‘The restau­rant scene has sim­ply grown around us’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

In 2006, Tav­i­s­tock in Devon hit the head­lines when its branch of McDon­ald’s was forced to close due to lack of cus­tom. More than a decade later, the mar­ket town is in the news again, touted as a foodie’s par­adise with a re­ported 136 res­tau­rants – one for ev­ery 80 peo­ple in a pop­u­la­tion of 11,000. Top­ping the list is The Cor­nish Arms gas­tropub, holder of a “bib gour­mand” in the Miche­lin guide. Its menu in­cludes slow roast breast of lo­cal duck served with roasted cau­li­flower, chips and duck gravy.

But Tav­i­s­tock is only the most re­cent ex­am­ple of the global phe­nom­e­non of a “gourmet clus­ter” – a ge­o­graph­i­cal area away from a main city (where you would ex­pect a high con­cen­tra­tion of good res­tau­rants) which is over­flow­ing with out­stand­ing places to eat. One early ex­am­ple was Lud­low, the Shrop­shire town (pop­u­la­tion 9,500) which in 2001 boasted three Miche­lin-starred res­tau­rants – more than any­where else in Bri­tain apart from Lon­don at that time. Why did the clus­ter form?

Shaun Hill, a bas­tion of the in­flu­en­tial 1980s Mod­ern Bri­tish move­ment, moved to Lud­low in 1994 and opened The Mer­chant House, at­tracted to the town by low prop­erty prices, a thriv­ing food mar­ket, lo­cal game and fish, and what he called “first-rate lines of sup­ply”. He won a Miche­lin star the fol­low­ing year, prompt­ing Chris and Judy Bradley to open Mr Un­der­hill’s there in 1997. In 2000, Claude Bosi launched Hibis­cus in the town – and it went on to win two Miche­lin stars in 2004.

Lud­low’s gas­tro­nomic rep­u­ta­tion sub­se­quently waned and all three res­tau­rants are now closed. How­ever, 5,000 miles away in the small town of Yountville in Cal­i­for­nia’s Napa Val­ley, some­thing akin to the “Lud­low ef­fect” is alive and well.

In the same year that Hill opened the Mer­chant House, chef Thomas Keller took over The French Laun­dry in Yountville, a sin­gle-high-street town, and went on to win three Miche­lin stars and see his restau­rant ranked the best in the world for two years in suc­ces­sion. Keller sub­se­quently opened Bou­chon Bistro, Bou­chon Bak­ery, the ca­sual, fam­ily friendly Ad Hoc restau­rant and his Ad­den­dum fried chicken take­away, all within half a mile of each other.

The Miche­lin guide cur­rently lists 32 res­tau­rants in the area, in­clud­ing The Restau­rant at Mead­owood, an­other three-star es­tab­lish­ment. It’s no co­in­ci­dence, of course, that Yountville is in the heart of Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try. Peo­ple who make wine love to drink the fruits of their labour, and they want food of com­men­su­rate qual­ity to go with it. Wine re­gions also at­tract plenty of tourists who need to eat some­where, al­though Yountville’s gas­tro­nomic rep­u­ta­tion has made it a des­ti­na­tion in it­self, ir­re­spec­tive of the sur­round­ing vine­yards.

Tourism has been a fac­tor, too, in the cre­ation of clus­ters in the hik­ing and “well­ness” vil­lage of Baiers­bronn, in Ger­many’s Black For­est, and in the French ski re­sort of Courchevel. Of­ten, how­ever, it is the pres­ence of an indige­nous pop­u­la­tion with plenty of dis­pos­able in­come and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of good food that leads to a high con­cen­tra­tion of ac­claimed res­tau­rants.

In 2002, David Kinch opened the now three-Miche­lin-starred Man­resa in Los Gatos, Cal­i­for­nia – where Net­flix has its head­quar­ters. “The restau­rant scene has sim­ply grown around us,” says Kinch, “and it’s hard to un­der­es­ti­mate lo­cals from Silicon Val­ley as the en­gine that has driven that growth. They have the means, they’re ed­u­cated and well trav­elled, and they want to in­crease their aware­ness of food and wine.”

