For the unveiling of its 2021 guide, Michelin promised a transformation of its awards ceremony. And while coronavirus put an end to its plans for a ‘rock star' event, it is still expected to be a year like no other. Sophie Witts asks industry experts for their star predictions.
Last year was like no other for the hospitality industry. Restaurants pivoted to takeaway, dining rooms were reconfigured and well-loved institutions closed their doors for good.
But through it all the Michelin guide has stayed active, handing out stars in regions including Tokyo, Thailand and Rio de Janeiro. Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin guide, insisted: "a Michelin star, and all our award distinctions, will mean the same in 2021 as they always have".
The red book is due to announce the new additions to the 2021 Great Britain and Ireland guide at 6pm on 25 January, three months later than originally planned. It will be a digital event with no printed edition of the guide. Though details are unconfirmed at the time of writing, in other regions Michelin has streamed the announcements live on its Facebook and YouTube channels.
This year's awards were originally due to undergo a ‘rock star' makeover, which would have seen members of the public able to buy tickets to a two-day event at London's Camden Roundhouse in October 2020, but coronavirus restrictions mean it will now be much more low-key. Poullennec explained the delay last year: "[It will allow] time for the hospitality industry to get back on its feet, but will also let us prepare a full and comprehensive guide for our readers."
While the industry might not be quite back on its feet, there's a definite desire for good news and the boost a new star can bring to a restaurant. But several questions remain over the 2021 awards. Each year Michelin removes as well as awards stars, with 16 restaurants losing accolades in the 2020 edition. Though there have been a number of high-profile closures this year, including the two-starred Greenhouse in London's Mayfair, it remains to be seen if the guide will strip stars away from restaurants after such a tough year.
There's also the question of judging. Michelin claims it started work on the 2021 edition in August 2019 and inspectors were "out and about eating twice a day in restaurants and pubs" last summer. But the guide has always been clear that consistency is key to its judging criteria, and for restaurants the last year has been anything but.
In the 2020 edition, Michelin announced 23 new one-star restaurants and four new two-stars, while the Lecture Room & Library at Sketch in London was the only new three-star restaurant.
What will the 2021 edition hold? Will there be deletions? Who deserves a star this year? And is it fair to judge restaurants based on their performance in a pandemic? We asked chefs and industry experts for their predictions.
Andy Hayler, restaurant critic, Elite Traveler magazine
"There's speculation every year in the UK, and basically nobody knows. I do think that this year there's a case to be kind to places who have had to rush regular service, close down, offer takeaway, open back up again, and deal with staff leaving and sickness.
"I'm guessing Michelin will not demote many places and it shouldn't do, as it's been a very challenging time for restaurants and you would expect a few consistency issues. Michelin doesn't typically demote – it's slow to give stars, but it's also slow to take them away. Many restaurants that have been deleted over the years have just closed. It does happen of course, but they're few and far between.
Michelin doesn't typically demote – it's slow to give stars, but it's also slow to take them away
"I can't imagine that the pandemic will mean that Michelin will change its judging criteria. One chef I chat to socially said they had two or three inspections in the summer and autumn, so I know it's doing inspections. I think pushing back to January means it will have had enough time.
"That said, it's difficult to come up with credible suggestions. Places I personally have enjoyed include Sola in Soho in London, which on my scoring system is cooking at a one-star level. And I'd like to see the Ritz London get a second star.
"One of the issues this year is that there have been relatively few new openings. I find guessing very difficult, because it's extremely unpredictable."
Richard Vines, chief food critic, Bloomberg
"Michelin is a commercial enterprise and I am not surprised it is going ahead with the awards, though it is difficult to see how it can have fully evaluated all the restaurants. That said, I'd love to see some generosity with the stars – in previous years I think Michelin has been quite stingy, in London in particular.
I'd love to see some generosity with the stars – in previous years I think Michelin has been quite stingy, in London in particular
"There are so many deserving places. Claude Bosi is long overdue for his third star at Claude Bosi at Bibendum [Chelsea, London], while John Williams should get a second at the Ritz London. That would be a hugely popular one – after all, the restaurant serves some of the best classical food in the capital. I was surprised Ben Murphy at Launceston Place [Kensington, London] was overlooked last year and I also have my fingers crossed for Tom Brown at Cornerstone [Hackney, London]. And I'd love to see Otto's in Holborn get a star – it's so left field.
"I'd be amazed if there were any deletions other than closed businesses. It's just not the year for that kind of thing. If Michelin has been to a restaurant and it's not as good as it thought, with the difficulties with staff and suppliers, there has to be some generosity."
"Although I haven't eaten out as much as usual this year, I have had some great meals. The ones that stood out for me to receive one star are Cornerstone, Benares [Mayfair, London], Fallow [Mayfair], Perilla [Newington Green, London] and Lorne [Victoria, London].
"For two stars, the Ritz London, Pollen Street Social [Mayfair], the Kitchin [Edinburgh], A Wong [Victoria] and Le Champignon Sauvage [Cheltenham].
"For three stars Claude Bosi at Bibendum – it offers outstanding food and service."
Simon Hulstone, chef-owner, the one-Michelin-starred Elephant, Torquay
"This year has been a write-off for the industry, but we all want some good news. I would love to see the south-west get more stars, especially chefs Paul Ainsworth, Chris Eden [Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon], John Hooker [the Cornish Arms, Tavistock, Devon], Merlin Labron-Johnson [Osip, Bruton, Somerset] and Elly Wentworth [the Angel, Dartmouth, Devon].
