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Expect the unexpected seems to be one message for restaurant-goers in 2014. Some of the UK’s top chefs are offering sprightly antidotes to their fine-dining powerhouses with a clutch of secondary venues noted for easy-going vibes and all-round good value.
Just look at Galton Blackiston’s latest venture. Morston Hall may be one of north Norfolk’s hottest tickets, but when the Michelin-starred chef opened No. 1 Cromer (pictured) last year, this seaside chippie found itself working at full tilt to feed the hordes. The delights of fish and chips are No. 1’s stock in trade and proved so successful that the venue has had to install a larger kitchen during the winter.
Over in St. Helier, Jersey, Shaun Rankin’s brand new Don Street Deli is bang on the money with its hip take on the casual deli-diner. The kitchen works to a restless menu of artisan sandwiches and flatbreads, soups, salads and simple dishes to eat in or takeaway – it’s all in stark contrast to his ultra-civilised, fine-dining approach at Michelin-starred Ormer next door.
A pub or two in the portfolio has always been considered a good investment by many a highly regarded chef, so it comes as no surprise to hear that multi-gonged John Campbell (ex-Coworth Park and the Vineyard at Stockcross) has announced plans to open a restaurant, bar and cookery school on the site of the former Five Bells at Woodspeen in Berkshire.
Meanwhile, in the Surrey town of Ripley, Michelin-starred Steve Drake (of Drake’s Restaurant) has turned his attention to the nearby Anchor. He’s breathed life into the old boozer with a sympathetic revamp, well-respected real ales and a menu offering some competent, unfussy cooking based on top-notch ingredients. And up north, Nigel Haworth of Northcote fame, has just opened his fifth Ribble Valley Inns pub, bringing his brand of consistent, regional food laced with nostalgia to The Nag’s Head in Haughton Moss, Cheshire.
And there seems no end to the frenetic culinary merry-go-round as chefs move on and seek new challenges. Andrew Scott has departed the Michelin-starred Curlew at Bodiam in East Sussex to take over the kitchens at Grade II-listed Sudbury House in Faringdon, Oxfordshire – what’s the betting that his cooking at this recently reinvigorated hotel will soon win plaudits. As for the Curlew, Tony Parkin recently arrived fresh from the kitchens of Danesfield House, where he was former head chef Adam Simmonds’ second-in-command.