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The Michelin Man

The start of the year traditionally sees the publication of the new Michelin Guide – an opportunity for foodies to slaver and drool over the latest must-visit gastro-hotspots across the UK. But is it still a relevant guide in this cyber-led day and age or is Michelin whipping a dead souffle? There are generally few surprises, it has to be said. A grand total of 140 restaurants in Britain have now achieved a Michelin star and – as usual – the awards are somewhat controversial. Perhaps least so is the loss of Gordon Ramsay's single star at Claridges, but given his misfortunes over the last year and his apparent desire to be on telly rather than behind a hot stove, it's hardly news. The guide also saw fit to award its first London pub, The Harwood Arms, a star, which is progress indeed, given that the majority of the country are eating more often and better in pubs than in establishments such as those run by Alain Ducasse. Yes, the Ducasse empire still straddles the gastronomic world like a truffle-laden behemoth. The Dorchester Hotel-based branch has now got its full three-star complement, but the award is questionable. With its astronomical prices topping £100 a head on a restrained day and a slew of reviews ranging from average to appalling, it seems that some stars are handed out without apparent thought for the value achieved during the meal. This might be the nub of the problem. In the current climate we're witnessing a return to a more sensible style of eating out. That is, rather than spending money hand over fist on show-off, one-off dinners, we prefer to patronise local establishments cooking good food at reasonable prices; it's an obvious choice and means that those three-star venues could become irrelevant to even the most ardent restaurant-goer. Yet local restaurants are hardly likely to win a star, so why buy the guide? And there's the other issue. With foodies becoming increasingly internet-savvy and review blogs springing up every day, who says Michelin inspectors have the edge over Joe Public when it comes to reviewing a restaurant? Surely, like much else in life, it's other people's experiences that we relate to, rather than some mystical, anonymous deity whose benevolence merely serves to increase prices in restaurants rather than reward those who deserve it.

Alasdair Adam - March 3, 2011

I have never bought a michelin, but have been buying GFG for 40 years. In france when driving to provence on holiday i would buy Gault-Millau, which marked out of 20 and had tocques [up to 3] for "cuisine inventive" and better than its rating might suggest. My personal target was 14/20 red. It was far more helpful than michelin. In the same way I believe GFG is better than Michelin, though I do have concerns that in GFG out of the way locations can score highlymore easily than locations where there is more competition. GFG assure me all locations even high ranked ones are checked each year, though I do have reservations.

Shane Hughes - February 20, 2010

Just read your blog regarding the michelin guide and regardless of my own award this whole argument is a bit boring.
1st, are you implying in some way that only starred pubs deserve their award.
2nd. every restaurant in the country is somebodys local. we are.
3rd. you are using alain Ducasse as an example because he's up so high that he's an easy target, its a simple working class opinion, Blame the Banks, Blame Gordon Brown, Blame Ducasse!!!
4th. How many of your readers own an actual michelin guide, or even know what colour the guide is?,
5th. i have to say, (and i speak for all my Peers) that internet sites such as trip adviser which have empowered the customer to become an inspector, are 99% total rubbish, Biased, embittered People who for (sometimes) the smallest of reason would wreck you business entirely if they could, what happened to simply complaining and receiving an apology and a glass of champagne!!. so, NO i dont think they should consider themselves to be an equal to the Michelin Guide.

Fred Jones - February 12, 2010

My point was that the meal was excellent value. And that would be a once a year or special occasion, but there are some excellent local restaurants in my area. However, at £5 for two courses you are either helping the owner to bankruptcy or they are cutting corners. Seriously where can you buy that at cost, let alone employ people to cook it, in a rented, heated, lit restaurant? I bet the atmosphere was good, i'm surprised it wasn't packed to the rafters. I hope you left a reasonable tip.

Bill Shat - February 12, 2010

I understand that there are foodies out there who love eating out as a hobby and love spending their hard earned money on a quality meal. I know if i had a spare £300 to spend on a meal for two then I must be doing something right!! And when it comes to rewarding good chefs with awards that’s great! But my argument is that most people out there who go to these accredited restaurants have preconceptions that it’s the best meal they have ever had and wouldn’t waste their time at normal local restaurants. And use the fact they've just spent 300 quid on a meal as ammunition to brag to their poncey acquaintances. And Ben I find it quite offensive that Joe publics views are dubious at best as they eat McDonalds and turkey twizzlers... I'd say the majority of people find 300 pound for a meal for two a tad expensive. I recently had a fantastic meal at a local restaurant for £5 for two courses and it had a great atmosphere! What size do you need them T shirts? I could get you a great deal on XL then maybe you can fit your inflated ego into it too!

