10 minutes with: Karen Robinson, the editor of The Times Top 100

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th November 2015
The Times Top 100 prides itself on being completely different to the Michelin Guide and any other restaurant guide on the market for that matter. Based on 65,000 reviews by diners across the UK the list, in association with Harden’s, delivers an exciting and alternative ranking system. The Staff Canteen spoke to Karen Robinson, editor of the list about unexpected new entries and why she thinks chefs are excited to be a part of it. Sat BainsLooking at The Times Top 100 it’s interesting to note that the top three restaurants all have two stars in the Michelin Guide but this is something list editor Karen Robinson is quick to dismiss. “We disregard Michelin because it’s a completely different system,” she explained. “The point is, we could either produce one paragraph in the newspaper saying ‘if you want to find a good restaurants go and read the Michelin Guide’ or we could say ‘this us, this is how we do it, we do it completely different to Michelin’. It’s not that we are anti-Michelin but this is our thing, we are The Times Top 100 and we do it with Harden’s. “Michelin has inspectors, we have real diners, they don’t tell anyone they are contributing and then they feed back. Through the consistency of all those thousands of reports that’s how we reach our results.”

>>>See the full The Times Top 100 Restaurants here

But are those top three restaurants a reflection of how diners in the UK are changing? Is it becoming more the norm to spend the money required to eat out at top restaurants – are they becoming more accessible and less intimidating? Karen said: “That’s another issue. This is the sixth list and the chefs who started out as the slightly wacky mavericks, but with the most amazing attention and training in proper techniques, they are now moving into the mainstream of British culinary excellence. “If you look down the list, Simon Rogan has three in our top 100 which is incredible really. Last year’s number one was Mark Wilkinson with Fraiche and he was adding music and all sorts of things, then again this year we have Tom Sellers at Restaurant Story and Lee Westcott and the Typing Room. What these new, young chefs have brought is really stunning I think. “Then in like a rocket at number four the Sanchez-Iglesias brothers in Bristol - the people have spoken!” She added: “I think what all those chefs have in common is they have incredible imagination and people love it. As Peter Harden, co-founder of Harden’s said ‘people are increasingly willing to invest in these experiences’. This year there are 44 London restaurants in the list, it’s the second year running that there have been less than 50, a reflection on diners being willing to travel to have a dining experience. Karen said: “Part of how we do the list is we get comments from some of those thousands of people shaun-hill-at-the-walnut-tree-inn-480651702and the comment we got for The Walnut Tree in Wales was ‘we drove two and a half hours each way and it was well worth it’ so I think people are really engaged with food now.” There is only one restaurant, The Raby Hunt, on the list from the North East and despite attracting attention in other guides surprisingly The Man Behind The Curtain and House of Tides are noticeably absent. “What makes the list so exciting is that every year there are new restaurants bubbling under the surface,” explained Karen. “Sometimes it can be a bit of a slow burn but then often when something new opens the people who are inquisitive and excited by food rush in – maybe out of London it takes a bit longer for the word to get around.” Despite being shut for 10 months, The Fat Duck still comes in at number 31 but Karen says this is based on reviews from before the restaurant closed. She said: “We were able to include what people said about The Fat Duck before it closed. Heston is such a big figure and it has reopened with all kinds of changes and improvements. It has dropped down the list a bit but I think the story of what is coming now is very interesting.” Karen added: “It’s also really expensive but the most expensive restaurant on the list is The Araki at £360 per head – all I can say about that is it’s cheaper than a flight to Tokyo!” The Times 100 List is in association with Harden’s but how do they work out where restaurants are placed? Hardens Logo Croppped“Harden’s have been doing this for 25 years, they have thousands of reviews and we have readers sign up to do it as well, they get them in for all restaurants not only from the top 100 and then filter through them,” Karen explained. “They do marks for food, ambience and service and then diners are invited to leave comments. “All of this is used to create the Harden’s Guide but they factor in more towards the food for the Top 100 – also the pricier it is the better it has to be.” She added: “There are a lot of unmediated review sites, and you can’t always be sure if they are genuine but Harden’s have a very good system in place for willowing out the fakes. It’s not common knowledge how they do it because if people wanted to influence the ballot they would know how to do it. “At the Sunday Times we are happy with this system because they have the track record and it’s as reliable as it can be. It’s a different method to other guides but it’s our method.” It may be a method which they are happy with but in comparison to the other guides the question is do chefs take it as seriously? “They know that it’s saying that they are consistently performing,” said Karen. “This year we have 21 new restaurants in the top 100 for the first time and nine re-entries, so that means 30 are out.” She added: “It’s always fun to see the trends and I was slightly surprised that London wasn’t doing a bit better but what I really love about this list is they are all the best at what they do and they are all rather different.” By Cara Pilkington @canteencara

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th November 2015

10 minutes with: Karen Robinson, the editor of The Times Top 100