THE RISE OF THE RESTAURANT
How we dine out has changed. In every UK town you’ll find cuisine from all over the globe, while more of our restaurants are receiving the global recognition they deserve
As we have become better travelled and our palates have developed, we have come to expect more from our restaurants. ‘People are demanding a wider range of flavours,’ chef Gordon Ramsay tells us. ‘In my career, I’ve seen the main interest increase in Asian food. It’s generally a healthy way to eat and I’ve applied those flavour profiles in my restaurants.’ You only have to look to the high street to prove him right. Sushi bars are ubiquitous, Thai restaurants commonplace, and the likes of Mongolian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Lebanese rub shoulders with the Indian, Italian and Chinese restaurants that made up the dining scene 20 years ago.
We have also seen the UK become one of the hottest dining destinations in the world. There are now 79 Michelin-starred restaurants in London alone; the seventh highest of any city in the world. Two restaurants here hold three stars – Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester – there are nine two stars and 55 restaurants with one. Though we still have some way to go to catch up with world leader Tokyo – a city with a galaxy-grade 304 Michelin stars.
The inspectors are also showing recognition up and down Great Britain.
Bray in Berkshire has been a stellar enclave since self-trained chef Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck joined the Roux family’s Waterside Inn in 1995. Both have three twinkly ones, which is pretty amazing for a village of just 9,110 people. Even more impressive is
The Waterside Inn’s tenure at three-star; it’s the only restaurant outside France to have
held the highest accolade for over 25 years. Blumenthal’s Hinds Head pub also has a star here, and three other restaurants hold Michelin’s Plate award, which rewards good-quality, good-value cooking.
Chef Simon Rogan has made Cartmel in Cumbria a dining destination in its own right, with his L’Enclume project. The restaurant itself has two stars, but Rogan has also recently opened a pub, a test kitchen – which is the most advanced in the UK in terms of the technology it uses
– a shop, a hotel and an organic farm that supplies and provides jobs for the region. More restaurateurs have followed suit, leading to huge regeneration in the area.
The guide is also showing recognition to a wider range of cuisine styles. Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow became the first pub to be bestowed two stars in 2011, while Peruvian restaurant Lima – which majors in citrus-marinated fish ceviche – was awarded a star in 2013.
Chefs, restaurateurs and diners alike still regard it as the ultimate honour. Even young trailblazers like one-star Michael O’Hare, who produces some of the most experimental food on the planet at his Leeds restaurant, The Man Behind the Curtain, pays homage to the little red book: ‘There’s no better guide, and any chef who says he doesn’t rate it is a liar. It’s as good a barometer as you’re ever going to get. It will never be 100 per cent, as they can’t afford to get an inspector everywhere all the time, but it’s a great outline. If you’re good enough, they want you in there.’
It’s not just at the top end where we have seen huge progress. The mid range of the restaurant market has also been booming, with more casual dining options, and we are eating out more frequently. Across the UK, the national average is 1.5 meals out a week, while in
London it’s 3.7. Prices are falling in the capital, too. A Zagat London survey showed that the average meal in a restaurant costs £37.35 per head, a 14 per cent fall on the £43.40 of two years prior. It brings London closer in line with other gastronomic metropolises, such as New York, where the average is £31.
The main growth has been in relaxed restaurants where ‘people don’t have to get dressed up,’ according to chef and restaurateur Mark Sargeant, who has two sites in Folkestone, Kent. Barbecue joints, artisan burger bars, pizza parlours, tapas bars, gastro pubs and Turkish restaurants have all embraced this relaxed approach as we’ve started to demand foods from all over the globe close to home. Quite often, we’re looking to rediscover the flavours we’ve enjoyed abroad, but we’re also happier to try new things and experiment than ever before.
‘Since the last recession in 2008, we’ve all had to take a deep breath and relax,’ says Sargeant. ‘It was the best thing to happen to the restaurant industry. Everyone had to become more creative straight away. The street-food scene boomed and spilled into restaurants, which changed fine dining for the better for ever. People wanted high-quality food in a relaxed atmosphere at a good price and restaurants responded, leading London and Britain on a whole to become one of the most exciting places in the world to eat.’