We were genuinely pleased when we heard that the Talbot Hotel in Malton was being restored to former glory. In recent years it’s been in terminal decline under the stewardship of a hotel chain. It had the worst reports on TripAdvisor I’ve ever read. But Malton’s big landowner Tom Naylor-Leyland of the Fitzwilliam Estate has taken back the lease and splashed out on a £4 million refurb. It sounds promising: 26 bedrooms, three suites, interior by top London designer Vivien Greenock. Expect Colefax and Fowler by the yard, expensive good taste and all the right noises about seasonal and local produce. All in tune with Malton’s drive to graduate into a foodie destination.
Then last week three press releases dropped into my in-box with the deadening news that James Martin would be overseeing the kitchen. I’ve ranted about JM here already, so I won’t go over old ground and it’s nothing especially personal about him, it’s just that whole celebrity chef cock and bull again. Can’t new start-ups grow out of it or even go for some new names?
I don’t know how much it costs to get true Yorkshiremen like Martin or Brian Turner to leave their homes in the south and ‘design’ a menu and turn out for their photocalls as ‘executive chef’ but I do know that it can cost £10,000 to get a top grade celebrity chef to cook for an hour at a food festival.
The depressing thought is that the initial PR might just be worth it when you’re shelling out £4m overall but will it create a restaurant with a heart? We’re assured Martin will do ‘some’ fronting and ‘some’ cooking at the Talbot. Contain your excitement. He’ll have to fit in his Malton shifts between running his Leeds Kitchen restaurant, fronting his Saturday Kitchen gig on TV, writing his Daily Mail petrol head column, any new books on the go, personal appearances, a chef’s table of business interests and his well-publicised crusading (like Loyd Grossman before him) to save the nation from rubbish hospital food. How deep can the commitment be? How far will the sprinkle of stardust go?
Good luck to him, Naylor-Leyland and the Talbot. Prove me wrong. But there seems to be an endemic problem with would-be swanky hotels and their dining rooms. In the last couple of years I’ve reviewed the Cedar Court Grand in York and Raithwaite Hall at Sandsend and watched them throw millions at their buildings and their trappings and then lose the plot in the kitchen. Shine over substance. Invariably, Squidbeak prefers to eat elsewhere.