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Michelin stars in the UK


food1
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There is always a healthy debate going on with regards to Michelin stars etc in the UK, which I would like to add to!

I have just returned from Paris (jesus, its bloody expensive, more later) but what a difference in the mindset of michelin starred restaurants and that of the UK. I strongly feel that we have a far harder time here from Michelin BUT I do think we bring alot it on ourselves. Ate in five michelin starred restaurants, three one stars, one two star and one three star. Comparing the two countries, I honestly think that we in the UK are soooooooo hung up on frills, celebrity and frankly down right pretentsion, in order to justify a Michelin starred restaurant. Why? We found Paris completely the other way.

Amongst places we dined at, the most refreshing place was the three star restaurant, Astrance, which has a three month waiting list for dinner. It is a small, twenty odd cover place. There was no army of waiters to ambush us, no champagne trollies coming around and no choice on the menu. It was a case of a take it or leave it attitude, this is what we do and if you don't like it, tough! It was great. This is my point, how many people here would appreciate this set up? Im sure there would be a few characters on this site who would hate it because they wouldn't get all the fuss and drama, which is almost a given here in the UK. Also, I suspect that some probably wouldn't get the idea of having to trust the judgement of the restaurant in feeding them. Still a big British hang up. But why, the shorter the menu and the better the chef, whats the problem? There are only three restaurants in the UK I can think of and have visted, whereby they operate in the same sort of manner, Harrys Place Lincolnshire, Artisan Yorkshire and Mr Underhills Shropshire. There are plenty of small, understated Michelin starred restaurants in the Paris Michelin guide alone, so why not more of the same here in the UK? I find alot of Michelin restaurants here akin to an old folks home, that are desperately over complicated and stuffy in comparision to what we've recently encountered. The French, god bless em, I believe are miles ahead on their outlook of restaurants.

Anyway, got to talk to the chef at Astrance after lunch and again what a difference. So down to earth and open. His outlook was that he is a three star chef, who runs a restaurant. He simply didn't get the UK's bullshit celeb chef culture. Asked why chefs here just seemed to want to be famous. He sincerely couldn't understand the culture here. Neither can I, but thats a different story. As for the food, it was done with great skill but was low key in its style. Superb ingredients, served simply. It demonstrated a great confidence that unfortunately you just don't see in this country.

We did have a few let downs, mind you. Paris is still capable of turning out shite food, like anywhere else. For example, had a few 'soup a'l onion au grataine', (when in Rome n all!!) barring one they where absolutely shocking and at an average of ten quid a bowl. Very, very expensive to dine out, I'm broke! You are looking at paying up to seventy quid, for a starter dish and then pro rata for the rest. This is at one star level. I kid you not. Cost of Astrance, my eyes are still bleeding! The place makes London positively cheap, dining at Michelin level, which is a plus to us.

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I know nothing but I'd guess it has something to do with a restaurant wanting to get a michelin star and striving to fulfill the criteria based on what they percieve the inspectors are looking for. That instead of doing what they want and incidently gaining a star.

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Very, very expensive to dine out, I'm broke! You are looking at paying up to seventy quid, for a starter dish and then pro rata for the rest. This is at one star level.  I kid you not. Cost of Astrance, my eyes are still bleeding! The place makes London positively cheap, dining at Michelin level, which is a plus to us.

I think you'll find that if a Michelin * restaurant in the UK could charge that they would be so  relaxed they would be positively horizontal!!!!!

On a more serious note, the fact remains that the public in England will not support heavily enough to stay afloat that type of approach (set no choice menu, trusting non celebrity chef etc ) for many, that open outside the major cities, there are no backers, just everything you own ploughed into a restaurant, and often you only get one chance.....(Chocolate surburbia rules ok: ref white heat)

Edited by erica graham (log)

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A very thoughtful post, food1, and I agree with everything you say. It's rather a shock to find everything so expensive in mainland Europe now, but three-star places in France have never been afraid to be expensive.

