James Close says his culinary philosophy boils down to just five words: “Taste everything – keep it simple”
The Raby Hunt, near Darlington, has picked up major accolades on a regular basis since opening in 2009, winning chef-patron James Close his first Michelin star in 2012 and a second four years later.
What makes Close’s success so remarkable is that he is completely self taught. Previously a professional golfer who didn’t quite make the cut, Close ended up buying a pub with his parents on the Raby Estate in County Durham, where his obsession with cooking was ignited.
The Grade II-listed former drovers’ inn has been transformed since then into a smart restaurant with rooms, plus a newly refurbished open kitchen. Close’s cooking is as idiosyncratic as his CV with the chef mixing international ingredients and cuisines across a 15-course tasting menu. The line-up changes with the seasons, but expect dishes such as a single crab taco or a tiny short rib pastrami slider, followed by aged otoro nigiri or Herdwick lamb and anchovy mayonnaise.
Presentation is never short of exquisite, with beautiful crockery specifically matched to each dish, while the comprehensive wine list offers value and detailed tasting notes. Add in smooth and friendly service, plus a kitchen table where diners can have a front row seat to watch the chefs in action, and it’s clear to see why The Raby Hunt has made such an impact in such a short period of time.
Golf’s loss is gastronomy’s gain.