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Michelin Stars


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Rowley Leigh recently claimed, “I gave up Michelin stars in about 1987 when I wanted to do away with fripperies. The only reason I crave one now is because it is impossible to recruit chefs without one."

This year I have been to several Michelin one star restaurants, one two star and one three star and the only one worth returning to, in my opinion, would be the three star.

The two star was Hibiscus in London (see report on Forums - Lunch in London). We recently visited Pennyhill Park, Bagshot Surrey. Chef Michael Wignall has one star and is obviously desperately trying to get another.

The high cost of the meal in these establishments is often down to the complicated structure of the dishes and the time spent in the preparation of ‘fripperies’. It is certainly not down to the cost of the tiny amounts of meat or fish used, which are often cooked ‘sou vide’ so as to be uniform and uninteresting. As for sauces, the few drips that decorate a plate often might as well be made from an oxo cube, for all they add to the dish as there is usually not enough to taste. When ‘nouvelle cuisine’ arrived it was considered the latest fad, often ridiculed because of its parsimonious portions. Looking at 1970’s photos of ‘nouvelle cuisine’ the dishes look large compared with today’s ‘Michelin Fripperies’. Is this really what we want when eating out?

Pennyhill Park is a lovely venue and the feeling is of utter luxury. The staff are affable and service is excellent - so what is wrong with the place? The food - one gets the impression that Michael Wignall is trying too hard to create a masterpiece - more for the eye than the palate.

There were lots of bits some of which were better executed than the main dishes. A very good mushroom and truffle soup with parsnip crisps and taramasalata dip followed by pepper jelly rolled round smoked salmon mousse.

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Then we started lunch, my tiny rolls of foie gras were served with shavings of mature manchago - that was an interesting combination, the cheese heightened the palate and made the foie gras taste full and creamy - one up to Wignall for that one.

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Mr B’s veal heart was not a success - obviously cooked sou vide it was dry and lacking in flavour. The accompanying pickled carrots were the best part of the dish.

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Now a pre main course - a rather tough puff of gruyere cheese on a bed of lentils and chopped veal heart - well I suppose they had to use it up somewhere.

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My main course was venison, once again it looked as though the water bath had been in action. Six small rectangular, uniform slices of tender, moist though very bland, venison - no nice caramelised crunchy outside with a slightly bloody centre. The plate looked exquisite with turned artichokes and palm hearts, some drips of this sauce and drips of that sauce - any good flavours were gone before you could discern what they were. As far as the whole dish was concerned it was just a collection of ingredients with little cohesion but I fared much better than Mr B - again.

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Plaice with cocks combs, his fish was grossly over cooked and under seasoned. He had to call the waiter back to ask which were the cock’s combs. He was bitterly disappointed as he had read of them on e gullet a while back and was interested in trying them - the portion was too small to get any flavour from it - he is still not sure what they taste of. He then had to call a waitress to ask for some salt as the fish was completely lacking. Much to our amusement this obviously caused trauma - she disappeared out of one door came back in another disappeared again and eventually, several minutes later, returned with a little pot containing sea salt.

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The pre dessert was better than the desserts. My dessert was a poached fig with a slice of fig cake served with the ubiquitous drips of this and smear of that, the crisp sugary flakes did give a welcome texture change - all pleasant enough but no wow factor. A chocolate and pistachio pud came in the same category.

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We skipped coffee, it is often better and definitely cheaper, at home and we had had enough sweet bits.

We have had similar disappointing experiences in recent years at several other single star establishments.

Now look at a meal at a three star establishment - look at the size of the foie gras, the perfectly cooked fish, conventionally roasted lamb with plenty of delicious sauce. To be fair the lamb was specially roasted for a small group but you can see the generous portions on the other courses as well, including the beautiful assiette of desserts.

Carol\

Carol\

Carol\

Carol\

Top quality ingredients cooked in conventional ways with reasonable sized portions. No need for a lot of ‘fripperies’. It is no wonder that the Waterside Inn at Bray has kept three Michelin stars for 25 years. The trouble is I can rarely afford to eat there so I think I must visit Rowley Leigh someday soon.

How often do ‘Michelin fripperies’ disappoint you?

