I’d said earlier that I’d come back to the Michelin Guide. Now would be the time. Not that my views matter a lot in the scheme of things, but I did want to vent, and that’s what posting’s all about, neh?
The Red Book has been coming under a lot of flack these last few years. First there was the scandal concerning the “preallocation” of stars for certain restaurants. The expansion to NYC seemed to go fairly smooth, but the addition of Tokyo has (at least in the press) garnered more blame than fame.
The crux of the matter – picked up by the press with a certain glee – comes down to local indignation over the hubris that would lead Michelin to feel they’re qualified to rank and grade the restaurants of Tokyo.
A lot has been made of Kadowaki's "refusal" to be included
, and his comments on the appropriateness of Michelin’s stars in Tokyo is perhaps the most used sound bite (can I say that with regards to print articles?), but if you poke around you can find more details on his reasoning. His was a combination of relevance, and of the market that he wanted to draw.
But in later pieces
, there is a little second guessing, so it’s not as fixed a position. In the Asahi piece he considers now that the stars may have been good for him, but typically sees “good” not as a marketing tool, but how it would help his staff, raising their morale (they seemed perfect when I was there, but it's good to know owners are thinking of the staff).
But is there really an imposition of selection here? If taken as a “guide” isn’t it doing its job? Michelin has their process and procedures for evaluating restaurants and hotels, they apply this, and they post the results.
Now, bear in mind, as noted in a current thread
, the format has changed from the tightly packed Red Book of years gone by.
From my viewpoint (which is sitting at my desk looking down on the book with a cup of coffee in one hand and a mouse in the other), they’ve provided me with a well packaged (okay, the spine’s a little tight) book of a convenient size that gives me fair visuals on what the restaurant looks like, and a very good map (with an external shot) to get me there. After fumbling about trying to find places with the other “tools” I had, this was a godsend.
They also provide a brief description of the restaurant, and try to highlight items that would affect my decision, which is how I chose Ryugin. They do spend a little too much of their limited text on descriptions of the décor, as opposed to the food, but that’s my take.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget, we do get the little flip card animation of the pneumatic Mssr. Bibendum down in the bottom right!
If we consider this as a guide for visitors (which is what I am and always will be) then I’d take the position that they’ve accomplished their purpose. Isn’t their role to assess and recommend restaurants for the “motorist” who’s passing through, and wants a meal that will meet certain standards? These tastes may not correspond to those of the locals, and therein lies the issue, I believe.
So, is it really a case of Michelin “imposing” their decision upon Tokyo? Or is it rather that they’ve simply provided a set of recommendations as a service to we foreigners who bumble our way through?
The weight of reputation that Mssr. Bibendum carries is such that the matter cannot be this simple. Which, of course, takes us back to marketing.
But, if you ask me, should I have tried harder to get a copy of the guide in advance, and have planned from that? Then, yes, it would have served me well.
Next time I’ll be better prepared.