THE WINNER: The Nut Tree Inn, Murcott
Sponsored by: Christie + Co
It's the dream of many a chef: move to the country; grow your own veg; rear your own pigs; and serve your food in a little rural bolthole. And that's exactly what Mike North and Imogen Young, proprietors of the Nut Tree Inn in Murcott, Oxfordshire, did in January 2007. The concept might not be wholly original, but the panache with which the couple have transformed the idyllic former boozer has seen them create something truly special: a 21st-century gastropub where village locals drink alongside destination diners enjoying Michelin-starred food, and where the source of many dishes, from the bar's pork pies to the fillet of beef, graze in the pub's back fields. The decision to name the Nut Tree Inn winner of the 2009 Newcomer Catey was unanimous among the panel of judges, with one commenting that the pub "really represents the spirit of this award".
Among their numerous successes - which include gaining a Michelin star in January 2009 - the judges wanted to recognise that the couple, who are in their early 30s, are far from industry stalwarts with years of experience to fall back on. "Mike North and Imogen Young are two young, creative and enthusiastic hospitality professionals who are embarking on a lifetime's-worth of work with the Nut Tree Inn," said one judge.
While the bucolic thatched property with its large, green garden, fields and pigsties out back is a "picture-perfect" hospitality site, according to one judge, it is Mike's food that proves the real draw. After gaining a Michelin star in 2005, aged only 25, when head chef at the Goose in nearby Britwell Salome, Mike's pedigree as a chef was well proven before the couple went it alone at the Nut Tree Inn. And by using the land that came with the pub to rear his own Dexter cows and Gloucester Old Spot-Tamworth cross pigs, as well as planting a vegetable garden, he has applied his huge technical ability to home-grown ingredients. "Since opening in October 2006, they have achieved a huge amount and are receiving great recognition and reviews. Gaining two AA rosettes and a Michelin star from a very small kitchen makes them deserving winners of this award," said one judge, while another commented on the recognition Michelin has bestowed on the pub. "The Nut Tree Inn gaining a star is a good thing for the image of Michelin, as their food offer is not at all overly fancy, but really accessible. It's a big deal for Michelin to award a star to a restaurant like this, so it's a fantastic achievement for them."
It wasn't just Mike's food that impressed the judges, but the couple's dedication to keeping the pub at the "heart of community", said one, and not just transforming it into a destination restaurant. "The Nut Tree Inn has a lot of integrity," said another judge. "It forms a big part of the local community, and Mike and Imogen have created something really special. Lots of people might have a great local pub, but people won't necessarily travel to get there. People do want to travel to the Nut Tree Inn - it's that special."
- Mike North and Imogen Young, the Nut Tree Inn, Murcott, Oxfordshire
- Tom Pemberton, Hereford Road Restaurant, London
- Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverisson, Texture Restaurant, London
- Jason Atherton, executive chef, Maze
- David Bailey, deputy managing director, TRI Hospitality Consulting
- Gordon Campbell Gray, chairman, Campbell Gray Hotels
- Ian El-Mokadem, group managing director, Compass Group UK & Ireland
- Tom Kerridge, chef-proprietor, the Hand and Flowers
- Jane Sunley, managing director, Learnpurple/Talent Toolbox
- Gillian Thomson, managing director, Company of Cooks