Visiting a great restaurant is sometimes more like a road movie or a pilgrimage – and the experience is all the better for it.
Driving a distance in search of good food is a trend that’s becoming ever more popular on the foodie scene. Talk of roadside restaurants used to conjure up visions of drive-thru eateries or vans parked in lay-bys selling bacon butties, but in fact, the range of options for the motorist is now far greater than that, stretching all the way up to the Michelin-starred end of the spectrum.
Over the past decade or so, many star performers from famous metropolitan kitchens have gone off into the sticks and set up on their own. There’s the revival of interest in regional cooking styles, the inspiration of fine local produce, the opportunity to reinvent yourself away from the hothouse of the city – and no doubt the lower rent helps too.
Legendary chef Shaun Hill, who has spent a fair proportion of his career cooking in the outback, rates the countryside restaurant experience for offering ‘a sense of relaxation and peace while you pack away the grub’. That is, of course, something of an understatement – part of the draw for diners is the gorgeous location of a thatched pub on Exmoor or a hunting lodge on the Isle of Skye.
In this ‘drive and eat’ phenomenon, Britain has only recently been catching up with France. As Clare Peel, veteran of Insight and Berlitz guidebook publishers explains, ‘the Michelin Guide was first published in 1900 in France with the specific intention of boosting the demand for cars - and consequently, for tyres.’ The AA later followed suit in Britain, though focused initially more on hotels. There’s now, however, little alternative for the dedicated foodie: if you want to try out the type of eating experiences in the following selection, you simply have to hop in the car in order to reach eating nirvana.