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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I ate the tasting menu for lunch last week and found it to be well up to the mark.

I'm disappointed to see that 'Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society', in addition to coming out with the tedious drips and smears argument, is taking pap snaps of her food like some young blogger. That in itself is bad enough, but it would seem you were using a flashgun too.

Did you not consider that other diners were paying not just for 'fripperies' but to eat a meal in relaxed low light surroundings and not to be lit up by a strobe every ten minutes or so? And the result of the flash is in any case ugly photographs that insult chef's efforts an effect I hope at least was not intentional

S

Edited by sunbeam (log)
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Hmmm, interesting question Pam.

I'm looking forward to a revisit to Hibiscus in a couple of weeks - we're interested to see if it remains our favourite place. This year, we've eaten at the Fat Duck and six 1* places - Fraiche, Harwood Arms, Northcote, Plas Bodegroes, Sharrow Bay and Sportsman. I think I'd only put Plas Bodegroes in the "disappointment" category.

I enjoy the intricacies and interest that comes from, say, the tasting menus at Fraiche and the Sportsman. No, there isnt too much on each individual plate but there are a number of plates. What pisses me off is when a restaurant serves fairly similar sized portions on a standard three-courser. And I go away considering whether I should stop for a bag of chips on the way home.

That said, I am thoroughly enjoying visiting and revisiting places around home that offer "proper" sized portions over three courses.

John Hartley

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So pretty! I'm not being sarcastic, either. But those are some wee portions, and several look more like garnishes than full servings. I'm all for beautiful food, but it's a shame when visual aesthetics kick the actual experience of eating to the curb. If this is what the hunt for a Michelin star is bringing about, I have to agree with your subtitle.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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I've never ever fancied the Waterside Inn, just looking at the prices is enough to put me off. Those pictures haven't done much to change my mind. Pam, aside from the assiette of desserts, which part of that meal could we not have cooked at home?

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I have never had a problem with using flash in a restaurant - it is a very low light flash. Often the staff offer to take some and in this instance the couple right next to us were facinated and the gentleman told his wife off for not bringing her camera.

By the way this was not the tasting menu it was supposed to be a three course meal.

Edited by Pam Brunning (log)

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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... conventionally roasted lamb with plenty of delicious sauce. To be fair the lamb was specially roasted for a small group but you can see the generous portions on the other courses as well, including the beautiful assiette of desserts.

Top quality ingredients cooked in conventional ways with reasonable sized portions. No need for a lot of ‘fripperies’.

I think I'd be mightily disappointed and feel horribly ripped off to get meat and three veg from a three-star restaurant, no matter what size the portion was.

As Prawncrackers said, why go out to eat simple food that can be cooked at home?

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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When I eat out, I like to eat things that require far more craft and labour than I can muster at home. As long as the flavours are packing plenty of punch, I much prefer food in the style of The Latymer and L’Enclume etc. Lots of little things suit me perfectly. The downside I suppose is that not every plate will be to everyone’s taste, but on the up side, if you don’t like something it is only a short wait for something else.

I too ate at The Latymer recently (October) and thought it was very good. Over five days I ate at Apsleys, Le Gavroche, The Latymer and The Harrow. I would put The Latymer at the top of the list followed by Le Gavroche, Apsleys then the Harrow. The similarities between Le Gavroche and the Waterside are obvious, although I believe Le Gavroche is less expensive, £49ish for canapés, amuse, three large courses, with half a bottle of wine, water, coffee and petis fours. I paid £42 for two in the Latymer, which I consider extraordinary value and about £10 less than the cost for one person at the Waterside. Value for money is, for me, an important consideration.

I did eat at The Waterside Inn about six years ago and ate the gourmand menu. It was ok, but I found the food, although luxurious, dull. The highlight was an exceptional piece of foie gras. The rest was not particularly memorable except that I sent back my bland soufflé. It came back because it was fine apparently. I was tempted to go back for lunch after FDE’s pics a while (see the waterside thread) back but never got around to it.

Cooking everything sous vide can often be detrimental to the temperature, flavour and appearance of the item subjected to the process. I especially dislike the in the middle of nowhere doneness of fish. The technique is unlikely to disappear any time soon though, as it obviously allows a great deal control and consistency, good or bad.