"As always, I don't want to see anyone lose stars, but it unfortunately goes with the territory, so I'm only focusing on the positive. It's a tough job for the guide with so few days to actually review and the uncertainty of when we can reopen. But [the awards] are a day of great pride, so I think the guide should stick to its guns and carry on. Good luck to all."
It's a tough job for the guide with so few days to actually review
Thom Hetherington, chief executive, Holden Media and Northern Restaurant and Bar
"Incredible as it sounds, I suspect Michelin will generate more fevered debate than ever this year, although the nature of the discussion will undoubtably shift. Michelin sets so much store in the diligence of its inspection process that I struggle to see how it can possibly deliver a ‘business as usual' set of promotions and demotions. Would medals be awarded in an Olympics as disrupted as the lives of chefs and restaurateurs have been over the past nine months? Yet the virtual ceremony is going ahead this month, so changes there may be, and thus speculate we must.
"As always, my eye is on the north, and besides the French under Adam Reid in Manchester (perennially revered by the other guides, ignored by Michelin), there is still talent up here to be recognised. Luke French is doing sensational stuff at Jöro over in Sheffield, and Alex Nietosvuori up at Restaurant Hjem [in Hexham, Northumberland] has bedded in nicely and has international Michelin pedigree in spades.
"And although it may be a tough time to move up the rankings, I think the region's rising star could actually be the long-established Lisa Goodwin-Allen at Northcote [Langho, Lancashire], whose cooking seems to be re-energised and elevated this year.
"And although this is surely an unlikely juncture for Michelin to make groundbreaking announcements, the argument for the first three-star restaurant outside of the south-east remains as current as ever. For me, both Simon Rogan's L'Enclume [Cartmel] and Mark Birchall's Moor Hall [Aughton] are on a par with the rest of the UK's elite, but rather than it being a race, I'd like to see them cross that line together.
"On another note, I also see further potential in Lancashire's ‘dining triangle' and in York, and although wild cards are also almost certainly a non-starter, Sam Buckley's Where the Light Gets In [Stockport, Greater Manchester] is worthy of note.
"But through all of this, the existential questions remain: what exactly is Michelin measuring, and how, and why? There is no reason for its definition of culinary excellence to waver, but it does feel like a prism has tipped and the world has changed.
There is no reason for Michelin's definition of culinary excellence to waver, but it does feel like a prism has tipped and the world has changed
"The cliché is to say Michelin will ‘reveal all' on 25 January, but, of course, transparency is not its way. Though if ever there was a point for it to change and openly engage, it is now."
Sat Bains, chef owner, two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
"I have no specific predictions for Michelin stars this year – it must all be very much up in the air! Last year was very strange, and although we opened with the same team and world-class service, albeit under new restrictions, not everyone in the industry will have been able to do that. Not everyone has been able to keep their teams, let alone stay open.
"It's difficult to say what the Michelin judging criteria might be this year. It has been supportive of the industry in the past.
"As we start to come out [of the pandemic] people will be desperate to get back into restaurants. The atmosphere was electric during the few months we were open last year. I think customers will have a better appreciation for our ingredients, our service and our teams."
Angela Hartnett, chef-patron, one-Michelin-starred Murano, Mayfair, London
"I think Brawn [Bethnal Green, London], Noble Rot [Bloomsbury, London], and 40 Maltby Street [Bermondsey, London] deserve a star. I would love to see the Ritz London get two – John Williams deserves it.
"I am in two minds as to whether the awards should go ahead this year – yes, we need some good positive news stories, but I find it hard to imagine that the judging has been fair, given most of the industry has been closed for more than half the year.
"In lots of ways it would be fair [for the stars to remain static] as there have been so many other concerns for operators. Many were just trying to remain afloat. Restaurants in places like Scotland or Manchester have been closed for longer periods than others.
"I think we did have a visit from an inspector in the restaurant. I imagine the judging criteria will be the same as always."
Going green: should Michelin focus on sustainability?
In 2020 Michelin debuted a new icon: a green clover highlighting restaurants that promote ‘sustainable gastronomy'. It is a separate award available to restaurants that hold Michelin stars, a Bib Gourmand or plate distinction.
While there was praise for the guide in recognising the importance of environmentally friendly dining, the symbol also generated controversy after several chefs questioned how it was audited. Italian chef Chris Puglisi of Relae in Copenhagen, which closed permanently last year, accused the guide of ‘greenwashing', after claiming he was awarded the clover based on a single phone call. Michelin did not comment on the criticism at the time.
The clover launched after the last Great Britain and Ireland ceremony, meaning no restaurants in the region are currently marked with the icon, although it will feature in the 2021 selection. We asked our experts what they thought of the award.
"I hope Michelin does continue with the green stars. It's even more important post-Covid to think about being green in all aspects. We reduced our working week by 20% to make our team's jobs more sustainable, and we think about all the ingredients we serve. We should be being encouraged to think about our people and our planet."
"As a one-off during this desperate period, could Michelin not use its immense voice and reach to champion those chefs and restaurants who have performed philanthropic heroism for the industry and beyond? Should sustainability, excellence as employers and other ethical good practice not in some way be part of its criteria?"
"I love the idea of the green stars and was in Norway for the Scandinavian guide when that was released. I thought it was a great idea."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In