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Michelin Star Chef James Close Reopens Revamped Raby Hunt


Jun 22, 2017

The North East’s only two Michelin star restaurant has reopened with a stunning new £400,000 look.

The Raby Hunt near Darlington, County Durham, closed at the beginning of May for what has been a major makeover.

It has seen the kitchen extended and redeveloped, the building of a new restaurant entrance, and the installation of striking glass walls so diners can watch Michelin-starred chef-patron James Close and his team at work preparing their food.

The refurbishment – which includes £200,000 spent on the custom made kitchen – follows The Raby Hunt making culinary history last autumn when Michelin awarded the former 200 year old drovers’ inn a second prestigious star, a first for either a North East-based chef or restaurant.

James, 37, says: “This is the first time The Raby Hunt has been closed since taking it on seven years ago. Having gained a second Michelin star last autumn, the time was right to invest and put The Raby Hunt on not just the UK’s good food map, but the world’s.

“We want to make The Raby Hunt more unique than it already is, and ensure our guests experience an even greater ‘wow’ factor when they dine with us.

“This has been a major investment for us, but I am confident it has moved The Raby Hunt up another step.”

James has worked with Create Architecture of Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, Newcastle-based restaurant, catering equipment, and kitchen suppliers, Crosbys, and local building firms, on the refurbishment.

“It was important to me to use North East-based suppliers and builders. I wanted to ensure as much of the work as possible stayed in the region.

“It has been great collaborating with Crosbys, who understand the unique challenges that can be thrown up by working in the hospitality arena. For Create Architecture, this was their first restaurant project, but it meant they came to the job with no preconceptions or constraints and listened rather than paid lip service to what we wanted.”

The result, explains architectural designer Craig Kipling, is a reworking that is “honest and simple so it doesn’t detract from the history of the original building, but is also contemporary. We worked closely with James on his vision going forward for the restaurant, and what we have now is a building that matches the rest of The Raby Hunt experience.

“Two large glass windows – one providing a view into the kitchen upon arrival and the other replacing the original bar wall – have turned the kitchen into a culinary theatre where diners can take in the drama and excitement of a busy two Michelin star restaurant in full swing. Before, that was an experience that was denied them.

“You now know you are arriving somewhere very special and that you are about to play your own part in something very exceptional.

“I look forward to seeing what further acclaim James can achieve now he has the right environment and even better tools to work with.”

The extension has been clad in hand worked natural zinc which will patina with weather over time to a matt grey, while the former bar has been converted into a development kitchen – until recently housed in an old shipping container in the customer car park. Late summer will see the launch of a chef’s table seating up to six diners, increasing The Raby Hunt’s covers to 32.

James is especially proud of the service and development kitchens, designed to his specifications by Crosbys and featuring tailor-made cooking suites from French company Athanor, a world leader in its field.

“It’s a stunning piece of bespoke kit that is the focus of a modern, light and airy state-of-the-art kitchen that is now semi-open, allowing diners to see what is happening without being right next to it,” James says. “There’s plenty of space to accommodate the kitchen team, with the customised Athanor stoves at the heart of the design.

“It’s an exciting time for us. We were limited by the old kitchen, and we have made the right choice to overhaul it and really make it our own. I am especially excited by the new research kitchen. It will allow us to develop better techniques, continue challenging prevailing kitchen practices and gain additional knowledge which can be transferred to the menu and create more of a food journey for guests.”

The Raby Hunt- the only new two Michelin star restaurant in the 2017 guide – offers the one 15-course tasting menu which takes diners around three hours to eat from start to finish.

James – who is the current Good Food Guide Chef of the Year and has recently been nominated in the Chefs’ Chef of the Year category in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards 2017, in which The Raby Hunt has also been included in the Top 100 restaurants in the UK – will take many weeks to perfect a recipe.

The menu will only change when he and his small but talented kitchen team have created a new signature dish that is better than what was already on.

Ben Crosby, director of Crosbys, who has worked with James since he opened The Raby Hunt, is understandably delighted the acclaimed chef chose his firm to realise his vision for the new kitchen. He says: “It is a huge deal for us in terms of kudos, and it puts Crosbys right up there. Hopefully it will open the doors to more chefs of James’ calibre using our services, and help get us known not just nationally, but internationally too.

“Going forward we wish James the best of luck and hope to see even more culinary plaudits heading The Raby Hunt’s way.”

By Emily