Friday 18 January 2013

Searching for a Star

Interesting debate over on twitter, begun by The Hungry Manc about the importance of Michelin stars. Are they really important for a city like Manchester and it's restaurants?
Yes they're vital in my opinion.
Like it or not, Michelin Stars are the ultimate accolade for any chef and restaurant. Of course the system is flawed, and as @Foodsmith quite rightfully points out, there are dangers for the chef in aiming for the prize and missing the point of a restaurant in the first place. And the pressure in getting and maintaining them is immense, as seen in a recent BBC2 programme The Madness of Perfection.
Plus you can eat very well in a city like Manchester that doesn't currently have them. (Aumbry and Etrop Grange being fine examples.)
However, most (but not all) of the Michelin starred restaurants I've been to have been amazing, the food, the service and the general level of the experience has been unforgettable. Obviously this isn't exclusive to Michelin star restaurants, but it's a very clear indicator. The Michelin inspectors are very stringent and as everybody knows are always anonymous, so the chef is going to do everything in his power to make sure everything comes out perfectly - resulting in better food - in my experience.
Michelin Stars are also a brilliant indicator of the general level of the food in that area. And they show at a glance whether Manchester is a world class city for restaurants which it currently is not. (We can say it is, or we can say balls to them we don't need them, but we are deluding ourselves.)
Valencia for instance has 13*! In one small region. I think that tells you everything you need to know about restaurants at every level in Spain. Anyone who's eaten outside of British tourist areas will tell you that eating out is generally better in Spain, at the lower end and higher end, that's certainly my experience.
You see, I believe that when a successful Michelin Star restaurant is in town, it attracts more, as it can be proven that it's a commercially viable business. Also the standard of food in the whole area then becomes better as other restaurants have to up their game to compete. Like a trickle down effect. This is what happened in Ludlow, and in many Spanish regions, such as San Sebastian. If a poor restaurant opens up in the Basque Country it doesn't last long, because there is so much good competition you better make sure that your restaurant is fantastic. So people who like to eat out, but who can't afford or don't like the style of food in a Michelin Star restaurant would benefit.
Saying that, most people couldn't give a toss if there's a Michelin Star restaurant in their city, the majority wouldn't dream of spending such large amounts of money on food. But for those of us who are lucky enough to occasionally eat in such places, and who take such pleasure in eating really well, it means that our city centre would at last provide us with a restaurant that is deemed to be of the very highest standard.
It's embarrassing for a city as big as ours not to have a star. It makes us look like a provincial backwater to our southern friends (and annoyingly honest food critics.) In the city of Westminster alone I counted 36 starred restaurants. That fact tells you how good the London restaurant scene is.
But things are looking up. As all foodies know, Simon Rogan is bringing his genius to The Midland, so for the first time in years, we could see a Michelin Star in our great city.
We need it and I believe we're ready for it.
If and when that does happen, there's only one way our restaurant scene is going, and that's up.
Michelin Inspector (Artists impression.)
Further reading: The Guardian's article:  Does your town need luxury dining?
The answer is clearly yes.
* 2011 Guide.

1 comment:

  1. Further reading: ;)