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Stratford-upon-Avon has a population of just 27,000 people, but boasts an extraordinary 160 restaurants. Rather than a broad spectrum of culinary delights, the offer is predominantly made up of high-turnover bistros and chain restaurants, targeting the three million annual tourists flocking to the historic market town’s three Royal Shakespeare theatres and the landmarks of its most notable former resident.
When chef Paul Foster – who cut his teeth at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk and Mallory Court, just outside Leamington Spa – spotted a gap in the market in Stratford, he was told that he would fail.
How could his vision for Salt, a high-end yet relaxed restaurant for locals and travelling foodies, succeed without a pre-theatre menu, he was asked.
Unperturbed, Foster ploughed ahead, raising £100,000 in 30 days through a Kickstarter campaign. The first £85,000 was spent on fees and rent prepayments to take over the lease of a tired tapas restaurant. The remaining £15,000 stretched just far enough to refurbish and kit out a 10-table, 34-cover restaurant and kitchen and open the site’s doors to customers within three weeks. Foster’s formula is high-quality, local food and drink from small suppliers at reasonable prices in a relaxed environment. The locals loved having something different and
exciting, and especially the lack of pre- and post-theatre guests.
The accolades soon followed: within a year Salt had won a Michelin star, three AA rosettes, 6/10 and the Best New Entry in The Good Food Guide, plus Businessperson of the Year and Best Hospitality Business at the 2018 Pride of Stratford awards. The Observer’s food critic Jay Rayner called the cooking “terrific”. Most importantly, Salt turned a modest profit in the first year’s accounts, generating £28,000 on a turnover of £583,000.
Foster even found time to write a book, which he calls a personal journey through his career highs and lows, featuring the recipes for 40 favourite dishes from the first year in business. This year will see him open a cookery school above the restaurant and refurbish the restaurant to upgrade the shoestring fixtures and fittings beyond what the initial budget could afford.
“The little restaurant we opened on 18 March 2017 is now nationally recognised and respected, and set to only improve with the reinvestments we are planning this year,” says Foster. You better believe it too. Move over Shakespeare – there’s a new S in town: Salt – a brilliant winner of the 2019 Newcomer Catey.
What the judges said “Paul took a huge risk and is massively inspirational to the next generation of budding chefs and restaurateurs.” John Calton “A top example of total dedication and a great achievement in a relatively short time.” Gary Hunter
Frog by Adam Handling, London
Lympstone Manor, Exmouth, Devon
Socius, Burnham Market, Norfolk
Kenny Atkinson, chef-patron, House of Tides, Newcastle
Pascal Aussignac, chef-patron, Club Gascon, London
Richard Ball, managing director, Calcot Hotels
William Baxter, chairman, Hospitality Action
John Calton, chef-patron, the Staith House, North Shields
Gary Hunter, vice-principal, Westminster Kingsway College, London
Jane Sunley, chief executive, Purple Cubed
Aaron Webster, chef-patron, Smoke & Salt, London