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Has Michelin underrated the star quality of our cooking?

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Has Michelin underrated the star quality of our cooking?
Written by:

Fifteen restaurants in the British Isles were celebrating last week when they were awarded new Michelin stars. It means we now have more starred restaurants than ever before… but should we have done even better? Kerstin Kühn reports

At midnight last Tuesday, the waiting ended for restaurants anxious to find out whether they had been recognised in the new Michelin guide for Great Britain and Ireland.

While there were no new three-star awards and no new rising three-star restaurants, the guide promoted two restaurants to the coveted two-Michelin-star status, and awarded 13 eateries with one star.

This brings the number of Michelin-starred establishments in Great Britain and Ireland to 122, the highest-ever total. But while this breakthrough has been welcomed, there is a sense of disappointment about the relatively conservative results.

Gaby Huddart, editor of the Square Meal restaurant guide, said: “It’s impossible not to feel disappointed that there aren’t more one-, two- and three-star awards in the guide.”

No new three-star awards

Indeed, 2007 marks the third year running that there have been no additional three-star awards, raising the question of whether UK restaurants have reached their optimum level and will continue to operate at a lower starred rating than their European counterparts.

Derek Bulmer, editor of the Great Britain & Ireland and London guides, disagreed. “Any two-star restaurant is a potential three-star restaurant of the future,” he told Caterer. “Just because none of them was put in the rising three-star category this year, doesn’t mean none will gain a third star next year.”

However, London still lags a long way behind Paris, with the French capital boasting more than twice as many one-, two-and three-Michelin-starred establishments as London. But is the gap between the British food culture and that of France as big as it seems?

Bulmer argued that it is wrong to look only at the numbers of stars, pointing out that London’s range of restaurants is far wider than seen in Paris. “Paris has a lot of very good French restaurants, but London has a great diversity of restaurants,” he said. “And we have awarded stars right across the spectrum.”

Huddart counters that, despite Michelin’s praise of London’s diverse offering, there is room for many additional and well-deserved stars. “Of course, the recognition of our restaurant scene’s diversity is welcome, but it would be good to see a bit less conservatism when it comes to Michelin’s awards,” she said.

But Bulmer pointed out that the guide covered more than just starred establishments. “Starred restaurants make up just 5% of the guide and every establishment included has been selected for its quality,” he said.

Michelin selected 428 London restaurants and pubs for its new dedicated London guide, including 43 starred restaurants and 50 hotels. The city guide uses the format introduced on the New York City and San Francisco guides, which provides more detailed comments on each entry.

Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin guides, said the London edition was one of many more European and potentially Asian city guides to be launched in the future, and marked a new direction for Michelin.

“The selection process won’t change at all and each country will still have a guide as it does now,” he said. “But we will extract more and more from the main country guide, offering readers the different visions of what the Michelin selection is all about.

“We’re basically showing things to our clientele in a different format,” Naret added. “The aim is that somebody who has never read a Michelin guide before because it is too difficult to navigate can start to discover a new side to the guides and really get into the whole selection.”

New stars

NEW TWO-STAR RESTAURANTS

  • Pétrus, Belgravia, London
  • The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire

NEW ONE-STAR RESTAURANTS

London

  • La Noisette, Knightsbridge
  • Benares, Mayfair
  • Arbutus, Soho
  • L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Covent Garden

England

  • The Harrow, Malborough
  • The Abbey, Penzance
  • Seaham Hall, County Durham

Channel Islands

  • Christophe, Guernsey
  • Atlantic, Jersey

Scotland

  • Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae
  • The Kitchin, Edinburgh

Wales

  • The Crown at Whitebrook, Monmouth

Republic of Ireland

  • Chapter One, Dublin

Reaction

John Campbell, executive chef, Vineyard at Stockcross:
“It’s great. I know it’s a cliché but it’s a huge team effort.”

Anthony Demetre, co-owner, Arbutus:
“We’re absolutely over the moon. With the style of restaurant we’re operating, it proves it’s a myth that you need to have the finest napery to get a Michelin star.”

Christophe Vincent, chef-proprietor, Christophe:
“I’m very happy to have been awarded a Michelin star and it’s always a bonus to have your achievements recognised.”

Stephen Smith, head chef, Seaham Hall:
“The Michelin star is such a highly recognised achievement. I am really proud that our team is being rewarded with this. To be associated with the hotel is fantastic.”

James Sommerin, head chef the Crown at Whitebrook:
“This is a dream come true, and it means so much to us – individually and as a team.”

View a full 2007 listing and more here >>

By Kerstin Kühn

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