I suppose we will all have our favourites and value different elements to each meal personally. For my money The Ledbury offers the best combination of creativity, generosity, value and most of all, bloody tasty food.

Martin

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Really interesting post, Pam.

I too have found a number of 1* meals of late uninspiring. While I would not put the Latymer in that category, I too found their "inter-course" (!) dishes tastier.

I have not been to a large number of 1* places in the last 12 months (around 4), but the only meal that I still remember fondly was at the Walnut Tree (other than the Latymer of course, which was the most recent). Which to my mind does a slightly different style of food from that of the other places in my list.

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Pam you really do come across as meat and two veg in large portions served on dodgy plates type of diner. Maybe you just don't get the style of cooking served in places like Hibiscus.

I have never had a problem with using flash in a restaurant - it is a very low light flash. Often the staff offer to take some and in this instance the couple right next to us were facinated and the gentleman told his wife off for not bringing her camera.

By the way this was not the tasting menu it was supposed to be a three course meal.

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I have never eaten at the Waterside Inn but I found the presentation of the dishes you photographed quite disconcerting for a 3*. I am shocked. No desire whatsoever to fork out much money for that.

This year I have been (often more than once) to many 1* in the UK (though in Scotland and London only) where the food was not only very well presented, but also bloody good and in acceptable amounts (because I agree with you that excessively small portions become detrimental to one's ability to properly taste the food). So I strongly disagree with your main point.

To detail in case anyone is interested. In Scotland The Peat Inn is is my favourite 1* in this respect (he 'sous-vides' what benefits from it, such as a loin of hare, and cooks 'properly' the rest, with lots of deep sauces), The Kitchin is a close second, and the Plumed Horse comes third (to complete my Edinburgh picture, Martin Wishart impressed me technique-wise but less palate-wise and appeared to be striving too hard for the 2* in the direction you criticise, but I've been only once, I know that many disagree, and I need to try again. I found 21212 pretentious and self-centered. And I think 63 Tay Street in Perth should have a star.).

In London, Apsleys for example offers generous portions in complex and interesting dishes with top materials (though surprisingly the tasting menu is a bit of a disappointment compared to the stunning carte dishes - expensive, yes, but look at where you are), and its patisserie section must be one of best in the UK - it is really 'haute'. And in places like Texture or Gauthier or L'Autre Pied, which I love, quantity or quality of cooking have never been an issue (oh that Gauthier truffle risotto, I salivate just thinking of that, even if I believe there is mascarpone in there, which I would have thought despicable until I tried it...).

I am a bit weak in the 2* department, I too like Hibscus and I too will be there again soon, and I am counting the hours to my first visit to the Ledbury tomorrow! But to repeat, I think by going around you find a variety of styles, at all levels, to suit all preferences - I don't detect all this uniformity.

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This year I have been (often more than once) to many 1* in the UK (though in Scotland and London only) where the food was not only very well presented, but also bloody good and in acceptable amounts (because I agree with you that excessively small portions become detrimental to one's ability to properly taste the food). So I strongly disagree with your main point.

To detail in case anyone is interested. In Scotland The Peat Inn is is my favourite 1* in this respect (he 'sous-vides' what benefits from it, such as a loin of hare, and cooks 'properly' the rest, with lots of deep sauces), The Kitchin is a close second, and the Plumed Horse comes third (to complete my Edinburgh picture, Martin Wishart impressed me technique-wise but less palate-wise and appeared to be striving too hard for the 2* in the direction you criticise, but I've been only once, I know that many disagree, and I need to try again. I found 21212 pretentious and self-centered. And I think 63 Tay Street in Perth should have a star.).

In London, Apsleys ................. patisserie section must be one of best in the UK - it is really 'haute'.

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I have been to several Michelin one star restaurants, one two star and one three star and the only one worth returning to, in my opinion, would be the three star

Sorry Pam, that's not a big enough sample size to justify asking the question "Michelin Stars Are they ruining good food?"

Anyway, would suggest trying places like the Ledbury (2*), Turners of Harborne (1*), Northcote Manor (1*), The Sportsman (1*) as excellent ripostes to any thesis about tiny portions and style over substance.