Ben - February 12, 2010

A few people here have said that the Michelin guide "seems to reward pomposity and pontificating" and that it's for "pretentious snobs". This opinion seems to be a little harsh as it "seems" to be based largely on the price. Having money to spend or choosing to spend the money that you have on a product where the seller has managed to attain an industry wide accolade doesn't seem to me to be snobbery or something that warrants an insult. No-one is suggesting that there aren't good restaurants out there that don't have a star/rosette/award. I think my main point is that if you have been awarded for the work that you do there is a reasonable chance that you are good at what you do. If this makes me a snob I'll accept the title as a badge of honour and print off some t-shirts. (I very much enjoyed reading all of the comments thought!)

Stacey - February 12, 2010

The problem with the Michelin guide is that it seems to reward pomposity and poncification over genuine quality. And as such ignores good restaurants which happens to sell well cooked reasonably priced food.

Fred Jones - February 12, 2010

The Michelin guide has always been the bible for both chefs and foodies. There are a great number of very good restaurants in the guide and those with stars are (for the most part) well deserved. It is certainly a benchmark for quality. I have never found any restaurant to be snobbish, maybe some of the waiting staff to be beyond their station but thats about it. The best experience I had was at Marcus Wareings, two of us were treated superbly and the food was simply amazing, best £300 i have ever spent. It never ceases to amaze me how people think they should dine for next to nothing but still expect a high standard of cooking. Restaurants are in business to make money and if you want a good chef to remain in the business then you have to pay for it...go out less often but spend well when you do..otherwise fish and chips are about £5 and you'll be full for hours. All other guides generally follow the same pattern as the Michelin Guide, you will find good quality restaurants in all of them.

Rory Laird - February 10, 2010

personally i think that (not all) michelin star restaurants are not all that, over priced at present. If you want a small meal and be out of pocket well this is ideal for you. The good food guide is where you will get good honest cooking and good service and at a resonable prices, where families with small children and not looked down upon, gives you a wide range of choice, as we are in the midlands and have an abundace of mitchelin star names, there is great chefs who are waiting in the wings to get their chance of stardom, what is modern british food????

Bill Shat - February 10, 2010

I personally don't use the Michelin guide as A the price of the restaurants is absurd and B its for pretentious snobs... I might not "know what I'm talking about" but at the end of the day when I go out to restaurants it's me who forms an opinion not some restaurant critic telling me how good the food is... I know people who think they have already had the best meals of the lives because there going to a Michelin star restaurant, and because the meal is expensive then it's clearly better. Don't get me wrong I've been to a few praised restaurants and have enjoyed the meal but I've been to restaurants the Michelin wouldn't look twice at and enjoyed them aswell! If not more! One of these visit to an awarded restaurant a friend told me that there JD and coke for 8 pounds was far better than a "normal" JD and coke from a "normal" restaurant at a "normal" 3 poundish... When I informed him that the drinks were exactly the same he responded with your paying for the privilege of eating and drinking in an acclaimed restaurant. IMHO this goes to show the pomposity of certain Michelin, AA, Good Food Guide readers. They see the price and the star or the rosette or whatever and automatically presume its amazing and are too stuck up to admit they went through a McDonalds drive through on the way home as they are still hungry!

Ben - February 5, 2010

I think outside of the industry only real foodies would have actually held a Michelin guide in their hands let alone read one. You'd have to care about food to have an interest in it and most people do not care enough to take the time to read something like The Michelin Guide (IMHO). They would instead rely on their paper of choice to report the best bits of news. I believe that it is the industry that actually reads it to a large extent and the award itself is all that matters to the general public. "They have a Michelin star? omg they must be good let's go!". It's not the writing that gives the Michelin it's weight it's the awards that can be advertised/put outside the venue. However I digress and my actual point was that I would rather read the opinion of someone who has (we assume) some merit and knowledge about what they are talking about (a Michelin inspector) than Joe Public whose credentials are dubious at best! Remember it's Joe Public who buys Bernard Matthews Turkey Twizzlers and thinks that Mc Donalds is actually a restaurant. Better to listen to someone who knows what they're talking about than someone who you know nothing about.

James South - February 2, 2010

IMHO there's very much a Michelin 'style' of cooking which if that's your gig makes the guide a very useful benchmarking tool. But if your tastes extend beyond the fairly narrow confines of modern British menus and the obligatory intra-course amuses bouches than Michelin might not be for you.