Despite the excitement in the industry, the unveiling of the Michelin guide was an anticlimax. A disappointed Gaby Huddart asks why some worthy restaurants weren't recognised
There's always a near-palpable sense of excitement across the industry in the build up to the annual launch of the Michelin guide and this year was no exception. In the last few days ahead of the publication being released, rumours were as rife as to which establishments were in line to win Michelin stars, with a "healthy smattering of new stars" being confidently predicted by some leading restaurant PRs.
With that in mind, the ultimate unveiling of the guide and announcement of awards contained therein has come as a considerable anti-climax.
Granted, the news that Marcus Wareing's Pétrus and John Campbell's Vineyard have both been upgraded from one-star to two-star status is excellent. Both chefs are of the highest calibre, are totally dedicated to their craft and their restaurants offer a top-class experience - elegant, innovative, refined and precise cooking. Indeed, many pundits - myself included - have felt that Wareing was deserving of his two stars long ago and that Campbell, too, has been on the cusp of two stars for a couple of years.
Equally, there's no question that there are some very worthy winners of one Michelin star. The wonderful cooking at Arbutus, for instance, has put Soho firmly back on the culinary map.
That said, it's impossible not to feel disappointed that there aren't more one, two and three star awards in the guide. Where is a third star for David Everitt-Matthias's extraordinary food at Cheltenham's Le Champignon Sauvage?
And what about Le Gavroche and The Square - the consistent excellence and on-going development of the food at these restaurants should surely put them in the rising three-star category, while Whatley Manor stands out as being worthy of joining Foliage as a rising two-star restaurant.
Equally, a string of restaurants roll off the tongue as being worthy of a star. It's staggering that the modern French food now being served at The Ritz has been overlooked, for example, while year-in, year-out Chutney Mary continues to offer outstanding, refined Indian food. Where is its richly deserved star? Equally where is stellar recognition for Rainer Becker's cutting-edge, modern Japanese Zuma?
Comparing London's Michelin star tally with Paris is a particularly depressing exercise: our capital boasts just one three-star restaurant versus nine at this level in the French capital; at two-star level, it's five compared with 16 and, while London now boasts 37 one-star restaurants, in Paris there are currently 59 at this level.
"It's wrong to only look at the Michelin-starred restaurants in the guide," asserts director of the Michelin guides, Jean-Luc Naret. "They represent only 5% of the places we cover and every establishment included has been selected for its quality."
Meanwhile, editor of the Great Britain & Ireland guide, Derek Bulmer claims to be thoroughly bullish about our restaurant scene. "This country has a huge amount to offer. Nowhere except New York comes close to London in terms of the diversity of restaurants we have here. And we have more stars in differing categories than anywhere else in the world, with Michelin-starred pubs, Indian, Japanese and Thai restaurant alongside those serving French and British food."
Of course, the recognition of our restaurant scene's diversity is welcome, but it would be good to see a bit less conservatism and a bit more largesse when it comes to Michelin's awards. Are our restaurants really so out-classed by those the other side of the Channel? I don't think so.
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