PUBLISHED: 10:59 19 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:36 20 February 2013
Michel Hooper-Immins continues his series in which he focuses on stores and businesses at the heart of their community by visiting Sabins of Sherborne Deli & Catering
Saxon Sherborne is undoubtedly one of the best market towns in the South. An interesting selection of individual shops pepper the main streets, offering quality products and good service. Just off Cheap Street is Sabins, established as a specialist deli 25 years ago, whose newish owners have not only brightened the shop but added a flourishing catering business.
Pippa Turnbull, born in South Africa, grew up at Trent, one of Dorset's most northerly communities, going to school near Sherborne. After graduating from the University of London, Pippa enrolled with the prestigious Prue Leith Cookery School and gained cordon-bleu skills. She successfully organised events and parties for a London company for 15 years, and at one event she met Hertfordshire-born Dominic Macer. Five years ago they married, then son Archie arrived on the scene.
"As a surveyor, I was too often glued to a desk and the computer screen, I was ready for a new challenge," Dominic tells me. "Bombs were going off in London, which worried us." With Pippa's roots in Trent and Sherborne, they searched for a business in Dorset. Hearing Sabins was for sale, the magnet that lives deep within all Dorset expatriates drew her home. Coincidentally, Pippa had worked there as a student. "Fate dealt its hand. Our future was mapped out," laughs Dominic.
The late Ray Sabin had opened the shop in Hound Street in 1983, a modest frontage in a quiet street, but with a good reputation for top-quality food. In January 2006, the Macers signed the conveyance and it was theirs. The shop was rather dark and needed a makeover. They spent over £10,000 putting in a new shopfront and light fittings, and bringing Sabins up to date.
Pippa's superb culinary skills are much in demand, even in the metropolis. She masterminded Jasper Conran's celebration at his London home on being awarded the OBE. In Sherborne, they cater for weddings, christenings, birthdays and all manner of celebrations.
The kitchen behind Sabins is the engine room, where they bake their own bread - spelt, walnut and rye. Spelt, an ancient cereal grown by the Romans, is enjoying a rebirth because it's easier to digest.
One growing sideline is the impressive gourmet menu that's ordered in advance and prepared in Sabins' kitchen, sometimes in the customer's own dishes. Salmon Wellington, carpaccio of beef, tuna nicoise and sauted tiger prawns in lime and coriander are just four of the 44 dishes and 12 puddings on the mouthwatering list.
Sabins sells an interesting mix of local and European fare. Pippa does all the buying, every week endeavouring to introduce at least one new product. One importer, colourfully called 'Richard the Frog', brings many delicacies from France.
There were several samples to taste, but I kept going back to Sabins' own pear chutney, a wonderfully spicy mix of pears, apples and dates with vinegar and sugar. Created by Pippa, it's excellent with cheese. Sabins stock 40 different cheeses, including the luscious Pont l'Eveque from Normandy, Reggiano Parmesan from Italy, Shropshire Blue and Cornish Yarg.
Christmas is coming with angel-shaped biscuits and gingerbread men. Bespoke hampers are another seasonal line, delivered throughout the UK.
From that marvellous firm Chococo at Swanage, winners of 21 fine-food awards, there are handmade and decorated festive delights like chocolate Christmas tree lollies and other edible decorations that may not survive uneaten until Christmas Eve! Claire and Andy Burnet started Chococo in 2002 and their Purbeck and ginger marble cake won the 2007 Great Taste award. Snowmen bars and edible Christmas trees are made from Carenero, superior chocolate beans from Venezuela, a very rare quality find in the UK.
Free-range eggs come from nearby Corton Denham and Bishops Caundle. Parsons, the traditional butchers in Cheap Street, provides the high-quality meat. From Dorset Blue Vinny, a few miles away, comes Emily Davies' super soups - Gazpacho is especially tasty. Coincidentally, Emily and Pippa were at school together in Sherborne.
I have never seen Jalapeno wafers before, but coming from Stephen Fudge's Stalbridge centre of excellence, they must be good. Red wine and cider vinegars come from Aspall in Suffolk.
Sponge sandwiches are made by the President of the local Women's Institute. The pats are made in-house, with crab in tarragon the best seller. Sausage rolls, pasties, pizzas and quiches similarly travel 10 yards from Sabins' kitchen, zero food miles. However, figs in Marsala come from Italy, as does the fresh pasta.
As we leave, a queue is forming for filled rolls. Sherborne School was out for lunch and Sabins is a favourite destination. "We think of this as a quirky shop," says Dominic. "We've lots of ideas about expanding, especially the catering. Locally it has grown from nothing. Almost every weekend we have a function to cater. One of our next priorities is creating a website and e-selling."
Dominic Macer has happily exchanged the life of a London surveyor for the busy days of a Sherborne deli. Wearing a white apron, he looks born to the role.
"Dorset is beautiful, where our son can grow up in a beautiful environment. Pippa and I needed no encouragement to come here. We meet different people all the time, so much interesting conversation. Sherborne has given us a much better quality of life, the schooling is excellent and Dorset people are so very friendly."