Galton Blackiston - Norfolk’s Michelin starred maestro
Galton Blackiston has been chef patron at the Michelin-starred Morston Hall on the north Norfolk coast for 25 years. In 1999 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, an accolade it has impressively retained ever since.
With the North Sea on his doorstep, seafood has always been an influential part of Galton’s gastronomic story. The opening of No1 Cromer, 15 miles from Morston Hall along this beautiful coastline, gave Galton the opportunity to offer his modern take on the traditional fish and chip restaurant and further establish himself as one of the UK’s leading seafood chefs.
Inside Food & Drink’s Daniel Barnes made the trip through winding country lanes and picture postcard villages to Morston Hall, where he was greeted by Galton and his wife, Tracy.
Galton, Comparing the Moston Hall you bought with Tracy back in 1992 to what we see today, how has it evolved and is it fair to say that you’ve achieved your dreams?
We’ve achieved above and beyond. Back in 1992, the hotel was quite run down unused really. The place has now changed beyond all recognition.
We have added on three conservatories, six bedrooms down at the bottom of the garden and have continuous plans to up the standard. It’s a continuation of 26 years of work; we don’t stop and rest on our laurels. We are always wanting to add an extra little thing.
For instance, we have a great plan coming up, hopefully in the next year, to build a demonstration - cum - product development kitchen that also acts as a private dining room. That’s the beauty of Morston Hall; normally a business will hit an optimum amount or plateau, but here we always have the space to do a little bit extra, and that’s what our latest plan is.
So looking back to when Tracy and I first started out, all we set out to do was run our own business. We were both under 30 at the time and wanted to run a business ourselves to try to make sure that we made a little bit to cover bills. What it has grown into, and what has sprung from Morston, has been extraordinary really.
What do your diners expect from a restaurant of Morston Hall’s calibre? Has this changed at all over the past three decades?
The interest in cooking and in food in general has just become huge. It is so popular now, and people’s knowledge of food has become much better.
What I would have served 26 years ago, I probably wouldn’t touch now. That’s not because it wasn’t good cooking in its time; it’s just that different foods, fashions and trends arrive. You have to be aware of these definitely, and new ways of cooking. We are quite modern in our kitchen – we use modern techniques to achieve a great quality and consistency of cooking.
In terms of our menu, we began with a little four-course menu; now we usually serve seven or eight courses. We won’t have any more than that, or else it becomes a bit of a chore. I have been to some tastings with 16 or 17 courses, and actually, half way through you’re thinking ‘Oh no, not more!’
Are there any lessons the fine dining industry could pass down to chain restaurants to improve the overall dining experience?
I’m actually working with a couple of chains on the theory of coming in to improve the quality of their dishes by simplifying them.
It can be implemented. Take what we do at No 1 Cromer as an example. A massive influence on the menus is that we try and ensure no dish takes longer than eight minutes to get out. That’s what you have to do, because if it takes longer, people are queueing, and when that happens, they get grumpy!
There are definitely things that you can pass down to the less complicated restaurants and cafes. Where I came from originally, I had a cake stall on Rye Market at the age of 17. I’ve never had any formal training, so I think I know a bit about making things simpler.
On the flip side of the previous question, is there anything you have picked up from chain restaurants and implemented into your own restaurant?
Lots, actually! You can instantly take things from less complicated restaurants and try to implement them in your own. That is why I go to London at least once a month, and I make sure I go for lunch and dinner somewhere. It doesn’t have to be Michelin-starred or anything like that. In fact, some of the best are the Oriental and Indian restaurants. I’m not knowledgeable in either of those styles, but you can definitely pick something up from them.
What excites you most about the future prospects for Norfolk in terms of its gastronomy in general?
Since the time that we’ve been back in Norfolk, food in the pubs, gastro-pubs, the restaurants and hotels have come on massively. Norfolk has become a foody destination now, which I think is incredible. It’s only going to continue to rise, because firstly, we don’t have a motorway in Norfolk, so it’s a place you are going to have to seek out and find. People flock to North Norfolk because of its unique charm.
An extended version of Galton’s interview will be published in the first edition of Inside Food & Drink, out soon. Sign up now to your free online copy of the magazine.