In these uncertain times, how do you spot an up-and-coming area where property prices may beat the national average? We all know that good schools and nearby transport links favour some areas more than others. So what about top restaurants?
Big city centres – especially those with large-scale corporate hospitality underpinned by financial services and media expense accounts – can support good restaurants. But unassuming market towns and villages that suddenly get a glut of entries in the The Good Food Guide or a Michelin handbook show a more fundamental change.
The effect of having top restaurants is not merely a feel-good one, or even an eat-well one. Research by the estate agency Savills shows precisely how much Rick Stein has done to push up prices in his native Padstow, a pretty Cornish resort with 10,000 locals and plenty of Stein's restaurants, bed and breakfasts, cafés and delis. In 1997, when Tony Blair came to power and Stein was still new to the South-west, an average Padstow home cost £75,000, 20 per cent more than in the rest of Cornwall.
By 2002, Stein had three businesses in the village, and average Padstow house prices had increased to £180,000, 32 per cent above the Cornwall average of £136,000. By the end of last year – when Stein's empire had expanded to four eating places, three shops and a cookery school, plus bed-and-breakfast rooms – Padstow's typical home cost £342,000, a whopping 44 per cent above the Cornwall average of £237,000.
We don't know how the credit crunch has affected long-term Cornish house prices (or, indeed, the ability of Stein's clientele to eat and shop at his premium-priced premises), but the trend of restaurants accelerating a local property market appears unlikely to change.
The South-west by no means has a monopoly on good restaurants but, with the exception of London, it seems to be hogging celebrity chefs whose presence undoubtedly helps the local property market enter the Michelin-star league.
Jamie Oliver has opened a Fifteen in Newquay, and Rick Stein, of course, is all over Padstow; now Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has opened a River Cottage canteen, cookery school and shop at Axminster in east Devon. There is a slow-food market at Topsham near Exeter, where the legendary Gidleigh Park chef Michael Caines frequently puts on free cooking demonstrations, and then there is Ilfracombe on the north Devon coast.
"I always cite Ilfracombe as how this sort of thing can make a difference," says Richard Addington of Savills in Exeter. "The artist Damien Hirst owns 11 the Quay restaurant there and he's helped put the place on the map. There wasn't a lot going on there until he and his wealthy friends moved in. The restaurant has a fantastic reputation for food as well as style, so now Ilfracombe is sought after."
If Ilfracombe follows the pattern of other places, expect to see more good restaurants moving in, and house prices moving up, as a result. "Gastropubs and restaurants choose locations where clientele will appreciate and afford fine dining," says Jo Aldridge of Stacks, a buying agency. "Then the situation changes. Towns and villages where pubs, bistros and smart restaurants are renowned become places for second-homers from Notting Hill, raising property prices."
Ludlow in Shropshire is a good example. Until the mid-1990s, it had no well-known restaurants, but it now has five. It also hosts an annual food fair that attracts 20,000 people, boasts award-winning butchers and has been described by the Michelin guide as a "gourmet capital of Europe". House prices have risen with the town's reputation.
Another case in point is Bray. It is a semi-rural location on the edge of Maidenhead in Berkshire, yet it has Heston Blumenthal's the Fat Duck – which has been awarded a rare 10 out of 10 stars in the The Good Food Guide 2009 (out tomorrow) and has previously been called the world's best restaurant – as well as two other internationally renowned eating places. Average Maidenhead prices are well below those of Bray, of course.
"There can be a few downsides if you live next door to a popular restaurant," warns Rob Middleton, a buying agent who seeks homes for wealthy buyers in the Lake District. "Parking and occasional noise are obvious examples, but in extreme cases, you can have paparazzi sitting on the kerb waiting for stars to emerge after dinner. But on the whole, good restaurants seal an area's popularity. The same can be said for the 'real food' movement that seems to be sweeping Britain. At one time, buyers would want to know how far a home was from a John Lewis or a Waitrose. Now it's different. You have to tell them where the Michelin stars and farmers' markets are."
'The Good Food Guide 2009', published by Which?, is out tomorrow, priced £9.99
Unlikely locations with top restaurants
* Mousehole, Cornwall
Tiny port with two Good Food Guide restaurants.
*Nether Burrow, Lancashire
A hamlet on the A683 with two top eating places.
*Gullane, Firth of Forth
Ronnie Corbett lives in this village, but it's now home to three of Scotland's finest restaurants.
A quiet east coast village with great views and three Good Food Guide entries.
* Great Triley, nr Abergavenny
Agent: Knight Frank (01432 273 087)
This large country house was built in 1900 and has views of some of the best mountains in Wales, but the estate agent's details plug the fact that it is close to the Walnut Tree and the Foxhunter, two internationally renowned restaurants.
Smugglers' Barn, Jevington
Agent: Strutt & Parker (01273 475 411)
This Sussex hamlet has been overshadowed by nearby Lewes, but the arrival of the Hungry Monk, a Good Food Guide entry best known for its banoffee pie, "has put the place firmly on the map", says Jay Jayram, a local estate agent.
Old Rectory, Ilfracombe
Agent: Savills (01392 455 755)
Homes in the north Devon Victorian seaside resort of Ilfracombe would never have had seven-figure prices tags before Damien Hirst's restaurant, 11 the Quay, gained a Michelin listing and praise from Egon Ronay.Reuse content