Michelin UK Awards

Thursday, January 28th , 2021

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On Monday 25th January the Michelin Guide UK for 2021 was announced. This being the middle of the Covid pandemic, it was a virtual event rather than a gala at the Hurlingham Club. Michelin is in a tricky position in these pandemic times. It attracts criticism if it releases a guide (“when did you have time to inspect?”) and criticised if it doesn’t (“the industry needs a boost”). This has resulted in a mixed approach globally. The guides to places like Japan, Seoul and Hong Kong, who have managed the pandemic better than western countries and largely avoided lengthy lockdowns, have gone ahead. On the other hand the California guide has been cancelled this year, with one of the three star restaurants (Meadowood) actually burning down in one of the California wildfires. 

The UK event turned out to have quite a few surprises. Those expecting it to be a low-key affair were wrong. There was a dusting of new stars, including the Devon restaurant Thomas Carr 1873, who was somehow overlooked in the announcement but confirmed the following day. In London I was pleased to see stars for a couple of places where I had eaten well recently, namely Benares (with its new chef) Davies & Brook, Muse and Sola. There were also stars for recently opened Behind, and for Cornerstone and Casa Fofo. Outside London news stars were awarded to The Hide and Fox, Pea Porridge, Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, Outlaw’s New Road, Hjem, Osip, Roots, Cail Bruich and the Isle of Eriska. The Latymer has a new chef in the form of the talented Steve Smith, formerly of Bohemia, and retained a star. Callum Graham took over from Steve Smith at Bohemia and retained a star there. Dede in Baltimore, Ireland also won a star.

There was some turmoil at the two star level, with the Ledbury closing and the Marlon Abela empire collapse meaning The Square and The Greenhouse closing and Umu changing ownership and its chef leaving. In the end Umu was docked a star, but there were promotions for A. Wong, Da Terra and Story. I like A. Wong a lot and enjoyed Da Terra, though Story’s pleasures remain a mystery to me and to some other experienced diners.  There were also two new 3 star entries. Clare Smyth at Core had plenty of 3 star experience at her previous venue, and now saw Core elevated to three stars. There was a more surprising elevation for Helene Darroze at The Connaught, which I should revisit. A few one star restaurants dropped out of the list, including Aquavit (unsurprising), Social Eating House, The Black Rat, The Flitch of Bacon, the Red Lion, Wilks (closed), The Pony and Trap, Ormer, The Oxford Kitchen and Dining Room. The rather underwhelming Braidwoods near Glasgow closed and lost its star, as did The Checkers and James Sommerin.

There were 23 new “green stars”, which are for sustainability rather than food, and seem to be confusingly named. These seem worthy awards, but a green star does not imply a red star, and vice versa, so why not just call them something else? Overall, the Michelin awards were as puzzling as they ever are, a mixture of deserving and baffling. The omissions continue too, with for example The Ritz at just one star outperforming most of the current UK three stars. I would have given Endo at The Rotunda two stars. No stars for arguably the best Indian restaurant in the UK, Dastaan.  As happens every year, the Guide’s enigmatic decisions will delight some and infuriate others. However the emotional reactions of many of the chefs interviewed at the event show that Michelin is really the only industry award that most chefs really care about.