Last Friday saw the rather unexpected release of the results of the 2010 Michelin Guide for Great Britain & Ireland, which were unveiled five days ahead of schedule after online retailer Amazon accidentally shipped copies of the guide ahead of its publication date. It was the second year in a row that Michelin was forced to release the results early after last year's debacle during which the results were leaked on the internet.
According to Derek Bulmer, editor of Michelin's Great Britain & Ireland and London guides, it was the wholesaler supplying Amazon who was to blame. "Everyone who pre-ordered a copy of the guide received it early, which coincidentally was a few people in Scotland," he told Caterer. "After we found out we had no choice but to immediately publish the full results as this sort of information spreads like wildfire."
Release problems aside, the overall results were extremely positive, with the big news being French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse's eponymous restaurant at London's Dorchester hotel being awarded Michelin's top accolade of three stars. It is the first time since 2004 that Michelin has handed three new stars to a UK establishment and brings the total of restaurants holding three stars to four, including Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant on London's Royal Hospital Road; Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and Alain Roux's Waterside Inn (which celebrates 25 years of holding three stars), both in Bray, Buckinghamshire.
Alain Ducasse said that after the restaurant debuted with two stars and was named a rising three star last year, the team worked hard to convert the accolade. "To receive such prestigious recognition from Michelin is a great honour," Ducasse said. "The team here has worked very hard to maintain the level of service and cuisine, and I am very proud of our achievements."
Meanwhile, the Ledbury in London is the only restaurant in this year's Michelin guide to have been raised to two-star-status, while 18 establishments celebrated their first star. This brings the total of Michelin-starred restaurants in Great Britain and Ireland to 140, the highest number in the guide's 36-year history.
"We now have more stars than ever before, which really confirms the trend of the last 10 to 15 years that standards at British restaurants have just gone up and up," enthused Bulmer. "There are also more British restaurants being recognised - most of the new openings over the last 12 months were British - and we've awarded the first star to a pub in London."
The pub in question is the Harwood Arms in Fulham, which won last year's Catey Menu of the Year. The result sees Ledbury and Harwood Arms chef Brett Graham as the big winner in this year's Michelin guide, being awarded a total of three new stars at his two restaurants.
"It was such a huge surprise," Graham told Caterer. "Even though the Ledbury had been named as a rising two star restaurant, I honestly never thought that we'd ever achieve this."
Graham added that winning a star at the Harwood Arms was as much of a surprise. "All we set out to achieve at the Harwood Arms was to open a pub offering good food at reasonable prices without the added extras of the Ledbury," he said. "Stephen Williams, the head chef, worked with me at Ledbury and is clearly a fantastic chef, but we really didn't expect this at all."
While at first glance the results seem overwhelmingly positive, according to some critics they still give credence to the suspicion that Michelin is biased towards French cuisine and celebrity chefs.
Restaurant guide Harden's co-editor Richard Harden commented: "Once again, Michelin reveals its desperate love affair with celebrity, and particularly with heaping further stars on chefs who are already famous - for having lots of Michelin stars!"
But Bulmer defended the inclusion of the big hitters. "These are multi-starred chefs in their own country and we cannot ignore them," he said. "Because we have the benefit of knowing their restaurants across the world, we are able to assess them quite quickly. That said, if you look at the list of this year's stars, apart from Ducasse, it's hardly dominated by celebrities."
Indeed among the restaurants celebrating their first Michelin star are small independents such as Sienna, a 15-cover restaurant in Dorchester, Dorset, run by husband and wife team Russell and Eléna Brown, as well as family-run Tyddyn Llan in Llandrillo, Wales.
And the list of lost stars is headed by the most high profile chef of all, Gordon Ramsay, whose eponymous restaurant at Claridge's in London lost its star after eight years. Ramsay said he was "very disappointed" but added that his company plans to work "harder than ever to try to earn it back" next year.
Other demotions include the Capital in London and the Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire, which have both been demoted from their two-Michelin-star status following the departure of their respective chefs Eric Chavot and John Campbell.
With more stars than ever before, the 2010 Michelin Guide for Great Britain & Ireland celebrates a continued increase of standards at restaurants across the board. While it's still French cooking that dominates the top ranks, a rise in British restaurants being awarded their first star hopefully sets the mark for the future.
Michelin star history 1974 - 2010 >>
By Kerstin KÁ¼hn
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