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Beyond the sheer joy of the good food and wine that I have enjoyed during 2017, I have made two observations. The first is that for anyone who earns a wage in sterling, the cost of enjoying these pleasures outside the UK is rising. To date, British restaurateurs have had to peg their prices, chiefly because of competition from so many rivals, but this situation cannot continue for ever.
The second observation might be the stirrings of a happier, worldwide movement. Could there be a shift towards that most satisfying of restaurants, the one that is run by a single family?
Once the norm in Europe, this cosy phenomenon looks to be making a comeback. Anyone with an interest in the best French food and wine should try to make the trip to Troisgros, in the tiny village of Ouches in the Loire region of France. This restaurant with rooms is the vision of Marie-Pierre and Michel Troisgros, grandson of the man who first opened a restaurant here in the early 1930s. Today, their two sons César and Léo occupy the kitchen.
Something similar is taking place in the Languedoc region. Three years ago, the Antonini family moved from Rome to the hills above Carcassonne into what was then an isolated, windswept — but potentially exciting — abandoned winery.
Fortunately, the Antoninis are a multitalented family. Their combined skills include a mother’s warmth, a designer father’s eye, one son’s talent in the kitchen and another’s with a herd of buffalo (which he milks every morning to make mozzarella). Together these have made the Bourdasso restaurant a beacon of Italian cooking and wine in an area where mass tourism has led to a decline in the quality of local restaurants.
There are three examples of the excellent cooking and hospitality that can be delivered by a husband and wife team. In my view, Andrew and Natalie Wong at A Wong in London produce the most exciting Chinese cooking in the UK. US sommelier/front of house Laura Adrian and her chef/partner Braden Perkins are another winning team. At their delightful Parisian bistro Ellsworth, Perkins serves up an intelligent €28 three-course lunch menu. And only a fool would try to disagree with Adrian’s wine selection.
Finally in Sydney, Josh and Julie Niland’s ambitious fish restaurant, Saint Peter, has left me longing to explore their outposts in Europe. She is an accomplished pastry chef, while he has a particularly sensitive approach to cooking fish.
Back in Europe, the Almadraba Park and Empordà hotels in Catalonia are owned and managed by Jordi Subirós and his father Jaume. Both men are tall and distinguished-looking and both take care of their guests assiduously. Yet the father takes his responsibilities one step further. At the beginning of each service, having made sure his customers are seated comfortably, he takes off the jacket of his dark suit and dons a waiter’s apron. Wearing this self-styled uniform, he acts as an interpreter between diners and kitchen. As he put it, “I am thinking for my customers.”
In San Sebastián, I ate at two family-run restaurants: Ganbara, in the city centre, which is run by mother and son Amaya and Amaiur Martinez; and Portuetxe, where Borja is taking over from his parents Javier and Ana Bereciartua. I will long remember the sweetness of the grilled langoustines at Ganbara and the admirable way they manage the crowds.
Portuetxe stood out for the professionalism of its waiting staff and the delicious simplicity of a first course — cos lettuce topped with diced garlic, anchovies and olive oil.
Finally, to the Mexican state of Baja California. Manzanilla might be the professional home of Bonito and Solange Molina, with their daughter Oliva, but it is also a mecca for those keen to savour exceptional seafood from the deep, cold waters nearby. Oysters, abalone, totoaba . . . each was memorable. Solange tried to stem my compliments, insisting, “It is just the ocean’s bounty.” But it was more than that — it was also the feeling with which Solange served the food cooked so expertly by her husband.
If I am right, and the family restaurant proves to be a worldwide phenomenon, we will all benefit.
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