Not all roads lead to London

23 March 2006
Not all roads lead to London

There are a lot more Southerners working in Manchester nowadays. Conversely, there seems to be an intriguing slowdown in the number of Northerners making the more traditional reverse journey south.

The North has historically "fed" London, supplying a staggering quality and quantity of chefs to its kitchens, including Marco Pierre White (Leeds) and Marcus Wareing (Southport). It was ingrained that London was where you went to "make it" and mix with the big boys. So what could have changed to stop, or at least slow, this historical pattern?

First, there's been a sea change in the public's eating and drinking habits in the region. This is part of a more general trend towards eating out across the country, but the industrial areas of the North had fallen so far behind that a regeneration-driven bounce-back was always going to be more pronounced.

The other factor stemming the flow of talent to the South is the North's relatively low costs of set-up and living. There's still a wealth of areas, both urban and rural, which are ripe with potential for enterprising operators on a budget. Reasonably priced housing and a brisk commute are extra attractions. Combine good financial rewards with quality of life and you can see why people are sticking around.

The strength and depth of talent in the North is staggering, and every region has its standard-bearers: Nigel Howarth and Paul Heathcote in Lancashire, Andrew Pern in Yorkshire and Terry Laybourne in Newcastle.

Behind them are rising stars such as Anthony Flinn in Leeds and Simon Rogan in Cartmel, and let's not forget respected and successful brands such as Living Room, La Tasca and Piccolino.

Though some of the above have experimented with expanding south, most are reticent to rush into the hurly-burly of Zones 1-3 when there's so much untapped potential in their immediate locales. Not all roads lead to London, and behind these bigger names there are thousands of operators and individuals of lower profile but equal success.

Thom Hetherington is managing director of Moorfield Media and organiser of the Northern Restaurant and Bar show

What's hot about northern hospitality?

Claire Davenport, marketing manager, Linthwaite House Hotel and Restaurant, Windermere "There's a real movement towards finding locally sourced food. Guests are more interested in the provenance of the foods and we're now seeing local types of lamb like Herdwick appearing on menus. Rick Stein recently named the Lake District as one of his favourite places for local food."

Terry Breen, owner, Age Bar & Kitchen, Durham "It's very exciting in the North and North-east right now, as we're going through a commercial boom. People are looking to go out more and are becoming more choosy about where they want to spend their money. Business is definitely growing, our year-on-year figures are 50%-60% ahead."

Emily Howarth, restaurant manager, Plush Bar and Restaurant, Leeds "The cost of living is a lot cheaper so that's one reason people are attracted to the North. Dining out is not as expensive either. Up here you don't need to order lots of extras on the side. People in London tend to go out to be seen rather than to go out, whereas here everything is more affordable and family-friendly."

David Baldwin, chairman of the National Restaurant Association and owner, Baldwins Omega restaurant, Sheffield "Business here is certainly now seeing new openings. I've spent a lot of time in the South and I think the best restaurants in the North are comparable with not just those in the South, but on the world stage."

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