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We only dined their once, and had no desire to return. It was an age ago, when Michel Roux Snr was in charge.

It was not as good as Le Manoir (two stars) and L'Ortolan (two stars) when John Burton Race was cooking his socks off.

We thought it average to say the least.

The only wow we had, was when the bill arrived.

That food looks abysmal. Talk about being lost in a time warp.

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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The food does look bad but have a look here. It could be a different restaurant.

Blimey, now that presentation does look good. Hard to believe it's the same place. It helps that the photography is gorgeous too, natural light wins again.

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I'm afraid I have to pull rank here, as we have dined at Michelin level at least twenty or even approaching thirty places this year, if you include Wales and Scotland.

That does not include return visits, which are few, as in truth we like trying different places.

I love the Michelin standard, its identifiable. Most chefs strive for it, the pinnacle. The ultimate prize.

The amuse, and pre dessert go with the territory. I agree on small portions they drive me mad. But there are small portions, and even smaller portions.

Having said the above, I am running out of Michelin places that I really want to try, and we have had great fun eating at some of the non starred hot restaurants in London of late, perhaps enjoying the food more than at some of the top end places.

I am glad that you posted Michael Wignall's food. As you know I am a big fan. If it was the recent lunch offer, two dine for £42? its fantastic value and you aint going to get much foie gras for that.

Unknown to me, he was head chef at The Old Beams in Staffordshire run by Nigel and Ann Wallis. It was our local, and was Staffs only Michelin star, he served small portions there, but everytime we returned after a Michelin trip "down south", we always remarked that, the place was as good as any in the country. Sadly it closed, perhaps eight/ ten years ago, as Nigel and Ann retired to France and no one wanted to take it on as a restaurant.

Very few,(thankfully,) Michelin places have disappointed, the inspectors seem to be consistant. Prices seem to have rompted on a bit and some tasting menus are clearly not worth it.

I looked at dining at Simon Radley at the Grosvenor next week, he of rising two stars, but at £90 for the tasting menu, and no lunch on offer, we aint dining there.

We have eaten his food before, a long time ago, but can not recall what it was like.

There is an argument "you get what you pay for" . Not always the case, sometimes you get a lot more, as in our recent fantastic value lunches, which have long been identified as the very best value that you can buy at this level.

For me at least, if a restaurant has a Michelin star I am far more inclined to want to eat that chefs food than eat at another similar restaurant.

Its fitting that you have started this thread as I am looking forward to the new guide being released in early January. Hopefully a new batch of places will be listed, although for the life of me nothing (apart from Aiden Byrne) springs to mind.

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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Having said the above, I am running out of Michelin places that I really want to try, and we have had great fun eating at some of the non starred hot restaurants in London of late, perhaps enjoying the food more than at some of the top end places.

I was having a look for Jason Athertons new place and found this.

Heston's dinner - Jason's Social and if my lunch at La Rosetta in Rome is anything to go by, another good italian; and a lot more too.

Martin

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Those dishes from Waterside do look very much 'just slap a few things on the plate' which is surprising as Alain Roux's cousin Michel jr at the sister restaurant (with only 2 stars) puts so much emphasis on the appearance on TV. I've only been once and for the tasting menu so I initially thought the photos had been switched around. But your point in this thread is that chasing stars encourages fripperies. Maybe Alain feels so confident with his 3 stars that he concentrates on the ingredients and the cooking instead of the fancy extra ingredients.

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Having just read this thread in its entirety it seems to be more a debate on cooking styles and technique: inventive / experimental vs classical French.

To be fair to Michelin, the fact that the Waterside does retain its 3rd star suggests they look beyond this divide and (this is perhaps a poor choice of words) don't just favour the more forward-thinking venues. Ironic really that the Inn and The Fat Duck back on to each other; it's like a literal dividing-line between the old guard and new wave.

I think a lot of the big classical establishments do get visually overshadowed in the present day. But, despite the simplicity on the plate, more often than not, their food is the product of an army of chefs, all cooking everything a la minute, which I suspect this is one of - if not - the main influence behind Michelin's reasoning. Cachan made a similar, more succinct point that relates to this in the post above, 'Maybe Alain feels so confident with his 3 stars that he concentrates on the ingredients and the cooking instead of the fancy extra ingredients'.

