10 minutes with: Andy Hayler

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th September 2015
It’s the definitive guide known throughout the world as the go-to book for top restaurants and it’s a club all chefs want to be a part of but only a select few are. Yes, it’s the Michelin guide and this week the 2016 version will be released, September 17 will be the best or possibly worst day for those in the industry. But, does Michelin always get it right? One man who, after over 20 years of critiquing food, may disagree with a few of those stars is food writer, Andy Hayler. The Staff Canteen spoke to the restaurant reviewer ahead of the guide to find out his thoughts on Michelin and restaurants which he is championing this year. 3-StarsWhat started as a newsletter for his like-minded foodie friends, became a book and now the longest running restaurant review site to date. Andy Hayler has a passion for good food and with his years of experience he knows what he is looking for. He has eaten in all the three Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, several times, and is currently one away from completing this glutinous feat again. But does he always agree with Michelin when it comes to stars? “No. I think there has been quite a lot of dilution actually but it’s a subjective thing and it’s my opinion,” said Andy. “Food writing isn’t a science so you can’t prove somewhere is a two star place.

>>> Read more about the Michelin Guide here

“I think if you take the 111 three Michelin-starred restaurants there are now you can spread them into three categories; there are a bunch at the bottom which are just errors, to me I just don’t understand how they have got anything like three stars or two or one! The bulk are in the middle, they are better than most two stars but the difference is somewhat small. Then there are a group of about two dozen which are world class. “If you take the UK places, three of the four fall into that middle bracket of being ‘quite nice’, Gordon Ramsay for example is a very good restaurant but does it compare to L'Ambroisie in Paris? I don’t think it does…at all.”lambroisie-la-deuxieme-salle-41 low res He added: “I actually quite liked The Fat Duck, it was the one place I would say was a justified three star in the UK but I still wouldn’t put it in the top 20 in the world. I used to go regularly and the only issue I had was the menu didn’t really change, there’s only so many times you can eat snail porridge.” Andy has always followed Michelin as it’s the most ‘reliable of the guides’ available and his focus has always been on finding the best restaurants and food. Although he doesn’t always agree on everything in the guide he believes it’s based on a sound methodology. “Michelin steered me around Europe,” explained Andy. “I was travelling around a lot with Shell and Michelin was the only guide which really covered the ground. In 2004 I realised I had eaten in most of the three Michelin star restaurants, which at that time were entirely in Europe and with a bit of careful planning I realised I could get to all of them by the end of the year. There were 49 at that point so it wasn’t an especially difficult thing to do and nobody else seemed to have done it.” BonhamsOne man eating in all three Michelin-starred restaurants caught the media’s attention and Andy’s hobby was put in the spotlight and he ended up on French National television. Feeling the need after the publicity to keep up to date, Andy has since completed eating in all the three Michelin-starred restaurants in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Andy said: “Now, they are very well spread because in 2006 Michelin started expanding outside of Europe. They started with New York, then added Japan, Hong Kong – so it involves a lot of travelling to keep up.” Andy says Michelin is a bit like Churchill’s quote about democracy ‘it’s the worst possible restaurant guide except for all others that have been tried’. He explained: “Well what else is there? There isn’t anything – there’s San Pellegrino which is a marketing thing for trendy restaurants. The Michelin methodology which is multiple visits by anonymous inspectors – I don’t see how you can make it better than that. If you were going to design a perfect restaurant guide then you would have that non-commercial approach with inspectors who restaurants don’t know are coming.” With the new UK guide due out in three days we will be expecting some newcomers to the list and I’m sure Andy will have his opinion on those. It’s difficult to predict which way Michelin will go, as he already mentioned it’s a matter of opinion but who would he like to see on there? “I find Michelin very unpredictable,” said Andy. “I can tell you one or two places I’ve enjoyed this year which I would give a star to but that’s not necessarily what Michelin are going to do. My favourite place in the last year has been Bonhams in Piccadilly – that would be my best new opening in London this year. Whether Michelin agree or not I have no idea!”The Ritz Restaurant 2 He added: “A place I go back to a lot is The Ritz which is chef John Williams, it’s a restaurant which Michelin totally ignore and I truly don’t know why. “I’m not out there to try and spot the next best chef I’m just looking for nice restaurants and as a consequence you’re going to stumble across some good chefs. I really like the guy at The Dysart, he’s an example of a young chef with a lot of ability who I think is on the way up.”

>>> Read our feature with head chef at The Dysart, Kenneth Culhane

Since Andy started reviewing restaurants the market has become saturated with bloggers and critics voicing their opinion. Andy makes it very clear that he pays for all of his meals in order to keep a reputation as a trusted critic but this is not always the case for others. He said: “I think having a wide range of blogs is a positive thing. People can find bloggers who are in tune with their particular views, essentially when you think about critics in anything you end up finding critics who you agree with. “It’s more democratic now and anyone who dines out can put up a website and create a blog, obviously there are those that are not very good but the good ones rise to the top. There are some excellent restaurant blogs out there by people who eat very widely and regularly in different countries – so those people I think are in a strong position to have an opinion. DysartHe added: “I think if you take hospitality from restaurants it makes it more difficult to be objective, not impossible but more difficult and I understand why people do it but it makes it harder to give a totally honest opinion.” Eating in every three Michelin-starred restaurant in the world and paying your own bills would make a dent in anyone’s pocket, so how much does it cost to complete this task? Andy said: “I’d prefer not to contemplate that really!” By Cara Pilkington @canteencara

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th September 2015

10 minutes with: Andy Hayler