Harden's Guide comes out, and generates some headlines

Tuesday, September 04th , 2007

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Hardens Guide generated some column inches this week, mainly because of some changes in their "top 10" listings, with Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Row slipping off its perch in two of the three lists. Hardens does not have independent inspectors and is a public vote, so to me the only list of the three that makes sense to have is the "popularity" list. This one is topped by Chez Bruce, with perpetually popular Ivy slipping down (figures in brackets are the previous year's ranks).

1. Chez Bruce (1).
2. The Wolseley (4).
3. J. Sheekey (3).
4. The Ivy (2).
5. Le Caprice (5).
6. La Trompette (6).
7. Moro (9).
8. Gordon Ramsay (7).
9. Galvin Bistrot de Luxe (-)
10. Andrew Edmunds (-).

It is nice to see La Trompette doing well here, showing that Nigel Platts Martin has a discerning eye for what people want for dinner: an appealing menu, consistently executed, a fairly priced wine list and capable service. Simple enough, yet so few manage it. I am very pleased for Bruce Poole, whose food I have enjoyed since the days of Chez Max, and who seems on my limited acquaintance to be a genuinely likeable person.

The issue I have with Hardens is the credibility of their "top gastronomic experience" list.

1 Gordon Ramsay (1)
2 Chez Bruce (2)
3 Le Gavroche (5)
4 Petrus (6)
5 Tom Aikens (5)
6 L`Atelier de Joel Robuchon (new opening)
7 Maze (7)
8 Gordon Ramsay at Claridge`s (4)
9 La Trompette (8)
10 Locanda Locatelli (first appearance in top 10

This is a different kettle of fish, because here we are not talking popularity, to which everyone has a tight to an opinion on, but cooking capability. With no independent inspectors it seems to me that Hardens has no more chance of getting this right than any other popularity-based list, and indeed there is some obvious nonsense here. Three of the two star Michelin restaurants in London do not even make it to the list, and much as I like Trompette surely no one (including Peter Harden) seriously thinks it does better food than the Square or Pied a Terre? Hardens is a very useful guide, especially since it has excellent comprehensive indexes (something other guides could learn from) and yet in this list it stretches its credibility too far in my view

If you turn to the back of Octane magazine (pictured) you will see a full page profile of a certain food writer. I am a little hazy as to why Octane chose to do a spread on me, a man who does not own a car, but I guess it is the same logic that meant a tyre company produces the most respected food guide. The article talks about my 3 star Michelin travels.

Also, the BBC2 series Back in Business aired last night to positive reviews. In this case a young trainee and a near-pensioner vied for a job at a hair salon. In two weeks time the theme continues with two people trying out for a job at 2 Michelin star restaurant Pied a Terre (pictured); as part of this I judge a meal cooked by both. Tune in, or set your video recorder/PVR/DVD whatever to 21:00 BBC2 Monday September 17th.