There were no new three-star awards in the 2008 Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland, the fourth consecutive year without the top accolade. Also, there were no new two stars awarded. But with 15 restaurants celebrating their first star, is there still cause for optimism? Kerstin Kühn reports
At midday last Wednesday, the waiting ended for restaurateurs wondering whether they had been recognised with a new star in this year's Michelin guide.
While the guide didn't promote any establishments to the coveted two- or three-starred status, it did give 15 restaurants their first Michelin star. But with another 15 losing a star, it meant there are still 122 starred establishments in Great Britain and Ireland.
While this state of affairs is being described by some as underwhelming, food writer Joe Warwick believes there is reason to celebrate.
"The only reason people say the results are disappointing is because Michelin is such a great source of gossip and everyone hypes the results up so much," he said. "It's a little disappointing that we're not making the progress on the two- and three-star level, but 15 new stars do constitute a good crop of awards."
Derek Bulmer, editor of Michelin's Great Britain & Ireland and London guides, insisted that there was no need to read anything into the absence of movement at the two- and three-star levels.
"We've had a few consecutive years of two stars being awarded, so there's an expectation," he said. "But the Michelin guide isn't there to push places and grab headlines - we have to be absolutely sure a restaurant deserves the two- or three-star status."
Gary Rhodes, who added another star to his store - at new restaurant Rhodes W1 at the Cumberland hotel in London - said that a year with no new two- or three- starred establishments might not be such a bad thing. "It just goes to show that it's not so easy to gain two or three stars, and I like the fact that it's harder," he said.
"I was just hoping to retain the star at Rhodes Twenty Four and didn't expect to gain a star for Rhodes W1, so I'm absolutely delighted. While this is my sixth star in 20 years, I feel that every star is a new accomplishment, and I'm proud to have achieved such a high level of consistency."
However, there was genuine disappointment when Claude and Claire Bosi's restaurant Hibiscus did not retain its two-star status following its relocation from Ludlow to London. Instead, the restaurant, a Caterer Adopted Business, has been awarded one star and is tipped as a rising two-star.
Bosi was philosophical about the result. "If I'm honest, I didn't expect to get two stars," he said. "When Bulmer phoned to tell me that we were going in at one star rising, I understood why. We just opened too late - and I think it was the right decision."
Bulmer confirmed that Hibiscus had "teething problems" in its first few weeks of trading and wasn't up to two-star standard when the guide went to press. "But it's very likely that it will be in the future," he added.
Bulmer was equally positive about the long-term prospects of British restaurants, pointing to the number of rising two-starred restaurants, which this year increased to three. These include Tom Aikens and Hibiscus in London, and Nathan Outlaw in Fowey, Cornwall, a newly starred restaurant in which Michelin sees great potential.
"Nathan Outlaw is quite well known to us, as he held stars both at the Black Pig and at St Ervan Manor," Bulmer said. "Now he just needs to stay put for long enough for us to get a whole year of looking at him in one place for him to gain his second star."
Another Michelin success story is restaurant duo Anthony Demetre and Will Smith. The pair, who launched the Michelin-starred Arbutus restaurant in 2006, have claimed another star for sister operation Wild Honey, which opened in July. Demetre told Caterer that he and Smith were "thrilled for the team", adding: "Our pricing policy is very good and it's great to see the impact it has had on the business. We're delighted that Michelin has recognised the importance of competitive pricing."
What diners want
Bulmer also highlighted this trend, suggesting that it shows that the industry is responding to what diners really want.
"People want to eat out more frequently, more informally and more cheaply, but still expect restaurants to maintain high standards," he said. "Restaurants are responding to this, which is reflected in us awarding 33 Bibs Gourmands this year - bringing the total to 133, many more than ever before."
Greater use of locally grown produce and seasonality is another trend evident in this year's guide, with Bulmer pointing to diners' demands for more information about food provenance and sustainability.
He said: "People are going to start worrying about stocks running out, and sustainability will become more and more important, particularly with regard to fish stocks."
Looking at Michelin's future, Bulmer said the guide's recent expansion into North America and Asia would continue. "City guides will be the way forward for us," he said. "They're very popular with readers who like the format, and they're easier and quicker to turn around than country guides. Michelin wants to become the international benchmark by which restaurants are rated and, while we have a long way to go to get there, we are making headway."
Video interview with the stars
For more Michelin content go to www.caterersearch.com/michelin
New one star restaurants:
- Ballachulish House, Ballachulish, Highland
- Champany Inn, Linlithglow, West Lothian
- The Goose, Britwell Salome, Oxon
- West Stoke House, Chichester/West Stoke, West Sussex
- Apicius, Cranbrook, Kent
- Nathan Outlaw, Fowey, Cornwall
- Tean, Scilly Isle/St Martin's, Cornwall
- The Sportsman, Whitstable/Seasalter, Kent
- La Trompette, Chiswick
- Rhodes W1 (Restaurant), Marylebone
- Quilon, Victoria
- Hibiscus, Mayfair
- Wild Honey, Mayfair
Republic of Ireland
- Mint, Ranelagh, Dublin
- Bon Appétit, Malahide, Dublin
Rising One Stars
- The Wheatsheaf, Bath/Combe Hay, Bath & North East Somerset
- Combe House, Honiton/Gittisham, Devon
- The Nut Tree, Murcott, Oxon
- Auberge du Lac, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
Rising Two Stars
- Hibiscus, Mayfair, London
- Tom Aikens, Chelsea, London
- Nathan Outlaw, Fowey, Cornwall
- Jessica's Birmingham, West Midlands
- The Devonshire Arms Country House, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire
- The Hare, Hungerford, Berkshire
- Ripley's, Padstow, Cornwall
- The Greyhound, Stockbridge, Hampshire
- Waldo's (at Cliveden), Taplow, Berkshire
- The Castle, Taunton, Somerset
- The Trouble House, Tetbury, Gloucestershire
- The George, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight
- Gilpin Lodge, Windermere, Cumbria
- Winteringham Fields, Winteringham, Humberside
- Hibiscus, Ludlow, Shropshire
- Angela Hartnett at Connaught, Mayfair
- Orrery, Marylebone
- The Savoy Grill, Strand