Gary Rhodes joins gastronomic invasion of the West Country

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Gary Rhodes, the chef with the inimitable spiky hairdo, has become the latest famous restaurateur to expand his gastronomic empire into the West Country. The Michelin-starred chef will open two restaurants in newly refurbished hotels in the historic coastal town of Christchurch in Dorset within months, joining several famous faces who have set up shop in the region including Jamie Oliver and Damien Hirst.

Until 10 years ago, much of the culinary attention on the South-west centred on Rick Stein, whose Seafood Restaurant and bistro, fish and chip shop, cafe and cookery school dominate the Cornish resort of Padstow.

In 2004, Hirst, the cow-splitting contemporary artist, started the celebrity rush by opening the art gallery and restaurant, The Quay, in Ilfracombe, Devon.

At Watergate Bay, near Newquay, Oliver established a branch of his Fifteen chain which trains young people in catering; his fellow Channel 4 star Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has put his name to Canteen at Axminster in Devon.

More recently, the TV chef John Burton-Race, whose turbulent family year off in rural France was in the series French Leave, has reopened the Michelin-starred restaurant at the New Angel in Dartmouth he ran with his ex-wife.

Rhodes will run an 80-seat restaurant called Rhodes South in a custom-built "carbon-neutral" building at the refurbished Christchurch Harbour Hotel, formerly called the Avonmouth Hotel. His other opening, King's Rhodes, will be a 100-cover bar and brasserie in the former King's Arms Hotel in Castle Street.

The openings will be Rhodes's first British openings outside London. He has three restaurants in London, two on P&O cruise ships and one each in Dublin, Dubai and the Caribbean island of Grenada.

Adam Terpening, general manager of Christchurch Harbour Hotel, described Rhodes' arrival as a "spectacular coup for the area" and claimed it would turn Christchurch into the top food destination in southern England. The gastronomic revival has earned Devon, Cornwall and Dorset a total of eight stars in the 2008 guide, more than the Republic of Ireland.

Derek Bulmer, the editor of the Michelin Guide, said: "If you turn the clock back 10 years, the West Country was run down; traditional hotels and not very good restaurants. But when the Eden project opened, people started to come back. Then the Tate opened at St Ives and the Royal Naval College opened in Falmouth, Ryanair started a flight to Newquay and people who had been cut off by the distance could get to their holiday homes and suddenly the South-west became a very desirable part of the country."

Culinary empires

*Jamie Oliver

Launched first branch of his Fifteen restaurant outside London at Watergate Bay, near Newquay, Cornwall.

*Rick Stein

His culinary empire in Padstow, Cornwall, includes a restaurant, a bistro, a cafe, a fish and chip shop, a patisserie and a cookery school.

*Damien Hirst

Runs a restaurant and bar serving tapas and haute cuisine in the Devon resort of Ilfracombe.

*Mitchell Tonks

Opened a branch of the fast-expanding FishWorks chain in Christchurch, Dorset.

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