Capital chefs get taste for country

The Times, Thursday October 7th, 2004.

London is feeling the heat from restaurants in the provinces, the latest Good Food Guide says.

It may have been hailed as the gastronomic capital of the world, but London’s position appears to be under challenge.

By Robin Young.

Top Marks: Annie Schwab of Winteringham Fields, Lincolnshire, highly rated
in the guide, and one of the many provincial restaurants outshining London

Many of the most innovative and creative chefs have left the capital to work in places not previously associated with cutting-edge gastronomy, according to the compilers of the new 2005 edition of The Good Food Guide, published today.

Though London still has the largest number of good restaurants and the greatest variety, an increasing number of its leading chefs are leaving for other parts of the country.

Andrew Turvil, editor of The Good Food Guide said: “Some of the most creative and imaginative cooking in the UK is taking place outside London.

“The capital is not about to lose its position at the culinary vanguard, but it is great to see such good things happening all over the country, sometimes in unexpected locations.”

This year’s guide includes restaurants in Rock, north Cornwall (Black Pig); Medbourne, Leicestershire (Horse and Trumpet); Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire (Love’s); Dunkeld, Perthshire (Kinnaird); and Llandudno, Conwy (Bodysgallen Hall).

Chefs’ reasons for moving are various, but often practical. Shaun Hill, who worked at Robert Carrier’s in Islington and The Gay Hussar in Soho before leaving London for Devon and later the Merchant House in Ludlow, Shropshire, said yesterday:

“In London you found you were forced to live further and further out, in the grimier suburbs. I thought: ‘Do I need this? I could go and work somewhere nice.’ ”

His first rural haven was the luxury Gidleigh Park Hotel in Chagford, Devon, and for the past ten years Mr Hill has been in Ludlow, a town with two restaurants rating eight marks apiece in The Good Food Guide, and others with seven and four. Mr Hill said: “The main difference is that the average age of customers is about ten years more than in London, so they tend to be a bit more conservative, but also a bit more financially secure.”


David Everitt-Matthias worked originally at the Four Seasons and Inn on the Park hotels in London. Now he is at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire’s restaurant of the year in the new guide. “At the age of 26,” he said, “I knew I could not hope to afford a restaurant of my own back in London. Cheltenham has worked very well, and I have been here 17 years now. I have to admit it was quite slow picking up support in the early years, but when you have got them you keep them, and they do stay with you. Now we get a lot of trade of people coming out from London, and from Europe, too, since we got a second star in the Michelin guide.”

Anthony Flinn, at Anthony’s in Leeds, is West Yorkshire’s “newcomer of the year”. After two years working with the highly innovative El Bulli restaurant near Barcelona, Mr Flinn chose to open his restaurant this year in partnership with his father in a former nightclub in Leeds, a city that the guide notes is “now handsomely supplied with fine dining options”.

Duck with sliced nectarine and chocolate bonbons atop upright cylinders of potato, or roast monkfish with enoki mushrooms and pickled radishes are the sort of fare that he dishes up. Anthony’s has a guide rating of seven.

While Anthony’s is a newcomer, other provincial restaurants have been in the guide longer.

Gravetye Manor, in East Grinstead, West Sussex, and the Porth Tocyn Hotel in Abersoch, Gwynedd, North Wales, have both been in the book continuously for 48 years. The Sharrow Bay, Ullswater, Cumbria, has been there 36 years or more.

• The editors of The Good Pub Guide 2005 have added their voices to the clamour urging a ban on smoking in pubs. “We believe that a ban on smoking in pubs is overwhelmingly in the interests of both customers and staff,” Alisdair Aird and Fiona Stapley say. Yet out of more than 5,000 pubs listed, the editors are able to identify just 14 of the main entries which ban smoking.

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