Michelin stars are as important as ever

by Mark Lewis, Friday 22nd January 2010 14:39

Another year's Michelin results for Great Britain and Ireland have been released - prematurely, as seems now to be traditional - and what have we learned?

First, the awarding of a record number of stars since the guide launched here 36 years ago demonstrates that our restaurant scene has never been healthier - despite having been in the grip of a deep recession. The guide's editor, Derek Bulmer, rightly told Caterer this week that this year's stellar panoply "confirms the trend of the last 10 to 15 years that standards at British restaurants have just gone up and up".

Despite grumblings in some quarters of a perceived preference among inspectors for classical French cuisine, there's clear proof of a steady rise in the quality of British food cooked by independent British restaurateurs, with a number of regional British businesses being rewarded.

Second, the awarding of a star to London's Harwood Arms (the capital's first pub to win this accolade) further discredits the claim that Michelin is stuck in a time warp of starched shirts, dicky bows and white tablecloths.

Finally, some may carp that Michelin is too quick to fête celebrity chefs with global brands. But is this a fair criticism? Alain Ducasse's restaurants have won so many stars across the world because the man sets high standards and puts systems in place to ensure his brigades never fail to hit them. Given this fact, it's no surprise that his restaurant at the Dorchester hotel was last week the recipient of a third star. The learning here, clearly, is that quality will out.

In an age of online peer reviewing of restaurants, does Michelin still have an importance? Judging by the frenzied phoning, e-mailing, posting and tweeting among chefs and operators that the results have generated, and the speed with which winners have looked to capitalise on their stars' marketing potential, the answer must be "yes".

Mark Lewis, Editor, Caterer & Hotelkeeper


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