One of the UK’s best restaurants is about to close its doors for ever because no one is prepared to take it on.
The Merchant House, in the sleepy Shropshire market town of Ludlow, is owned by Michelin-starred chef Shaun Hill, who has put it on the market for a variety of reasons.
But, even though it has a fabulous reputation despite being over four hours from London (it is a former Decanter Restaurant of the Year and has numerous other awards), not a single chef has shown any interest in buying it.
So Hill will apply to the local council to have its status changed from ‘restaurant’ to ‘dwelling’ and it will revert to being the normal house it was before he took it over 10 years ago.
‘I’ve given it a few months to see if anyone wants it as a business but there hasn’t been a single query about it as a restaurant.’
Hill suggests one of the reasons chefs aren’t interested is the house’s tiny size: the restaurant does 22 covers only, and the kitchen has room for two fridges and the cook, and no one else. ‘You have to work on your own. You can’t put an ace team in there, so it’s down to you personally.’
Ironically the Merchant House may be a victim of its own success. Any established chef will not want to be compared with such a reputation, and anyone starting up will feel eclipsed by Hill’s long shadow.
In nearby Malvern, another Michelin-starred restaurateur and friend of Hill’s is having difficulties selling. In 2002 Robin Jones closed the highly-reputed Croque en Bouche in order to set up as a wine merchant, and is unable to find a buyer for the restaurant side of the business.
Hill himself is now actively looking for a property to turn into a restaurant. He will remain ‘in the west of England’, possibly in Ledbury, another bustling but old-fashioned market town, in the neighbouring county of Herefordshire.
The next place will be bigger, he says. ‘I want to do about 40 covers and have a small kitchen staff. I like to be doing new things.’
Written by Adam Lechmere