Hibiscus, Tom Aikens and the Waterside Inn were singled out for praise this week as veteran restaurant critic Egon Ronay made a return to publishing guidebooks.
Eight years after it last appeared, Ronay's Top 200 Restaurants guide came out today (24 February), for the first time in association with the RAC.
The guide is sure to court controversy, because it hasn't echoed the recent acclaim for Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck at Bray, Berkshire, which it granted only one star. Ronay branded Blumenthal's cooking "laboratory style" and filled with "gastronomic eccentricity".
His headline award went to Claude Bosi's Hibiscus in Ludlow, Shropshire, which was named Restaurant of the Year and awarded three stars.
Tom Aiken's eponymous London eaterie also got three stars after maintaining one star from Michelin last month. Jean-Christophe Novelli also fared better with Ronay, who gave him two stars compared with no stars in Michelin's Red Book.
Ronay said his guide aimed to bring food back to the centre of interest which he claimed had been "lately overshadowed by decor and entertainment value".
Scotland was the biggest regional hit, which Ronay put down to "Celtic imagination". Both Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and Martin Wishart in Edinburgh were awarded two stars.
Ronay criticised the trade on several issues, including service charges, which he branded totally "shambolic".
"The system confuses and misleads the public, giving the impression that the service charge is distributed among staff, when in reality at least some of it often contributes to the wages and the profit of the restaurant," he said.
"We need a law that makes that position clear for the customers."
Understaffed reservation systems and staff with imperfect English and bad manners also came under fire, as did the pairing of fish with meat - particularly the "absurd juxtaposition of scallops with black pudding".
The guide praised British sommeliers as the world's best, however.
- Hibiscus, Ludlow, Shropshire - Restaurant of the Year 2005
- Tom Aikens, London
- The Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 24 February 2005