Jeremy Clarkson’s restaurant on his farm in Oxfordshire is being investigated by the local council following his claims that he availed of a “cunning little loophole” that allowed him to open an eatery despite the council’s opposition.
The Sunday Times columnist Clarkson, who also presents Amazon Prime shows Clarkson’s Farm and The Grand Tour, opened Diddly Squat Restaurant outside Chadlington, near Chipping Norton, in July. Planning permission had initially been rejected by the council on the grounds that officials believed it would spoil the protected rural landscape.
Although the restaurant has thus far received rave reviews (except in The Daily Mail, which routinely disparages Clarkson), it appears that the writer-restaurateur may still have some regulatory hurdles to jump, with West Oxfordshire District Council announcing it was launching an investigation.
“The council was made aware of the restaurant opening at Diddly Squat Farm,” a spokesman said.
“As part of our standard operating procedure, we have been looking into the operation to ensure it is compliant with local and national planning law and policies, as well as licensing and food hygiene regulations.”
The spokesman declined to add anything further, telling The Times: “We cannot comment on any ongoing investigations.”
In January, Clarkson and other local farmers expressed disappointment at West Oxfordshire District Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for a restaurant.
“There’s a huge drive to allow farms to diversify, to attract more money and break down the gap between farm and plate,” said one local bakery owner. “Jeremy is employing people, bringing in money. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea but what the council is doing seems absurd.”
Other locals, however, objected to Clarkson’s expansion plans and the increased popularity and traffic levels that the hit Amazon show, Clarkson’s Farm, has brought to the formerly quiet rural area.
“There are clearly more Clarkson fans around the place,” Nigel Ridpath, a local resident told The Guardian. “You can tell by the sort of vehicles they’re driving, Subarus with gold wheels, there’s absolutely more of that.”
The farm’s name, Diddly Squat, is derived from his realisation it was financially barren, with what one expert described to him as “the shittiest land he’d ever seen”.
In its first year as a working farm under Clarkson’s aegis, it made just £140. However, the farm shop end of the business proved relatively lucrative, and the plans for the restaurant were designed to help boost earnings.
Clarkson’s discovery of a “delightful little loophole” last month meant that the team on Diddly Squat Farm were able to push ahead with a restaurant opening, though with a few caveats.
Guests are taken to the restaurant from elsewhere on the farm in a trailer towed by a tractor. Apart from one tiny section, dining is entirely outdoors, with the toilets (in this case, four portaloos) located some 250m from the dining area.
“Before making your booking, you should know that it’s small, outdoors and very rustic,” the blurb for the restaurant on the OpenTable app through which all guests must book a table reads.
“Ordering a beer or going to the lavatory isn’t as easy as in your local pub and we don’t cater to the faddy.
“We’ve done our best to keep you warm and dry, but this is England. On the upside, the view is enormous and almost everything you eat was grown or reared on our farm, so it’s fresh with minimal food miles.
“There is no menu as such — we simply serve what’s available that day. But worry not, your table will be given a selection of snacks and starters followed by a roast and a pudding. Our bread, made with Hawkstone lager, is absolutely brilliant.”
Apart from the dessert, customers have a choice of beef and little else, and a three-course meal at Diddly Squat costs £49 per head, with guests having to agree to be filmed as part of the Clarkson’s Farm TV series.
Still, even with its idiosyncrasies, the restaurant has satisfied Clarkson and most of its clientelle.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders and it appeals to my anti-establishment bent,” the presenter said.
When The Times’ Countryside Correspondent, Will Humphries, visited, he described the food as “predictably fantastic”, with “Clarkson’s shorthorn cattle being used in myriad mouth-watering ways.” Almost all the ingredients come from either the farm itself or nearby growers.
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