Restaurant loses its Michelin star for third time as chef walks out

Row as owner plans to turn award-winning eatery into a pub

Kevin Rawlinson
Wednesday 10 February 2010 01:00

To lose one Michelin star may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But one restaurant has just lost a third.

Staff at The Goose in Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire, which had last month won back its one Michelin star status, have walked out in a dispute over the direction of the business, taking the award with them.

The stone building in the middle of the village cut a forlorn figure yesterday. Its tables lay unset and customers calling to book were greeted by a terse message: due to "unforeseen circumstances", the restaurant had been closed. A sad-looking notice in a window announced that it was closed for refurbishment and would reopen on 16 March under new management.

The chef, Ryan Simpson, and his staff walked out last week after the owner, Paul Castle, said he wanted to turn the restaurant into a pub. Since taking over as chef, Mr Simpson – the third chef to win a Michelin star there – had worked to regain the award lost when his predecessor left citing financial difficulties.

Mr Simpson said yesterday: "I did not agree with the way Mr Castle wanted to take the business or the methods he was using to run it."

Trading as a gastropub under Mr Castle's ownership, The Goose won its first star in 2005, with Mike North in the kitchen, but it was lost soon after when Mr North left to run The Walnut Tree in nearby Murcott.

Converted into a restaurant run by the chef Matthew Tomkinson, it won back the accolade in 2008. Six months later, Mr Tomkinson too had left, this time for a Hampshire eatery, saying there were "alarm bells ringing about the financial side of the [Oxfordshire] business".

Its owner went into receivership and Mr Castle returned, appointing Mr Simpson as chef in 2008. He regained the Michelin star for the third time, but has now walked out after reportedly being informed by the owner that the restaurant was losing money and the food, featuring dishes such as rabbit and muntjac roasted in hay, was "too poncey".

"To my knowledge, it is the only restaurant in the country to have lost three Michelin-starred chefs; it must be the most starred, unstarred restaurant in the world," said the former sous-chef Liam Trotman.

Mr Simpson added: "When we were awarded the star, there were no congratulations forthcoming. I have even heard rumours that Mr Castle had lined up a replacement in advance."

Neighbours yesterday described the efforts made by Mr Simpson and his staff to integrate into the community. The restaurant bought ingredients from local shops and got involved with the annual Fair. Tom Orpwood, butchery manager at the Britwell Salome Farm Shop, said: "They are very pleasant people and used to come in here a lot. But there was obviously conflict with the owner."

In a statement released yesterday, Mr Castle confirmed that the refurbishment of the restaurant, originally planned for later this year, had been brought forward. He added that The Goose would reopen as a gastro pub, with a new executive chef running the kitchen and himself as overall manager.

He said: "Ryan's cooking is brilliant but it is not quite in line with what people in the surrounding area enjoy, which is why we have decided to revert back to a formula that worked both critically and financially."

However the former customer Julia Wells insisted that the Michelin-starred chef's approach was exactly what was required. She told him: "Let me know where you go to next, I'd travel miles to eat in your restaurant."

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