Kinch also runs a ca­sual New Or­leans-in­flu­enced diner in the town, not to men­tion a bak­ery. He has his own “com­pletely un­sci­en­tific” the­o­ries about why restau­rant clus­ters form. “The most ob­vi­ous rea­son is a food cul­ture and pro­duce closely linked to a spe­cific lo­ca­tion. San Se­bas­tian is a good ex­am­ple with its long tra­di­tion of fa­mil­ial cook­ing, gas­tro­nomic clubs, fish­ing, farm­ing, cod and cider. An­other rea­son might be ‘the gas sta­tion rule’. You open a gas [petrol] sta­tion on a cor­ner and it does well; some­one opens an­other one on a dif­fer­ent cor­ner and they’re both busy; then a third opens on an­other cor­ner, and it be­comes an in­ter­sec­tion where one “gets gas”. I think that works for res­tau­rants as well.” fa­mous for his play­ful “molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy” at this con­verted vil­lage pub where you’ll need to book six months in ad­vance. The multi-course tast­ing menu in­cludes a salmon and av­o­cado flavoured ice lolly and a meringue served on a pil­low that floats in the air. tech­niques and a recog­nis­ably Bri­tish sen­si­bil­ity in dishes such as warm gala pie with onion and cider purée, hot pick­led gherkin and pork bor­de­laise sauce. (Ker­ridge also runs the Miche­lin-starred The Coach and the The Butcher’s Tap, both in Mar­low).

Three cour­ses cost about £65 plus wine and ser­vice (01628 482277; the­han­dand­flow­ers. co.uk). This choco­late-box town in south­ern Ger­many at­tracts tourists who come to hike the spruce­cov­ered hills of the Black For­est and for well­ness hol­i­days in lux­ury spa re­sorts that also hap­pen to house some of the finest res­tau­rants in the coun­try. In 2007, it be­came a fully fledged gas­tro­nomic des­ti­na­tion when the Miche­lin guide awarded a to­tal of seven Miche­lin stars (now up to eight) in a town of just 16,000 peo­ple. In 1992, Har­ald Wohlfahrt, one of Ger­many’s most fa­mous chefs, won three Miche­lin stars at Sch­warzwald­stube at Traube Ton­bach ho­tel, where he trained Jörg Sack­mann who went on to win two stars at Schloss­berg at Ho­tel Sack­mann. Fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of Har­ald Wohlfahrt in 2017, his pro­tégé Torsten Michel has main­tained the strato­spheric culi­nary stan­dards of this lux­u­ri­ous restau­rant with its su­perb scenic for­est views. French-style haute cui­sine is pre­pared with a Ger­man ac­cent in dishes such as ragout of snails from the Swabian Alps with pearl bar­ley, suck­ling pig’s head and tongue, and a ba­con crou­ton.

The Grand Menu De­gus­ta­tion costs €225 (£200) plus ser­vice and drinks (0049 7442 4920, traube­ton­bach.de). Chef Claus-Peter Lumpp serves exquisitely pre­sented dishes such as sad­dle of roe deer from the ho­tel’s own hunt­ing grounds with cele­riac purée, cran­ber­ries and el­der­flow­ers – all in an over-the-top, op­u­lent din­ing room. Three cour­ses cost about €225 (0049 7442 470; bareiss.com). The sur­round­ings may be a lit­tle dated (think swagged cur­tains and vast half-moon caramel­coloured ban­quettes), but chef Jörg Sack­mann’s in­tri­cate food is bang up to date, with imag­i­na­tive com­bi­na­tions like blue lob­ster in cit­rus fruit mari­nade and truf­fled salad of pea pods and pecorino. The five-course tast­ing menu costs €135 (ho­tel-sack­mann.de).

From top: Baiers­bronn in Ger­many; a chef at the Plumed Horse; the Bareiss; a dish at The Hand and Flow­ers

He­ston Blu­men­thal at The Fat Duck, left; The Hand and Flow­ers, be­low

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