The Michelin Guide 2020 is out. With it, new stars, surprise omissions, and sensational deletions. It all took place at the Hurlingham Club in west London yesterday: an event hosted by the motorsport broadcaster, Amanda Stretton, chef Raymond Blanc, and Michelin’s international guides director Gwendal Poullennec.
Here’s what happened at #TyreFestival2019.
Most ominous event title
MICHELIN STAR REVELATION, the Facebook Live event banner called it, inadvertently conflating industry gong and Biblical apocalypse. Instead, it was the the end times of TS Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’: A succession of locked-in winners — Endo at the Rotunda — surprising misses — bookies’ favourite Cornerstone — and occasionally weird calls — more on that soon — that meant one of the biggest events in hospitality came off with less of a bang, more of a slightly perplexed whimper.
Jeez, but this took a while to get going. After opening remarks from host Amanda Stretton, the organisers followed up with the now-standard, lengthy PR video piece bigging up the guide. A speech from Michelin sales and marketing director Romain Perrier revealed a new website — cue a Bookatable synergy question from Stretton: “Does this mean I can also book online?” — and promised it would host “exclusive content stories.” Then Olivier Batel, managing director of Classic Fine Foods, talking about the importance of Michelin’s plaques, and introducing a new gold variety to reward ... Well, it wasn’t quite clear. But something to do with best social media sharing, or food photography, or something? Then an appearance from International Director Gwendal Poullennec to describe how Michelin was evolving to take account of digital activity and spreading its international reach, before a set of three special awards for Sustainability, Sommelier, and Service, all with their own individual presenters, intros, and outros. The overall impression was of a very old company taking its first tentative steps into Extremely Online Twenty First Century Brand territory — but forgetting that in the information age, attention spans are now measured in nanoseconds. For the record, the ceremony livestream started at 4:45p.m.; the first star was not awarded until after 5:30p.m.
Most telling venue
It’s as reductive to suggest all west London restaurants are soulless money pits as it is to characterise all east London restaurants as small plates joints where bearded hipsters drink natural wine. But it probably is fair to observe that the capital’s culinary epicentre has decisively shifted east over the past few decades — from Knightbridge and Mayfair via Soho and Clerkenwell to its current residence in Shoreditch and Hackney. As such, the choice of venue for this year’s ceremony — west London’s uber-posh Hurlingham Club — was not an especially auspicious one. Subsequent stars for Shoredich’s Māos and Bethnal Green’s Da Terra were encouraging signs, in the mould of last year’s awards for Brat and Leroy, although one could point to misses for Cornerstone (Hackney Wick) and The Laughing Heart (Hackney Road) — and another year without a second star for Shoreditch’s The Clove Club — as evidence that Michelin is yet to quite glom onto what makes London’s food scene tick.
Most vindicated relocation
Da Terra was the former home of Lee Westcott, who tried unsuccessfully to gain a star there when it was The Typing Room. His story has a happy ending, though as his new restaurant Pensons on the Netherwood Estate earns a first Michelin star approximately 150 miles away from London. As more and more chefs leave the capital to work on passion projects closer to their produce, could there be a similar exodus of Michelin stars? Certainly, London’s overall clutch this year — with just four new one-stars crowned — isn’t exactly grounds for optimism.
Most questionable choice of streaming platform
Putting it politely, the Michelin REVELATION does not have a reputation as a silky-smooth piece of event management. So hosting it, for another year running, for instant public dissection on Facebook Live may not have been the savvy piece of customer #engagement it might originally have seemed. “I’m literally raging and laughing at the same time” commented one viewer; “THE PAINFUL SILENCES” lamented another. Perhaps the pick of the pack came from one user called “Jay Rayner,” who simply observed: “Christ alive, this is a badly run event.”
Most QLF elevations
As in, “quoi le fuck?!” Surely the only appropriately Francophone response to two elevations that the bookmakers certainly didn’t see coming. Then again, maybe it’s entirely predictable: Michelin has always had a habit of bestowing stars on new projects from already-starred chefs, and in Anne Sophie Pic — whose La Dame de Pic was bumped up from one to two stars — and Pierre Gagnaire — whose Lecture Room and Library at Sketch joined restaurants by Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse at three-star level — it was very much re-rewarding two of its own. Pic and Ducasse are also French, and cooking in the sort of Western European style that (perhaps along with a bit of high-end sushi and Indian) Michelin seems overwhelmingly to prefer celebrating. The glossy PR video at the start of the evening talked a very good game about “internationalising” the brand; as the final gongs were handed out it was hard not to feel that Michelin had paid little more than lip service to the idea of a truly representative set of awards.
Most radical suggestion for fixing this next year
Despite the best attempts of the script-writers — Stretton’s closing remarks encouraged audience members to leave the auditorium and “discover some new innovative brands,” which, yikes — there were some genuinely heart-warming moments that showcased exactly what a Michelin star means to a chef lucky enough to receive one. Endo Kazutoshi’s visible emotion upon receiving his star for Endo at the Rotunda — like the moment when Alex Bond of Nottingham’s Alchemilla audibly exclaimed “What the FUCK?” upon receiving his — were notably human, and definitely unscripted, and all the better for it. So how about this: next year, no preamble, no awkward interviews, no synopsis of what the inspectors thought about each newly starred restaurant. Just chefs being allowed to express themselves on what should be one of the happiest days of their lives.