Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Le Gavroche and the Waterside Inn in Bray have all resigned from Relais & Châteaux.
The departure of three of the highest-profile restaurants on Relais & Châteaux's UK roster, holding a total of seven Michelin stars between them, at roughly the same time is a blow to the hotel consortium, which last year announced a series of changes to the way in which it was run.
In its 60th anniversary year (2014), the consortium said it wanted to be more sustainable and inclusive, and acknowledge that the future was not just about French gastronomy.
One of the moves that it announced as part of this package of measures was to drop the Grand Chef classification, which in the past has been bestowed on some member restaurants which hold at least two Michelin stars. At that time, there were eight Grand Chefs in the UK: Alain Roux, Andrew Fairlie, Claude Bosi, Martin Burge, Michael Caines, Michel Roux Jr, Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones. Instead, members were given the chance to be a Member Hotelier of Relais & Châteaux, or a Member Restaurateur of Table Relais & Châteaux.
For Andrew Fairlie, it was this decision, and the way in which it was communicated by the "Paris-centric" organisation, that led to his decision to resign.
"When I joined Relais it was in the capacity of an independent restaurant, so the Grand Chef label was what I joined. However, there was no communication with myself or any other Grand Chef when they changed the wording," he said.
"I can see from a hotel's perspective that the label might attract custom but for me as an independent restaurant, Table Relais & Châteaux means absolutely nothing at all.
"It's a real shame," he added. "It wasn't even really a financial incentive for me to join. As an independent restaurant in Perthshire they weren't going to give me tons of business. It was the profile of being within an organisation with the likes of Michel Guérard, Thomas Keller, and the Waterside Inn that was the perfect fit."
Meanwhile Michel Roux Jr, chef-patron of Le Gavroche in London, which also holds two Michelin stars, confirmed that he too has resigned from Relais & Châteaux, although he declined to reveal the reasoning behind his decision.
Michel Roux Sr at the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn, who was once vice president of Relais & Châteaux in the UK, was not available to comment.
In response to the resignations, a Relais & Châteaux spokesperson said:
"Relais & Châteaux was set up over 60 years ago to bring together like-minded individual hoteliers and restaurateurs. Over time more and more of the finest hotels and restaurants have met the high standards set by the association and joined the R&C family.
"Inevitably some establishments leave and in these cases, the association does not comment. Presently R&C has an unprecedented number of new establishments being considered and applying to join this prestigious group of over 540 international members."
The decision to drop the printed annual Relais & Châteaux guide, at the same time as the Grand Chefs classification was shelved, has also caused widespread concern among members. It has been replaced with a smaller Taste of the World guide, which will only be published every second year and contains three hotels per page.