Michael Wignall's restaurant at the five-AA-red star, deluxe hotel Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon, has been promoted to five AA rosettes.
It is the first time five AA rosettes have been awarded in January, when the AA makes its mid-year presentations, in the guidebook's 61-year history. The first five rosette award was introduced in 1991.
Meanwhile, three restaurants have been promoted to four AA rosettes - Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, Balloch, Galton Blackiston's four AA-red-star Morston Hall in Blakeney, Norfolk, and Lee Westcott's Typing Room in London - and 12 restaurants throughout the UK have been awarded three rosettes.
Alistair Sandall, commercial manager at AA Hotel Services, said: "While the awarding of new five rosettes is usually included in our main Hospitality Awards in September, we all felt that we could not delay this award until then. Michael Wignall has transferred his exquisite skills and style to Gidleigh Park and has made this undoubtedly worthy of this accolade."
The guidebook goes on to describe Wignall as being "well known for having a great respect for food and an ever evolving style which creates unique dishes full of flavour, underpinned by a contemporary, less formal approach to fine cuisine".
Speaking exclusively to The Caterer, Wignall said that having only moved to the hotel last January, he was delighted to have been recognised so quickly by the guide.
"It's a big relief, but everyone has worked so hard. My staff have been amazing. I brought the majority of my team with me so the transition was the easy part, and we had been working on dishes prior to our arrival, but, nevertheless, it's always difficult when you go somewhere new. To have received the accolades that we have in the first year is incredible and now we can look forward to 2017 and carry on building and improving things."
In comparison to the signature style of cuisine served by his predecessor, Michael Caines, who also held five rosettes at Gidleigh Park, Wignall said: "I'm forever evolving my dishes. I get bored quite easily and so I like to experiment with my food, but not to the detriment of the dish. These days, customers and staff alike like lighter dishes but the flavours are all there - everything is put on a plate for a reason and every ingredient should be allowed to shine through."
Having moved from his eponymous restaurant at the Latymer at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey, where he was awarded five AA rosettes in 2011, Wignall said that he was enjoying his new life in Devon, surrounded by an abundance of local produce. "It's a stunning area - the fish is amazing, the eggs are from down the road (you can see the chickens in the field), and the garden here is absolutely amazing."
However, to complement the indigenous produce, Wignall said he has been working with Gidleigh Park's gardeners over the winter period to plant seeds for ingredients not necessarily associated with the area, such as yuzu. "We have been working with the team compiling new seeds and plants - this year we're starting afresh."
The 12 restaurants that have been awarded three AA rosettes include rising star Anglo in Farringdon, run by chef-patron Mark Jarvis, the Elderflower restaurant in Lymington, MARC restaurant group's Square in London, which is now headed up by Yu Sugimoto, following Phil Howard's departure last year, and Tuddenham Mill in Newmarket, where 2016 Acorn Award winner Lee Bye, who also won the Acorn Scholarship in November, leads the kitchen.
Bye told The Caterer: "To win back our three AA Rosettes is like going full circle for me as we last had them when Paul Foster was here in 2014. Tuesday was my three-year anniversary so it's perfect timing and good to have them back. As a cook, it's a milestone and recognition that you have got your cooking at the right level."
New five AA rosettes:
Michael Wignall, Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon
New four AA rosettes:
Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, Balloch
Morston Hall, Blakeney, Norfolk
Typing Room, London E2
New three AA rosettes:
AG's Restaurant at Alexander House Hotel, Turners Hill, Crawley
Anglo, London EC1
Boringdon Hall Hotel (Gallery Restaurant), Plymouth
Bovey Castle, Moretonhampstead
Céleste at The Lanesborough, London SW1
Crossbasket Castle, Blantyre
Inver Restaurant, Strachur
The Elderflower Restaurant, Lymington
The Mount Somerset Hotel and Spa, Taunton
The Olive Room, Ilfracombe
The Square, London W1
Tuddenham Mill, Newmarket
* Restaurants awarded three AA Rosettes are all outstanding restaurants that achieve standards that demand national recognition well beyond their local area, while those achieving four AA Rosettes are among the top restaurants in the country. To achieve five AA Rosettes, the restaurants are the pinnacle of the nation's restaurants where the cooking compares with the best in the world and exhibit breath taking culinary skills and set the standards to which other aspire to and yet few achieve.