These are the restaurants that were voted top of their category in this year's Lunch with the FT promotion [first dreamt up years ago by my talented husband and subsequently copied by practically every other broadsheet - JR]
- Hambleton Hall, Rutland (tel 01572 725056)
- The River Cafe, London W6 (tel 020 7386 4200)
- Read's Restaurant, Faversham, Kent (tel 01795 535344)
- The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow, Cornwall (tel 01841 532700)
- Markwick's, Bristol (tel 0117 9262658)
- The Horn of Plenty, Gulworthy, Devon (tel 01822 832528)
- The Carved Angel, Dartmouth, Devon (tel 01803 832465)
- The King's Head, Ivinghoe, Bucks (tel 01296 668388)
- Summer Lodge Hotel, Evershot, Dorset (tel 01935 83228)
- Sir Charles Napier, Nr Chinnor, Oxon (tel 01494 483011)
- Halliday's Restaurant, Chichester, Sussex (tel 01243 575331)
- Bryn Howel Hotel, Denbighshire, Wales (tel 01978 860331)
- Perkins Restaurant and Bar, Plumtree, Notts (tel 01159 373695)
- Hart's Restaurant, Nottingham (tel 01159 110666)
- The Punch Bowl Inn, Crosthwaite, Cumbria (tel 01539 568237)
Lunch with the FT 2002 managed to create some genuine surprises despite the fact that this was its ninth year.
The most obvious was that we managed to go international for the very first time linking up with restaurateurs across New York City and enabling them to extend their promotion for a second, successful week.
Such is the demand for this now six-monthly event in NYC that it will be repeated in June when over 160 restaurants will be offering a three-course lunch for US$20.02 (exclusive of sales tax, drinks and service) from 24-28 June. Full details are available on www.nycvisit.com and reservations can be made - and bookings are strongly advised - from 24 May.
The second but less obvious innovation was the number of interesting reader responses to our competition for poems, drawings or reports on the meals they had enjoyed. As a result six lucky readers were sent bottles of Moët et Chandon Brut Rosé champagne as their prize.
The most exciting, a 15-stanza poem with three full-length drawings, came from Renuka Fernandez, a 20-year-old final year maths student at Imperial College, London. Her poem highlighted the receptionist's slightly displeased look at the arrival of two students ('...handling her coat as if it harbours fleas') and the mini-marital row that is taking place on the next table before going on to describe how good the food and service were.
This and other letters from readers brought home once again one of the seemingly unchanging effects of this promotion, that it entices out to eat those who would not regularly do so. After the initial Lunch for a Fiver back in 1993 I received a letter from an 18-year-old who said that the promotion had enabled him to take his girlfriend to a proper restaurant, the once highly renowned Les Saveurs in Mayfair, for the very first time. Now that restaurants are part of the British way of life this is unlikely to happen quite as often but its appeal is equally as strong today for the growing number who have chosen to become self-employed or to take early retirement and can therefore take full advantage of the great value this promotion offers.
This phenomenon was confirmed by Joe Levin, proprietor of Mayfair's The Greenhouse, when he told me that 'One of the attractions of taking part in Lunch with the FT is that it offers a great opportunity to talk to the customers who normally do not have a meeting to rush off to. Invariably, they want to tell us where they have been, what has been particularly good or bad and in some detail of exactly what they thought of lunch with us. And so it proves an excellent learning opportunity for us too.'
This enthusiasm is reflected in the 9332 questionnaires the FT received back from diners for processing, making this once again the biggest national survey of restaurants, data which forms the basis of our annual cash prizes to the winning restaurants.
I am delighted to report that first place in the £15 category has been won again by Tim Hart, chef Aaron Pattersson and the impressive team at Hambleton Hall in Rutland. I had an excellent meal there at the beginning of this year and the hotel has obviously maintained this high standard not only in pleasing so many FT readers but also in beating off such distinguished competition as London's River Café and Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant.
In the £10 category it is proving increasingly difficult for any restaurateur to break the stranglehold which Paul and Annie Roston have managed to establish. Their two restaurants, The Horn of Plenty and The Carved Angel, continue to dominate what is the biggest category of participating restaurants and returned questionnaires and even saw off the artistic rivalry of Summer Lodge, whose management once again re-decorated their restaurant with copies of the FT.
The £8 category did produce a new winner in Halliday's restaurant, just outside Chichester, Sussex, although they did come second last year. However, they must have put on some terrific menus to beat Bryn Howel Hotel who have won this category several times and Perkins Restaurant, who won the £6 category several years ago.
Finally, to lunchers' most generous donations to Save the Children once again which this year total £12,333 to date, but with only one-third of the restaurants accounted for. It takes the grand total since we initiated this association to just under £450,000. Very many thanks from us all.