Thursday, 18 July 2013

Shaun Hill, a Jolly Clever Fellow - Published in the South Shropshire Journal 12/7/13 (unedited)

Being the slightly self-depreciating chap that I am, I’m always slightly surprised when people tell me that they’ve enjoyed reading this column, or indeed have simply read it at all. It was much to my amazement recently when at my local greengrocer’s a fellow I’ve never met before tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You write that column in the paper don’t you?” Before I could even start looking for a pen with which to sign his copy of the South Shropshire Journal he continued, “Well it’s a bit bloody moany.”

Charmless, but he may have a point. What irks me more is that my byline photo (see above), possibly the most unflattering snap ever taken of me sober and clothed, would appear accurate and lifelike enough to warrant me being recognised by complete strangers. So, unfortunately, I guess this is actually what I look like.

But I take unconstructive and random criticism on board – I’m a man of the people me- and I’m going to write a moan-free column this week.

When Shaun Hill opened the Merchant House restaurant in Ludlow back in the early ‘90s many locals at the time thought that he was going to wreak unutterable havoc on this little town with many old timers decreeing that fancy-pants new restaurants had no purpose here other than causing noise and smell. Shaun came from “off” with clever ideas and wonderful food, a serious reputation, and within a couple of years had turned a staid market town in the middle of nowhere into a gastronomic hub pulsing gorgeousness.

By the time Hill left Ludlow in 2005 he had single-handedly turned the town into somewhere worth living, and thirteen years later his legacy lives on. The Ludlow Food Festival, Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus, Mr Underhill’s, La Becasse. They’d be nothing without Shaun Hill.

After Ludlow, Shaun went into retirement for about five minutes and then found himself cooking at the legendary Walnut Tree Inn just outside Abergavenny. Local newspapers have more A A Gill-u-likes than you could ever need, so I’m not going to embark on a review here. But go to the Walnut Tree, just go. Save up and eat the sort of grub that first got Ludlow her reputation. I went last week and ate some of the most clean, sensible and accomplished food that I’m ever likely to.

Shaun Hill is of the group of chefs (Simon Hopkinson, Alastair Little, Jeremy Lee, Fergus Henderson, Rowley Leigh, Henry Harris etc) who emerged in the late 1980s, gentlemanly, educated, witty and better at cooking than any of the half-cocked telly clogging halfwits who are so prevalent these days.

Shaun has retired once already. Try his cooking before he retires again. 

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