks industry dominated by corporations, resolutely remains an independent family-run firm. A tasting at Tanners is an education!

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Shack Revolution

10. Our next stop is a little edgier and urban. It is Shack Revolution, the pallet-clad restaurant/bar that serves wood-fired pizza, beers and cocktails in a backwater of the city centre. It was set up by brothers James and Rich Manning, who developed the idea following the success they had enjoyed as caterers at events around the country. Shack Revolution is unfussy and tremendous fun.

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Sensory & Rye. Picture courtesy Sensory & Rye

11. When Nicola Hassenpflug and her team took on 37 Commercial Street they loved the original shopfront letters that were still in place so much they decided to keep them. The name Sensory & Rye is a (part) anagram of the name of the original owners of the building, the butchers G Rowberry and Sons. The shop is now an achingly cool artisan coffee shop and casual restaurant.

12. We head next into High Town and the Butter Market, a much-loved Hereford landmark that has been much improved by its current owner Darren Sockett. It boasts a fishmonger, butchers, fresh fruit and veg stalls, two delicatessens and more. Eateries inside such as the Meze, which serves Turkish food, are increasingly gaining a reputation for quality.

13. We did not have time to visit the Old Market, Hereford's newest dining quarter, but Bill was keen to heap praise on the Beefy Boys, who have a restaurant there. Theirs is an inspiring story for any wannabe restaurateur. Anthony Murphy, Christian Williams, Daniel Mayo-Evans and Lee Symonds entered the UK’s biggest barbecue competition in 2014 and won the coveted Best Burger title and a trip to Las Vegas to represent the UK at the World Food Championships. They came second, and invested their winnings to turn the Beefy Boys into a regular street food pop-up before opening their first Beefy Boys restaurant in the Old Market.

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Ascari's Cafe

14. Ascari's Cafe in West Street is another Hereford institution. The family-run business has been part of the city's food scene for more than 50 years, and, says Bill, a milk shake or ice cream there has been a childhood rite of passage for many Herefordians. It serves good, simple food at reasonable prices and the atmosphere is always friendly.

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Bill Sewell and Dominic Harbour at Cafe All Saints

15. Last stop – and we're starving by now after our tour – is Bill's own Cafe All Saints in High Street. Based in a working church, diners happily tuck into delicious handmade meals while parishioners, unperturbed, worship. It is warm and convivial, and not at all like the musty formality you might expect inside a church. We dine with Bill's marketing and PR manager Dominic Harbour and enjoy Jamaican spiced jerk chicken, rice-and-peas with roast pepper sauce and salad leaves. The chicken is moist, the pepper sauce tangy, and the rice alone merits a prize for its flavour!

Bill Sewell's thoughts on Hereford's independent food scene

By chance, Bill has run three cafes in churches. He cut his teeth as a restaurateur in the City of London, where he opened the Place Below in the crypt of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.

He later moved to Hereford, and took on the project of creating a cafe at All Saints. Along the way he opened another in the church of St Michael's, Cambridge. He is also a food writer, and his latest book, Bill's Kitchen is on sale now priced £20.

He has an evangelist's zeal for Hereford's independent food scene.

"Hereford has a really interesting food and drink story," he says. "Its tradition is built on brands such as Herefordshire beef and Bulmers cider.

"Today that story is all about young and energetic people. They have a mixture of backgrounds, some with traditional catering experience, and some without.

"But they are cooking proper food using proper ingredients, and with a common commitment to locally sourced ingredients."

He dismisses suggestions that such dining is only for the better off.

A mixed-leaf salad at All Saints costs £4.50, he counters. "What can you get at Pizza Express for £4.50?"

Likewise, a home-cooked pizza at Rocket costs just a fiver, while cheese from the Mousetrap is less per kilo than many supermarkets.

He admits that the opening of the Old Market in 2014, and the big-name chains it attracted, knocked the independent sector for six for a while, but it has now bounced back.

"There is a place for the chains that are at Old Market, and I welcome it as an addition to the food scene," says Bill. "The competition is also keeping everyone else on their toes. The independents have now recovered, and this is quite a good time for them."

So has Hereford now secured its place on the UK's food map?

Bill is not ready for the city to rest on its laurels just yet.

"It has a reputation," he says. "There is still work to do, but we are well on the journey."