When two-Michelin-starred restaurant Hibiscus announced its exit from Ludlow last month, there were inevitable murmurs about the demise of the 10,000-population Shropshire town as a foodie destination.
A week later, when former Michelin-starred property Overton Grange was put on the market for £1.65m, the speculation gained an air of credibility. Given its sound culinary heritage, Ludlow won't be wiped from the map as a restaurant hotbed, but the departures raise questions about the long-term viability of such gourmet outposts.
Shaun Hill was the chef to get the ball rolling in Ludlow, when he opened Merchant House in 1993 and won a star in 1996. Ominously, when it went on the market in August 2004 for £750,000 there were no takers and it's now a private house.
Asked whether Ludlow has had its day, Hill is equivocal. "I hope not," he says. "It will be an interesting period for the town. Hibiscus showed there's always a market for top quality restaurants, but its departure shows it's a fragile situation."
With their property currently on the market at £295,000, Hibiscus owners Claude and Claire Bosi are keen to talk up Ludlow's future. Claude says: "You can't tell me the disappearance of one 30-cover restaurant is going to change everything. We get 20,000 people in Ludlow for the food festival in September, which shows off all the great local produce."
Although great local produce was a major factor in attracting Hill to Ludlow in the first place, there is some concern for the town's status as a foodie haven.
Simon Woodfield, restaurants negotiator at Christie's and agent for the Hibiscus sale, fears the restaurant's asking price might now drop, despite the fact that turnover grew by £40,000 to £480,000 in 2006.
And what of the future for other foodie outposts such as Bray in Berkshire and Padstow in Cornwall? According to Hill, the latter is built on the cult of chef Rick Stein, and was popular "long before his TV work".
Bray is home to two of the UK's three three-Michelin-starred restaurants (see table) and, perhaps more importantly, is only 30 miles from London.
Ludlow is 140 miles from the capital and the chances of it having a three-Michelin-starred eaterie are arguably as remote, which some say prompted Bosi's departure from his quiet Shropshire existence.
By Tom Bill