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

Food and Travel (UK) - - 200 th Issue -

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.’

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