Food & Drink Monday, July 4th Words by: Mark Bowen, pictures by: Mark Bowen

Karl Martin: Putting the county on the culinary map

Food & Drink Monday, July 4th

Karl Martin: Putting the county on the culinary map

Fortunately, in the world of wonderful food, out of sight does not mean out of mind.

Not that it helps when inspectors from both Michelin and AA arrive at your restaurant on the same night. IMG 7567

But at least, says chef Karl Martin, they know Old Downton Lodge is on the map.

Old Downton Lodge is tucked away down a long country road in north Herefordshire, nestling nicely near the foodie haven that is Ludlow.

But if Downton-on-the-Rock may not be on every one’s lips, what’s served at its surprisingly situated restaurant should be.

There, Karl is stirring a simmering cuisine scene, with a hint of cross-border seasoning to spice things up.

That same night visit from Michelin and AA earlier this year put Old Downton Lodge on the map - and on its way.

“From what I hear from the Michelin inspector this is the first time in 22 years that this has happened,” said Karl, about the double booking.

Under the leadership of Karl, who has been at the venue just 18 months, the restaurant has been awarded with three rosettes from the AA and a place in the 2016 Michelin Guide.

“That is two big achievements in such a short space of time,” said Karl. “It’s a massive accolade for us.

“The rosettes puts us in the top 10% of restaurants in the country. We are the only three rosette restaurant in Herefordshire. IMG 7561

“We changed our listing so we have gone from a bed and breakfast to a restaurant with rooms and this has changed people’s view of us.

“We run two menus on alternative nights to keep people interested and keep things fresh – we don’t like to cook the same thing over again and we offer a five or seven course menu.”

The reputation of neighbouring Ludlow and the surrounding area is something that inspires Karl.

“We are on the crest of something special. As much as we are away from Ludlow, because we are in a different county, we are still part of it,” he said.

“I feel it is an exciting time for Ludlow again. I think there is something very special going to happen again soon.” 

The success of Karl’s food involves putting a modern twist on tradition.

“Being in the Midlands we cook what I would call traditional British food,” said Karl, who is 32.

“We are bringing things back that people may have had in their childhood such as Rose Veal and Wimberries (also known as Bilberries). 

“We are trying to get the purest of flavours out of ingredients.”

Karl says the design of each dish on the menu seeks to find a balance. IMG 7578

“If we cook a dish and it’s quite fatty, like belly pork, we try to put something acidic with it to cut through the fattiness,” said Karl.

“It’s about cutting through the senses. The mouth has five different senses and we try to play with them.”

Karl started his career at the age of 14 as a potwasher before training at Henley College in Coventry.

He then gained experience in many different restaurants scattered around the Midlands and for a time he worked in Suffolk.

It was after a 10 month spell at The Falcon in Hatton, near Warwick, that Karl arrived at Old Downton Lodge.

“Chefs normally work on a two year time span at any one place,” said Karl.

“In the kitchen you try to move about a bit because you get more knowledge and you develop your technique and mindset.”

Judging by the verdicts of those two all-important inspectors it looks like Karl’s culinary knowledge has well and truly developed.

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