There is something in the British psyche which seems to crave as much choice as possible. I suppose this is down to the faddy eating in which we've always indulged-an assurance that we will be able to have only what pleases us precisely. I was at an absurd 'gastropub'in Oxfordshire recently, incidentally much praised by Jan Moir, at which there were about thirty choices at each course. Needless to say everything was execrable, but the very fact of that wide choice seems to make it a firm favourite with locals.

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A very thoughtful post, food1, and I agree with everything you say. It's rather a shock to find everything so expensive in mainland Europe now, but three-star places in France have never been afraid to be expensive.

There is something in the British psyche which seems to crave as much choice as possible. I suppose this is down to the faddy eating in which we've always indulged-an assurance that we will be able to have only what pleases us precisely. I was at an absurd 'gastropub'in Oxfordshire recently, incidentally much praised by Jan Moir, at which there were about thirty choices at each course. Needless to say everything was execrable, but the very fact of that wide choice seems to make it a firm favourite with locals.

FWIW, I think value increases significantly the further you get away from the metropolises (i.e. London and Paris). The three-stars outside of those urban rings are much more affordable.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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Amongst places we dined at, the most refreshing place was the three star restaurant, Astrance, which has a three month waiting list for dinner. It is a small, twenty odd cover place. There was no army of waiters to ambush us, no champagne trollies coming around and no choice on the menu. It was a case of a take it or leave it attitude, this is what we do and if you don't like it, tough! It was great. This is my point, how many people here would appreciate this set up? Im sure there would be a few characters on this site who would hate it because they wouldn't get all the fuss and drama, which is almost a given here in the UK......

.....Cost of Astrance, my eyes are still bleeding! The place makes London positively cheap, dining at Michelin level, which is a plus to us.

Unfortuantely I think the correlation between price and lack of frills is exactly what would piss me off. I've no problem at all with a lack of frills but having a "take it or leave it " attitude when you are paying those prices is completely wrong, at that price point I expect a certain attentive level of service. Would you feel the same way paying through the nose like that in London and receiving a carefree attitude to service? :hmmm:

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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i think i know where food 1 is coming from with regards to astrance but to describe it as 'take it or leave it ' is misleading, from memory it offers 2 or 3 tasting menus at differing price points but they are menu suprise?

service is certainly 3* and it may not be gilded to within an inch of its life like many parisian 3* but it's still obviously a luxury restaurant.

you don't win friends with salad

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I think your missing the point slightly. At three star level, it goes without saying that your hardly going to have your food and wine dumped in front of you etc and then pay a massive bill. The point I was making was just how fluid and natural some of these places were in comparison to here. The confidence that they had in what they were doing and how well they are supported. In the case of Astrance, on such a small scale. Where would you get a twenty cover, three michelin star place here? Bloody no where, because we are not the oh so cultured dining out public that some like to think they are. It was the correlation between the restaurant and the customer which I found most interesting. The fact that the French just seem to get on with it, without all the pomp and ceremony. The fact that are an abundant number of very small restaurants that prosper out there, as the French just don't seem to have all the hang ups that we have here. We came across a very back street restaurant called Spring, run by an American chap. This place was tiny beyond belief. It is a sixteen cover restaurant, possibly no bigger than your average front room, which also housed his kitchen! Again it was one of those places whereby you didn't know what you would be eating until the plate arrived. How many Brits would trust and support that sort of set up? For me that was fantastic but just drove home the massive general attitudes between us and the French and for that matter the Spanish and Italiens. As I say this place is well off the tourist track, supported by the locals in the main. Tried to make a reservation for dinner but it was fully booked until March. Although the chef, Dan Rose wasn't really interested in a star, he went on to say that alot of Michelin inspectors ate here on their nights off. To me that said it all and it was so refreshing to be in a place whereby style over content ( The UK answer to doing everything) didn't come into question.

