Newsflash: Invader alert. No, not giant marauding crayfish but chefs from across both ponds seeking to set up camp on our shores. At first there was the creep of French-style bistros and the odd diner, perfectly attuned to our slightly more straitened circumstances, but now the oven gloves are off and it’s war.
It’s as if the gods have descended from some culinary Olympus on high to show us how to do it all over again. In the red, white and blue corner of La Belle France we have Bruno Loubet, last seen fleeing to Australia on the last ship out and now back to set up shop at The Zetter; Pierre Koffman, whom you may remember seemed surgically attached to Selfridges roof last summer and now keen to tackle the black hole that is the Berkeley Hotel and even Joà«l Antunes is bringing his Brasserie Joà«l to Westminster. And let’s not forget the behemoth that is Alain Ducasse, hell-bent on covering the planet in Ducasse-lets. In the – um – other red, white and blue corner of the USA, look out for Daniel Boulud and his infamous burgers, April Bloomfield of Spotted Pig fame and even the whiz kids behind New York funk-spot Manhattan are taking over Covent Garden with Balthazar. It’s hard to keep track and this is just the vanguard.
You may notice they all have pretty much one thing in common, and it’s not that they’re all safely barracked in big hotels; the territory they’re seeking to entrench themselves in is – surprise, surprise – our fair capital. It’s not so much a case of Mind the (Watford) Gap as Step away from the edge of the abyss – we don’t know what’s out there… And there’s the rub. Clearly they’re going where the money (supposedly) is but once again it leaves the rest of the country on somewhat poorer rations. We’re struggling to name even one big-name foreign chef brave enough to set up outside London and it’s a puzzler as to the reasons why.
What hope do we have of spreading the economic and gastronomic wealth this country has to offer if big cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle are deemed a step too far for chef-kind? It seems a terribly snobbish assumption that only the good burghers of London appreciate their fine fare and indeed the capital’s diners are in danger of becoming blasé about the wealth of choice on their doorstep.
So is there a call for high-end chefs up north and would they sink or swim? Does the pull of a big name bring enough attention and wealth to make it worthwhile or is there enough on offer in your area to say ‘mais non’? And is it even possible to make other cities seem attractive to foreign chefs or will the country topple South-east-corner first into the sea under the weight of its over-fed diners?