The Pinnacle of Dining

Saturday, August 04th , 2018

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One of my favourite restaurants in Italy is Le Calandre, which I first visited when it had two stars almost two decades ago. The kitchen is just as happy making old style classic dishes as it is playing with cutting edge modern things, and it was a delight to have dishes like cannelloni with a tomato sauce, fried pizza bread with tomato and oregano, and raw Fassone beef. This and what is generally accepted to be the best risotto in Italy. Simple perhaps, but all based on fabulous ingredients and faultless technique, without a carefully tweezered edible flower in sight. A joy.

St Hubertus, prettily perched up in the Dolomite mountains (pictured) is the latest three star restaurant in Italy, and here the tweezers and edible flowers are very much in evidence. Think of prettily presented salads of mountain herbs, and bruschetta made with fermented plums rather than tomatoes because of the alpine cuisine ethos. All very worthy, and certainly a lot of work went into the dishes. There was a good eel dish and a nice dessert, but the gulf in standard between Le Calandre and this was huge. What is interesting is that if you looked at the photos of the two meals you would undoubtedly think that this meal looked better, and you would be right. What the camera cannot convey is the flavour of those tomatoes at Le Calandre, or the texture of its saffron risotto. 

Back at home, Chapati Club is a pleasant and inexpensive Indian restaurant in Acton, opened a few months ago. We had a good biryani and also a nicely made black dhal, with thin okra fries also successful. The owner runs the front of house and she was very switched on, the bill being less than £30 each despite some serious over-ordering on our part.

Talking of good value restaurants, I had another meal at The Crown at Burchetts Green, whose chef operates alone in the kitchen yet still manages to produce labour-intensive old school French sauces, which is more than most London starred Michelin-starred restaurants manage these days. The ingredient quality here is very high, and we enjoyed fine salt marsh lamb and Lyonnaise tartlets amongst other excellent dishes at this meal. The price for this Michelin starred meal - £29 for three courses and nibbles, less than the price of a main course at stacks of London restaurants that are not fit to wipe The Crown’s feet with a napkin. 

I have now completed visits to all the new 3 star restaurants in Europe. Of the nine (!) 2018 new 3 star additions (out of a surreal 15 new additions globally), my preference in rank order was Atelier, Frantzen, Inter Scaldes, Abac, Araki, Maison des Bois, Castellet, St Hubertus, then Aponiente. I only scored two of these 19/20, which for me is a “proper” three star level score. This year I have also been in Europe to existing three stars Schwarzwaldstube (20/20), Guy Savoy (20/20) Pic (20/20), Bareiss (19/20) and Auberge de l’Ill (19/20) as well as Le Calandre, all of which are comfortably better than all but two of the new European entries in the three star firmament. This suggests to me that Michelin is flailing around to promote new 3 star places, either to generate more guide sales or at least press headlines. It was no better last year, with the remarkably ordinary Lasarte and 1947 welcomed into the three star family. This is all the more puzzling to me when there are some really terrific places out there with two stars, such as Sa Qua Na, Les Crayeres or a trio of places in Lyon that could be granted a third star without anyone raising an eyebrow. There are currently 74 three star restaurants in Europe (128 in the world now after a couple of recent closures) and you can of course read reviews of all of them on this site. The 2019 Michelin guide season starts in October 2018, which leaves me a coulple of months to get to the remaining new 3 stars in Asia to be completely up to date.