With the fiery owner of L’ortolan at the helm, La Bécasse is aiming to fill the void Hibiscus has left in Ludlow
It’s the morning after the much-anticipated first night of La Bécasse, the new kid on the Ludlow restaurant block that’s opened on the site of what was Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus.
Chef and owner Alan Murchison is happily tucking into a full English breakfast with extra black pudding in De Grey’s tearoom.
If the initial dinner service is anything to go by, he has every right to be content. My seven course meal in the refurbished, wood-panelled dining room was faultlessly cooked and served.
“The team had eleven weeks training prior to the opening; that’s unheard of,” claims Murchison who is also Chef Proprietor of the Michelinstarred L’ortolan in Berkshire. The 36-year-old Scot is taking no chances with his second restaurant and has moved five senior staff, including Head Chef Will Holland from L’ortolan, to Ludlow. “Between now and January we’ll run the two restaurants’ menus in parallel to keep it consistent and as tight as possible.
The little red book is fundamental. It’s not the only reason we’re doing this, but we believe we’ve got a fighting chance of getting a star.” Murchison plans to spend six to eight days a month in Ludlow. “To be honest, I’ll be coming up to have a beer and a gossip. I don’t want the boys to feel that I’ve sent them up here and am leaving them to get on with it.”
Murchison is not saying how much his company, Alan Murchison Restaurants Ltd, has invested in La Bécasse. However, the leasehold was reportedly purchased for around £250k and rumour has it that a further £100k has been spent refitting the kitchen, expanding and refurbishing the dining room and developing the building’s previously unused first floor.
“If you’d had asked me a year ago if I’d do another fine dining restaurant I would have said ‘you’re off your head’ because the costs are so high and its so labour intensive,” admits Murchison. “But there’s something about the feel of the place. When I walked into the restaurant I saw it had so much potential. I more or less put an offer in that minute.” This is not the first time that Murchison has had to fill “big shoes” as he puts it.
“We’ve been through that with L’ortolan and John Burton Race. Then I was just some punk who had come up from Le Manoir, whereas now I can bring the reputation that I put down at L’ortolan up here.” The famously fiery chef depicts himself as “unemployable.” In 2003, he walked out of L’ortolan due to differences with its then owner and was subsequently sacked from his following job at Chewton Glen under circumstances that he refuses to talk about. He claims never to make decisions based on money and conjures up fake kitchen dramas to get himself out of financial meetings. Yet he’s a canny, if somewhat maverick businessman.
“The first year we ran L’ortolan as our own company we lost £110k in 11 months. So I decided to get two more chefs, spend £10k on new dress plates, new uniforms, a new cheese trolley and employed a sommelier. By increasing our costs we enhanced the guest experience and in the second year we turned the loss into a very small profit.” Despite his open distain for anything vaguely resembling a spreadsheet, Murchison is unlikely to repeat the same mistakes in Ludlow. “Bécasse is going to be far more profitable that L’ortolan.
It has half the staff costs, 15 per cent of the rent and rates and only 20 per cent less covers.” Murchison’s career spans 21 years with 15 of those in the unforgiving surroundings of Michelin starred kitchens, yet his passion for cooking is undiminished. “I’m sleeping on Will’s sofa at the moment, but it doesn’t matter. If you’re a chef then what you want to do is cook. So many people have all these systems and processes and spec sheets. What they actually need is a purpose to what they’re doing.”
On the Menu? Foie Gras Terrine, Smoked Duck And Pain D’epices “Sandwich”, Rhubarb Chutney; Roasted Chump, Confit Shoulder And Sweetbread Of New Seasons Lamb, Provençal Vegetables, Rosemary Jus; Pan Fried Sea Bass And Scallops, Fennel Purée, Poivrade Artichokes, Red Wine Sauce, Finished With Liquorice; Warm Bitter Chocolate Tart, Roast Peach With Lavender, Peach Sorbet; Pistachio Soufflé, Apricot Sorbet.
Size? 52 covers Where? 17 Corve Street, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 1DA 01584 872325 labecasse.co.uk