Following last week's early release of the 2013 Michelin Guide to Great Britain & Ireland, the Guide's editor Rebecca Burr has revealed how the inspectors define a Michelin-starred restaurant and what some establishments must do to take things to the next level.
This year saw two stars given to L'Enclume, Sketch and Michael Wignall at The Latymer, while Dabbous, Alimentum and Heston Blumenthal's pub The Hinds Head were among the 18 restaurants to have received their first Michelin star.
Burr, who took responsibility for Michelin's Great Britain and Ireland, London, and Eating out in Pubs guides in October 2010, told BigHospitality that the increasing diversity in the UK dining scene was reflected in this year's Guide, but that the quality of the food should always be the top priority.
"People think that Michelin are changing every year but we’re not," she said. "We’ve always been recognising good food, it's the restaurants that are changing - 10 years' ago it was table cloths and fancy stuff, but now if you look at the likes of Alyn Williams at The Westbury, that’s one of the only formal restaurants on the list this year."
What makes a Michelin-starred restaurant?
"A restaurant that’s in our guide is a very good recommendation in itself," added Burr. "But a star is very different - we recommend 2,149 restaurants, of which 164 are stars. The stars are on a world-class platform; they can range from a busy Chinese restaurant like Hakkasan or a Japanese restaurant like Nobu serving 300 covers a night, to the Harward Arms, through to a luxury dining experience.
"That’s what makes it so interesting, there’s no pattern, it’s about good food but it’s at an additional level to the restaurants that are in the guide.
"Going up to two stars, things have got to be so well-practised behind the scenes. That’s what I would say about L’Enclume – Simon (Rogan) has become one of the most interesting chefs in the country and he’s dramatically changed his style in the past two or three years, he’s got a farm and a big garden and he’s not so off the wall now.
"So the two-starred restaurants show a higher degree of technical skill, individuality, personality, signature dishes and an elevated style – but it’s always about the food.
"Between two and three stars, we say it’s the ultimate experience and it’s a world-class platform. So the race is on for the next three-starred restaurant!"
Back to basics
Seven restaurants - Coworth Park in Berkshire, The Olive Branch in Rutkland, Beech House in Reading, Reed's in Faversham, Sharrow Bay in Cumbria, Auberge du Lac in Welwyn Garden City, Zafferano and Gauthier Soho in London - lost their Michelin stars this year.
Burr went on to reveal that those establishments that have lost stars this year - or those that didn't quite make it into the guide - should go back to the basics and refocus on their customers.
"Taking aways a star is not a nice part of our work, but if something's not quite right then we have to reflect what our inspectors feel. If you've lost a star, leave things for a few months, reflect upon it and we'll come back again.
"A couple of the restaurants this year, without naming them, previously had their stars for many years, but their standards have dropped. Maybe they’ll realise that they’d sat back a little bit too much, expecting it to carry on - it's all about consistency."
Top tips to getting in next year's guide:
- "The primary thing is to look after your local customers first and get well established in the area you’re in."
- "If we haven’t heard of you, and our inspectors haven’t visited before then drop us a line and we can come along anonymously."
- "Finally, there aren’t any specific rules - we’re really open-minded to new ideas and new techniques."
With the accidental leak of this year's Guide not the first mistake to have been made around the publicising of the results, Burr insisted that it was not a PR exercise, adding: "It was the technical team in France, I was taken aback as much as everybody else. Thankfully it was only a week before. But it was a genuine error."