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Why is this the world's best restaurant

Don't knock it just because the award's from TripAdvisor, says Richard Vines

Richard Vines | Bloomberg 

Dinning room of The Black Swan restaurant at Oldstead, England
Dinning room of The Black Swan restaurant at Oldstead, England

I’ve eaten at six establishments that have held that title. My travels have taken me to glorious locations, from a hillside villa overlooking the sea in Catalonia to the back streets of Modena, Italy.

I never expected to journey to a village pub deep in the countryside of northern — reached by a narrow and winding road — where the first thing you see when you finally arrive is a group of locals enjoying a pint of beer on a bench outside.

The at Oldstead scooped the title last week in the Travelers’ Choice Restaurants awards in the fine dining category. That is rather different and (let’s face it) much less prestigious than the title handed out annually by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, closely watched in the industry.

But it’s not a meaningless accolade, and don’t knock it just because it’s from a mass-market online travel site. In fact, it looks like it may be almost life-changing for chef Tommy Banks and his family.

“If I’m honest, when someone told me, I thought it sounds like a bit of a spoof, someone pulling our leg or some sort of scam,” Banks said in an interview in the stone-paved bar, with a log fire, paneled walls and a blackboard listing cocktails. “We never imagined quite how big it would become. Things just went crazy. The phone rang off the hook, and e-mails, e-mails, e-mails. We took 1,200 bookings in four hours, and that has filled us up for the rest of the year. There were reporters outside when I came in the next morning to cook breakfast and we had TV trucks all day. We had 90,000 people on our website in one afternoon.”

He said the reaction was much bigger than when he first won a Michelin star in 2013 at age 24, or more recently when his business got a bump after he appeared on the BBC television show, the Great British Menu.

I would argue is not the best guide to eating out. Many of the reviewers know little about food, which can result in unusual recommendations.

For example, the site’s London Top 10 features some unlikely restaurants. First place is taken by The Peninsula, a hotel dining room in Canary Wharf. I have never been, so I am not criticising it, but I’ve never even heard it mentioned. It’s a similar story for Gastronhome, a French bistro on Lavender Hill, which is placed third. I had to Google that one. The Foyer at Claridge’s places sixth, outranking the hotel’s Fera restaurant, which features on most lists.

But the awards, which started in 2012, have some claim to importance. Rather than being picked by a panel of insiders or experts, the restaurants on the list are based on an algorithm that takes into account the quantity and quality of millions of reviews around the world over a 12-month period. Another UK restaurant, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, places second, and third is Maison Lameloise, in Chagny, France.

So how does the measure up? It is actually very good.

The only option is a tasting menu for £95 ($126) that focuses on local produce, much of it from the countryside around the pub and some of it from the garden at the back.

© Bloomberg

First Published: Fri, October 20 2017. 23:13 IST
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