I reflect on the Michelin UK guide

Saturday, February 02nd , 2008

Pearl Liang is in a seriously awkward location, but once we had navigated through the spookily empty streets of the Paddington Central development past the bulldozers we found a warm and pleasant welcome. The food was consistently good throughout the meal, with a particularly good sea bass with black bean sauce the stand out dish for me. I suspect that they will not prosper as much as they deserve to due to the location.
Champor Champor has quirky decor, an eclectic mix of oriental ornaments crammed into its London Bridge premises. The menu covers the whole of Asia, and is best when it sticks to dishes from a particular country rather than when it tries to blend influences. My ostrich with Thai basil pesto rice was a perfect example of confusion over fusion. However the cooking technique was good and service very friendly, and so if you are ever around London Bridge and you fancy something different then this is worth a look.
Chez Bruce is without doubt the best restaurant in south London, and so it is always a pleasant experience to return there. As with Nigel Platt Martin’s other ventures (the Square, La Trompette, Ledbury, Glasshouse) the formula is exactly right: appealing menu, pleasant decor, capable service, consistent cooking. There is no sense that you are involved in a chemistry experiment, as often happens these days in trendy restaurants. The reward has been that these restaurants are always  packed, and each now has a Michelin star. Chez Bruce is packed in more senses than one, and there are plans in the summer to expand into the premises next door; this will be a big help to the kitchen as well as hopefully easing the sardine factor in the dining room. 
The Duke of Sussex is a revamped gastropub in Chiswick, next to successful bistro Vacherin. It is a pleasant addition to the Chiswick dining scene, with an appealing menu and fair prices (some main courses are just £9). I was particularly impressed with the excellent home-made bread, made twice a day. This is more than some top restaurants manage (e.g. Gordon Ramsay).

The Michelin UK guide arrived with a whimper rather than a bang this year, and that seems to me about right. After all, what was the last restaurant to open in London (and perhaps the UK) with real culinary ambition? There is nowhere that they could credibly have added at the three star or two star level, and indeed there are a few places that should be quite relieved that there were no demotions other than Hibiscus, which moved to London and dropped a star in the process.

In London we have new one stars in the form of La Trompette (overdue), Wild Honey (kind but expected), Rhodes W1 (kind, as even Gary Rhodes acknowledged), Hibiscus (moved) and Quilon (a surreal decision based on my admittedly not recent two visits). Outside London congratulations are in order for the Goose, West Stoke House, Apicius, Nathan Outlaw, Tean (in the Scilly Isles) and the Sportsman in Kent. Places that lost their one star are Jessica’s, the Devonshire Arms, Harry’s Place, The Hare, Angela Hartnett at the Connaught (closed, and with an Italian place to open in May 2009 in London), Orrery (a little harsh perhaps), Savoy Grill (closed for a major refurb), Ripleys, The Greyhound, Waldo’s (but watch out for next year), The Castle (overdue based on my last meal there), The Trouble House, Gilpin Lodge and The George.  Winteringham Fields lost its chef and its star with it, a shame as there was always something heroic about what at one time was a deserved two star restaurant in such a desolate location. In Wales, Ynshirall lost its star and in Scotland Ballachulish House regained its star and The Champnay Inn gained a star. Northern Ireland lost its sole starred restaurant, Deanes. There are, in total, 107 one star places, 12 two star places and 3 three star places in the UK. 

At the one star level there still seem to me some peculiarities. If I ignore my own views and take instead the ratings of the Good Food Guide, then we have a wide range of ratings. Highest is 8/10 at Tom Aikens (which to be fair was an “espoir” in the 2008 Michelin i.e. tipped for 2 stars soon, so this is perhaps consistent between the Guides). There is nothing at 7/10 but Hibiscus, the other espoir in 2008, opened too late for the 2008 Guide but seems to me to be 7/10 level. There are then a clutch of places at 6/10: Arbutus, Chez Bruce, Club Gascon, Atelier du Joel Robuchon, La Trompette, Locanda Locatelli, Maze, Lindsay House, River Cafe, Roussillon, The Greenhouse, The Ledbury and Zafferano. At 5/10 we see Aubergine, Foliage, Claridges, Hakkasan, the Nobus, Rasoi, Rhodes 24, Sketch, The Glasshouse and Umu. To me 5/10 or 6/10 is what you would expect to see in Good Food Guide terms from a one Michelin star restaurant, so these are fair enough. 
However we also see at 4/10 Assaggi, La Noisette, Mirabelle (now closed until 2009), Tamarind and Yauatcha. In my view Yauatcha is worth 5/10, but Noisette, Mirabelle and Tamarind do not seem to me to be Michelin level.
At 3/10 there is also Amaya, Benares and Nahm. In this case I think we see the eccentricity of Michelin with respect to Asian restaurants. To me the GFG scores are, at best, on the kind side towards these places (especially Nahm).

Missing entirely are 1 Lombard Street (which I think must just be a screw up, as it was 6/10 in the 2007 Good Food Guide) and Quilon, which I have noted earlier seems to be taking Michelin eccentricity to a new level unless something has changed dramatically since I last went. So other than the odd 2008 omission of 1 Lombard Street it seems to me that the Good Food Guide has the “one star” scene in London down more accurately than Michelin.

For a map of all the Michelin starred restaurants in the UK click here.