After a £350k refurb, James Close reopens the doors to the two Michelin star restaurant The Raby Hunt

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th June 2017

Michelin Guide UK took us all by surprise when they announced a new two-star restaurant, The Raby Hunt, in the 2017 edition – and no one was more surprised than the chef-owner of that restaurant, James Close.

The Raby Hunt and its tiny kitchen managed to wow Michelin and bring that second star to the North East – so it’s only fair it got a facelift!
The Staff Canteen took a look around the ‘new look’ Raby Hunt restaurant and kitchen, and spoke to James about how he’s feeling about this year’s Michelin Guide reveal!

The Raby Hunt
The new look Raby Hunt

“I’ve never missed a service in eight years,” reveals James Close when I ask him, what is the key to his success? “That intensity and perfection is probably why we have succeeded.”

He continued: “Hard work, dedication to learning and working very long hours to get to where you want to get to.”

A mantra young chefs should take heed of as self-taught James has managed to gain numerous accolades in his short career as a chef so far including the Chef of the Year in The Good Food Guide 2017 and that second Michelin star.

It was that second star which put the wheels in motion to build on the original restaurant and transform it into the vision James had in his mind. And after closing for four weeks plus £350,000 later the finished result is pretty impressive.

“We wanted to create something which was a little bit off the wall,” explained James. “It would have been very easy to build a brick extension but after visiting restaurants like Nerua in the Guggenheim in Bilbao which uses aluminium, I knew it was that style which I liked.”

The extension on The Raby Hunt is made out of zinc and has been designed by Create Architecture, their first restaurant project. The restaurant now boasts a chef's table and a much larger kitchen for James and his team – which has also grown.

“We didn’t think we would ever get planning permission here so there had been talk of moving The Raby Hunt restaurant to another site,” said James. “But once we got it we realised it didn’t make sense to move from here, this is where we achieved everything we have now.

the raby hunt
The Raby Hunt chef's table

“The problem with The Raby Hunt was the restrictions, the kitchen was tiny and there was nothing we could do about it until now.”

The idea behind the design is that when you approach the restaurant there are no windows so you can’t see what you are walking into until you are inside. But once inside it’s hard not to be impressed by the chef’s table which looks onto the whole kitchen..... a kitchen which is now big enough to accommodate seven chefs instead of three, and finally has a working oven!

“It allows me space to be more creative and I designed the kitchen around the menu style we want to create - we can have 18 dishes on the tasting menu if we want. We now have space in the kitchen during service and everyone has their own area. Plus, a lot more equipment; a green egg, two ovens, plancha, induction – no gas anymore. I feel like there is more pressure now though as I have no excuses!”

And now James has the kitchen he has always wanted what does that mean for his menu and the dish development.

“When I develop a dish I don’t have to worry about how we will do it in service anymore. There are 15 dishes on the tasting menu and in the old kitchen people were running into each other – there was no way I could add an extra dish or a more complex dish because we just couldn’t accommodate it.

“That’s not the case now so there is nothing to slow us down anymore.”

James Close
James Close

Last year James said he felt like a rock star waiting to go on to the Michelin Guide stage but also admits you can tell by the pictures he was pretty shell shocked when he heard the news.

“I couldn’t smile! I looked out to the audience and Tom Kerridge was stood clapping and for a few minutes, it was completely surreal. It was an amazing day.

“I don’t feel any extra pressure this year, I think you just learn to deal with it and I’m probably more relaxed than when we had one. I just want to enjoy it, it’s all about the creative side for me and if I didn’t have that creative bug I wouldn’t do it.”

Michelin Guide 2018 is fast approaching, and after closing for four weeks James and his team are now focused on getting back to the consistent cooking which earned them the second star.

“In terms of Michelin I’m sure they could see that where we were working was quite restrictive, I hope they support what we’ve done.”

the raby hunt
The new kitchen at The Raby Hunt

He said: “People who have always eaten at The Raby Hunt would not know it had changed because the food is exactly the same as it was before. We can now just focus on being more detailed and making everything even more perfect than it used to be - the guest experience should be better than it was before.

“But,” he added. “I haven’t changed my style of food. I still have the same ethos about keeping it really simple, only using a few ingredients on the plate, very refined food and trying to be as original as we can.”

By Cara Houchen

@canteencara

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th June 2017

After a £350k refurb, James Close reopens the doors to the two Michelin star restaurant The Raby Hunt