Food & Drink: Rural restaurants risk extinction

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The Independent Online
Metropolitan chefs are bringing "vigour and excellence" to the restaurant trade. But if country-house eateries fail to follow suit they may find themselves extinct. Glenda Cooper reports on changes in the nation's eating habits.

Country-house restaurants are "dinosaurs" which "may soon find themselves extinct" unless they wake up to change, experts warn today.

In comparison, it is the metropolitan chefs serving multi-purpose food in multi-purpose outlets who have established what the Good Food Guide calls "a new British tradition".

"Where once the restaurant initiative came from a couple who holidayed in France, cooked from Elizabeth David and opened a country restaurant in order to share the thrills ... now it is the townie chefs who capture for their generation the buzz and excitement of eating out."

The annual guide praises the vigour and excellence of the town restaurants. "Japanese restaurants, for example, seem to have undergone a sea-change partly by bringing mechanical novelty to bear - automated sushi and drinks trolleys - and partly by opening up to a wider clientele," said Jim Ainsworth, editor of the Good Food Guide. "Other cultures too are making even more of an impact than ever before, not least Indian and Middle Eastern, providing most commonly ideas and materials for jackdaw British chefs to raid in their restless search for something new."

Country-house hotels face several problems in comparison: they suffer from the fact that in rural areas couples only go there to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, or only eat out at the weekends. With their higher prices they also have to compete with cheap weekends away across the Channel and foreign tourists finding the UK too expensive.

As a result the country- house restaurants need to realise that they may have to adapt to survive. Mr Ainsworth said many were changing, but cautioned that those who did not could "find themselves extinct".

l The Good Food Guide is published by Which? and is available from bookshops; pounds 14.99.