I'm not personally saying this approach is right or wrong, but look around the world and Michelin do have a clear bias toward this model and method. Speaking of which, Tom Kitchin's recent(ish) cookbook has a very interesting opening chapter on his early years and his time at the Louis IV in Monte Carlo. It provides a brilliant description of his experiences and the ethos behind these types of restaurant. Worth a read.

Edited by marcusjames (log)
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Well, well this thread has stirred up some interest - I thought it might.

I will expand on the theory.

First of all he reason I put the Waterside on was as a complete contrast to the other photos. To be fair to the Waterside, their restaurant dishes are beautifully presented but I wouldn’t normally take photos. On this occasion I was a guest and ‘official’ photographer, (oh well some people like my photos! :biggrin: ) the presentation came before the dish was carved see below:

Carol\

As for the ‘meat and two veg’ comments, if the meat is top quality it needs little doing to it other than cooking properly and combining with accompaniments that harmonise in flavour and give a good texture changes, this is so often lacking.

When I say cooked properly I don’t consider 70 hours at 60° cooking properly, that is just sacrilege with prime ingredients. When we were in the curing business one of our main selling points was to tell people that our hams were properly cooked, very slowly simmered not just pasteurised as many hams are.

That piece of venison was probably a prime joint but it looks as though it has just come out of a corned beef tin and sliced.

As for serving plaice in a fine dining establishment, I consider that unforgivable. It is a low quality fish fit for a quick Friday night supper battered or bread crumbed. Look at this piece of wild halibut I had last week in a new restaurant on the south coast - that is what I call a main course portion of a top quality ingredient.

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I have eaten in some excellent Michelin star restaurants and have returned again and again but I have eaten in many more that I wouldn’t bother with.

Le Champignon Sauvage, Le Manoir, Gidley Park, The Sportsman, The Vanilla Pod, Hambelton Hall are all place where the raw ingredients are treated with respect not messed about with for the sake of making a pretty picture or tarting up cheap ingredients.

I have not included The Fat Duck in this round up as I consider that pure theatre, alright if you want to pay £400-£500 for a performance.

I suppose that is the main criteria - would you return.

Edited by Pam Brunning (log)

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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If the pursuit of Michelin stars pushes chefs to shelve their awareness of the spectrum of possibilities of food, then it does suggest that it could ruin meals that should have been enjoyable.

Taking a strict line with any culinary approach quickly becomes empty and tedious, because the thought and imagination go out of it. Nouvelle cuisine seems to easily degenerate into a charicature of itself, a would-be intellectual and aesthetic exercise, or worse, pure performance art; when this happens, it fails even as an exercise, because it becomes uninteresting and disappointing.

The best meals I've had have inevitably been prepared by chefs who were free of the tunnel vision caused by embracing a single approach, and who took an ongoing, active interest in the overall effect, combining solid and ephemeral, humble and luxurious, homey and exotic, flavours and textures that set one another off, and both traditional and new elements.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Yeah, those original photos were a bit misleading Pam. That original presentation is beautiful, plus there aren't many places in the UK who offer gueridon service with prime cuts like that. No doubt another tick on their annual Michelin inspection box. I know the Waterside isn't cheap, but on that sort of evidence it's clear to see why.

Don't get me wrong, I love degustation menus, but - in terms of UK restaurants - a large majority of them do seem better value than they actually are since they feature very few luxury ingredients these days (a totally separate issue to flavour and execution, which can still be excellent). By contrast, got to France itself and for 3 stars you start at €200 minimum for DGs; €70-100+ for starters and €100+ for mains (so, significantly more expensive than the Fat Duck or the Waterside), but they are generally a lot more luxurious. I recently saw a gastro-porn pic of a signature pie from Bernard Pacaud's L'Ambroisie that featured an obscene amount of chopped truffle layered through the middle of it, little wonder it was €120 on the plate. As David says, you get what you pay for so it's horses for courses; don't they all strive to hit a GP margin in the region of 70% at the end of the day?

Edited by marcusjames (log)
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