Michelin-starred chef Richard Neat is boldly going where few chefs have gone before with a radical new restaurant venture – in Marrakech.

Neat – who won two Michelin stars for his London restaurant Pied a Terre in the first half of the 1990s – was the first British chef to win a Michelin star in France with his restaurant Neat in Cannes.

Despite glowing reviews from both the UK and French press, that restaurant had to close after three years, due to a variety of reasons. Neat cites intransigent French bureaucracy and a series of cripplingly expensive legal rows with his landlord. At one stage he was spending some £30,000 per year on legal bills.

Now, the restaurateur told decanter.com, he has decided to go south to open a deluxe restaurant-cum-country club in Marrakech, in the foothills of the Atlas mountains (pictured) in Morocco.

Neat says the city has a burgeoning tourist trade and is exquisitely beautiful. It attracts around 1.5m ‘high quality’ visitors a year at present, and is hoping to bring those numbers up to around 20m with massive advertising campaigns in Northern European cities.

Neat has a new business partner, and land on which to build. The complex, which will be a ‘tent-like structure’, will be furnished and decorated with the best local fabrics.

‘There’s going to be a swimming pool, a library, chess boards, a cinema, a barbecue – everything to make people want to stay six, seven, eight hours,’ Neat said.

He stressed that he was not leaving France because of the collapse of the Cannes venture, which by any standards was a huge success for three years. In his view the reasons for its closure go far beyond any idea of the French not being keen on English chefs.

‘We had fantastic reviews from the local and national press, and tremendous support in Cannes. There were some individuals that caused problems, but it was no worse than the bitching in London.

‘I don’t want in any way to demonise the French nation. My wife is French and my in-laws are French, and I want to work in France again.’

Written by Adam Lechmere16 April 2003