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I was at an absurd 'gastropub'in Oxfordshire recently, incidentally much praised by Jan Moir, at which there were about thirty choices at each course. Needless to say everything was execrable, but the very fact of that wide choice seems to make it a firm favourite with locals.

The wide and execrable choice was probably down to the usage of the mass central suppliers such as 3663 ?

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I don't think this is so much a "restaurant" problem as a "what the dining public wants" phenomenon, and I think it runs across the board, not just at the Michelin star level.

Simply put, I think the public's interest in, and connection with, quality food is very different in the two countries.

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I was at an absurd 'gastropub'in Oxfordshire recently, incidentally much praised by Jan Moir, at which there were about thirty choices at each course. Needless to say everything was execrable, but the very fact of that wide choice seems to make it a firm favourite with locals.

The wide and execrable choice was probably down to the usage of the mass central suppliers such as 3663 ?

God, 3663. I was on the wrong end of their tinned carrots at secondary school.

Edit: And everything thing else for that matter, fortunately the cooks were pretty good.

Edited by CalumC (log)
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I was at an absurd 'gastropub'in Oxfordshire recently, incidentally much praised by Jan Moir, at which there were about thirty choices at each course. Needless to say everything was execrable, but the very fact of that wide choice seems to make it a firm favourite with locals.

The wide and execrable choice was probably down to the usage of the mass central suppliers such as 3663 ?

God, 3663. I was on the wrong end of their tinned carrots at secondary school.

Edit: And everything thing else for that matter, fortunately the cooks were pretty good.

Carrots? Tinned?

Oh, you poor British souls.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Just as an aside, do you know why it's called 3663?

If you add the two outside number together, you get a string that resembles Lucifer's number?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Still a big British hang up. But why, the shorter the menu and the better the chef, whats the problem?

This is a big british hang up is it? Can't say I agree. And how is this the fault of the punter? It seems more like restauranteurs not brave enough to do it. Can't remember seeing a single place in the UK operating in this way.

One of my favourite meals was in Paris with no menu, no choice. You don't see it here, that I do agree with.

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If you read my first thread on this subject, I outlined three (brave) restaurants that I know of in the UK who operate in a similar vein. Harry's place Lincs, Artisan Yorkshire and Mr Underhills Shropshire. Sounds like you haven't been to any of them. Are suggesting that the UK would like to see more of these sorts of restaurants? I hope so.

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I was at an absurd 'gastropub'in Oxfordshire recently, incidentally much praised by Jan Moir, at which there were about thirty choices at each course. Needless to say everything was execrable, but the very fact of that wide choice seems to make it a firm favourite with locals.

The wide and execrable choice was probably down to the usage of the mass central suppliers such as 3663 ?

Actually, I suspect the raw materials were not bad. It was the sheer cluelessness-lots of fantastically ill-assimilated orientalisms of course, for a touch of the exotic-of the cooking that was shocking.

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If you read my first thread on this subject, I outlined three (brave) restaurants that I know of in the UK who operate in a similar vein. Harry's place Lincs, Artisan Yorkshire and Mr Underhills Shropshire. Sounds like you haven't been to any of them. Are suggesting that the UK would like to see more of these sorts of restaurants? I hope so.

Indeed I am. And no, I haven't been to any of the three you mention. Its so rare to be a unique selling point, and would surely generate publicity on the uniqueness of its menu.

There's too much bloody choice in everything in life these days. I have had a headache for the last week just trying to choose a broadband supplier. Lets make things more simple.

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Food1 - like you we recently visited Paris, and came away with similar thoughts. These were then reinforced the next week as we travelled up through England, eating at a few well thought of restaurants.

I tend to take a fairly holistic view of a meal, whilst the quality of the food is paramount, my enjoyment of the meal is governed by the service, ambiance etc.. It these don't come together correctly then to me it is a poor meal/experience; I don't mean by this that every meal has to have 3* service, but that these factors need to be appropriate for the meal - perfect beer in a pub, fresh pappadums in my local curry house, or simply tables cleared and cleaned in a cafe when punters leave.

