This year’s Michelin Guide brought its usual constellation of events to the table — tales of the unexpected, shifts in approach and eye-rollingly predictable announcements. Here’s the rundown for 2017.
In any other year, the award of three stars would be a total no-brainer for this title. But given its tiny size and eye-wateringly high price point, The Araki loses out to Claude Bosi at Bibendum. To enter the guide with two stars off the bat is impressive enough; to do so whilst revitalising one of London’s most iconic dining rooms (itself synonymous with Michelin), making it relevant to a whole new generation of diners, is the whimsical icing on the cake. (Note: the restaurant, which originally opened under Sir Terence Conran in 1987, has never held a Michelin star.)
A star for Anne-Sophie Pic’s La Dame de Pic London was on lock from the day it opened. Not only is she a multi-star winner in the guide’s homeland, she is also the scion of a family whose starred pedigree harks back generations. For her not to have won would have caused serious consternation, whatever lukewarm domestic reviews suggested to the contrary.
Biggest shock until you read the small print
Given her three-star pedigree, it seemed like Clare Smyth could expect a star (at least) for her cooking at the “casual” but still very Michelin-friendly Core by Clare Smyth. She did not get one. Cue shock and horror, until someone pointed out that she opened too late for eligibility this year. Until 2018, then.
Biggest actual shock
Given the rapid progress it has made up the World’s 50 Best league table, some were suspecting that this might be the year that The Clove Club finally gained its second star. So it’s probably a tie between this and the lack of love shown to the experimental Modern British cooking at 108 Garage, which Times critic Giles Coren pronounced “incredible” when it opened. Chef Chris Denney made no attempt to disguise the fact he had a star in his sights; commiserations to both him and Clove Club chef Isaac McHale.
Biggest shock that shouldn’t be a shock any more
Is it The Dairy not getting a star? Hedone not getting two? Pidgin losing the star it gained last year for the cooking of a chef who was no longer working there even when it was awarded? The Square winning a star, or losing one, or something else weird that no one announced?
Most crushing instance of false hope
The awarding of a star to A. Wong at the start of the London leg of the awards ceremony was a brief, thrilling moment that suggested that this year, things might be different. Chef Andrew Wong has slowly but surely improved his (already excellent) cooking in the years since he opened his doors in 2013; this recognition was not necessarily long overdue but suggested something hugely promising about the direction the guide was going: towards something a little more fresh, and vibrant, and reflective of London’s unique culinary scene.
Most obvious resumption of normal service
Yeah, about that. Mere moments later, Michelin was back to its old tricks, garlanding high-end Indian (Jamavar), high-end New York imports (Aquavit), and high-end new openings from experienced Michelin old hands (La Dame De Pic London, Elystan Street). Clearly, changing the DNA of an institution such as Michelin is not going to happen overnight. But surely it can happen faster than this.
Most depressing trend
For the second (or maybe even third) year running, the Bib Gourmand category was by far the most interesting. It’s concerning that Michelin obviously considers this award a clearing house where it can reward interesting new restaurants without committing to a full star, since — overwhelmingly — it’s restaurants like those awarded Bib Gourmands this year that Londoners are actually visiting. The likes of Kiln, Smokestak and Clipstone — interesting cooking, the best of ingredients, regularly full — could feel aggrieved not to be given the real McCoy.
Those who did not watch the live ceremony should considers themselves fortunate. From the various promotional tie-ins with Nespresso (“world pioneer of premium coffee”) and Infiniti (cars? Oh yeah, tyres), to Bibendum doing a dab, to the laboured Yanksplaining of the changing face of British food — Michelin’s international guides director Michael Ellis declaring that “modern British cuisine has taken its rightful place on the world stage” — this was all just so Michelin. Not explicitly bad, not wrong, not wholly out-of-place: just out-of-touch enough to notice. The ceremony failed to capture the spontaneity, diversity, and sense of fun infusing British food in 2017; sadly, this year’s guide captures precious little of it, too.