Foodies hungry for star billing

EMMA LEE The food critic Loyd Grossman once described Norfolk as a gastronomic desert. But those in the know, including inspectors from the prestigious Michelin Guide who have singled several of the county’s eating establishments out for praise, would disagree.

EMMA LEE

When the latest issue of the celebrated Michelin Guide - the food lovers' bible - was published last week, it served up a bit of a surprise.

The Michelin Guide rates more than 5100 establishments including 3420 hotels and guesthouses and 1715 restaurants and pubs - with the finest eateries being awarded up to three stars.

But one of Norfolk's most famous restaurants and a long-standing recipient of the accolade, Adlards in Norwich, has been stripped of its coveted star, leaving Galton Blackiston's Morston Hall at Blakeney the county's only recipient of the top culinary honour.

David Adlard, the owner of the top-class restaurant in Upper St Giles Street, found himself in the same situation in 1991, after first being given one-star status in 1987, and has vowed that Adlard's will have its star back in 2007.

"Obviously we are very disappointed," he told the EDP yesterday. "But we will get it back.

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"Our chef, Tom Kerridge, moved on and went to Marlow, where he has now got a Michelin star - so really it's like he's taken my star.

"Roger Hickman, our new chef returned to Adlard's after working in London under Tom Aikens, who's the toast of the town and a local guy.

"Roger's not been here long enough yet to re-establish his name at Adlard's. But most of the guests I have spoken to like Roger's cooking," he says.

While Norfolk may only have one Michelin-starred restaurant for now, four other establishments - 1Up at the Mad Moose Arms and the Wildebeest Arms in Norwich, the Walpole Arms at Itteringham and the Hoste Arms at Burnham Market have retained their Bib Gourmands in the guide.

The award is given to places which offer good quality cuisine for less than £27.

Henry Watt, who runs 1Up and the Wildebeest Arms says that it is an "exciting" time for Norfolk's foodies.

"There is a massive choice of places to eat in Norfolk and although they might not necessarily get recognised by the industry it's more important that your customers like what you are doing.

"I think we definitely encourage the chefs to follow their own tastes and give them the freedom to express themselves. They use what I call the Norfolk larder," says Mr Watt, who started out in catering in the late '80s.

"I think that more than anything it is a testament to all the teams in the kitchen and front of house. It's a pat on the back," he says. "The Wildebeest was included for the first time in 2004 and 1Up at the Mad Moose in 2005".

He said that Norfolk has a great reserve of local cooking talent.

His latest venture, Mackintosh's Canteen, is due to open at the Chapelfield shopping centre in Norwich in late April.

Its name is a nod to the site's heritage - it was, of course, once home to the Rowntree Mackintosh factory.

"I'm employing 12 chefs and the majority of them are from Norfolk. There's a lot of talent out there," he says.

It is the fourth time the Walpole Arms has been awarded the Bib Gourmand. Partner Richard Bryan, a former producer of the TV show Masterchef, says that the programme's host Loyd Grossman's negative comments about the county's culinary landscape are somewhat wide of the mark.

"There was an occasion when David Adlard, who has sadly just lost his Michelin star, came on to Masterchef and Loyd Grossman described Norfolk as a gastronomic desert," he says.

"But in the past 15 years there has been a huge improvement in eating out in Norfolk.

"It goes up and down a bit as chefs move around, but I think by and large you can eat jolly well.

"Having eaten my way around the country I decided I wanted to have a go myself and I got together with our chef Andy Parle, who spent time at some of the top London restaurants, and Keith Reeves, who's a wine merchant five years ago.

"I think here we feel that eating out should be a voyage of discovery. In the summer we look very much to the Mediterranean for our inspiration and in the winter we travel further north for warming stews. We use fresh local ingredients wherever possible, so the menu changes daily. Today we have Morston mussels and pork, basil and pepper sausages made to our own recipe by a local butcher."

Paul Whittome, of the Hoste Arms, which has 130 covers and 14 chefs, says that people should not underestimate the hard work, commitment and investment it takes for restaurants to make the guide.

"This year we have sent chefs to a restaurant in New York and the year before they went to the best restaurant in Spain. And we have spent £350,000 on the toilets and have bought the world's biggest Aga for the kitchen.

"You have to make sure everything's perfect."

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