To me this is the difference between France and the UK, in France there seems to be an innate ability to bring all the elements together. From the coffee at the random "zinc" which is good, not world class but good enough to drink, to the good humoured/fun service at the grand palaces (we ate at Le Cinq). In contrast, it is nearly impossible to get good coffee in the UK, and a meal at the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill recently had such stiff and reverential service it felt like we were in church - I think I have enjoyed funerals more..!

Why the difference? A few thoughts: I heard a psychologist on Radio 4 last week talking about how peoples expectations had changed over time, his research indicated that there was a recent phenomena in English speaking countries in which people all have expectations of being far better than average, and being able to achieve anything (a manifestation of celebrity culture?). I believe that one of his observations was that many people had unrealistic expectations of what they were destined to do. The result is they are unhappy in service roles, as these are seen to be beneath their rightful place in the world. Obviously unhappy/disenchanted staff in service industries, like catering, will influence the consumers experience. Contrast that to the service culture in France and the high self-esteem waiters etc. have. Add to this the wage structure, employment benefits, and employment protection legislation in countries like France and you get a far different employment paradigm. Workers have both higher self esteem and are not treated like a disposable resource.

I also find that expectations of food in the UK are very, very low. The great British public have relatively low standards when it comes to food, and a low level of passion. Factory white bread, Starbucks, lager etc. are all good examples. OK France has its own problems with frozen croissants and baguettes in lots of bakeries but people seem more passionate about quality. Couple the low standards with intense self belief in a media driven society and the result is fairly average restaurants being lauded and promoted far beyond their worth. In our disposable culture the drive for the new needs to be fuelled - "Corrigans is so last year isn't there anything new?". It is more important be seen to be at the new fashionable place rather than looking for quality.

There are clearly good UK restaurants, but far too few of them, and there are some pretty poor French ones. I am not certain the "no choice" restaurants are that common in France. Spring is a great restaurant (we ate there before Christmas) but it is still very much the exception. From my experience nearly all French restaurants will have quite a lot of choice with both ALC and set menu's. I agree that British restaurants quite often mistakenly focus on the frills rather than the basics of service, quality of ingredients and decent cooking. I don't mind foams and pre-desserts, but I do worry when they get in the way of the basics.

Maybe the crunch will adjust Generation X & Y attitudes, however I suspect it will take a long time for our food culture to really shift.

The best meal on our trip through the UK was Martin Wishart in Edinburgh....and nearly all of the FOH staff were French.

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Sally Clarke's in Notting Hill does a no-choicer doesn't it?

re. Astrance, had lunch there when it was a 1* and it rocked. Went to Le Jardin des Sens (3* in Montpellier) soon after and was disappointed by formality/price/morgue like atmosphere. Took it as a hard lesson about * system.

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The excellent Morston Hall in Norfolk with 1* also does no choice with everyone eating at 8pm.

While no choice makes it different, its not what makes it good. As PhilD points out, it is about pulling all the elements together and its just a question of finding those places. The majority of British do want choice and in most cases mistake choice for quality. They're also always after something on the cheap.

I had a conversation with someone over Christmas who was musing on how might a place exist that had no menu but said to their guests 'what would you like to eat today'. Food for thought! :wacko:

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I had a conversation with someone over Christmas who was musing on how might a place exist that had no menu but said to their guests 'what would you like to eat today'. Food for thought! :wacko:

Not quite that concept but similar in spirit…

My “meal of the year” in 2007 was at the Mistral restaurant in Seattle. There was no menu, you were simply asked how many courses you wanted and told some of the principal ingredients the chef was likely to be using.

Looking around, no two tables got the same set of dishes - there were constant tweaks and variations on a theme being as the evening wore on and the chef explored and improvised.

It was a fabulous meal (write up here: Seattle ). But to get away with this kind of thing clearly required nerve; bucket-loads of talent; and a small intimate restaurant.

Gareth

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