Michelin Guide UK 2021: 'It's a way for them to show their support for restaurants'

The  Staff Canteen

Anyone who has been involved with The Michelin Guide for an extended period of time knows that it moves in a mysterious way. Every year brings at least one surprise, for good measure, to keep things exciting.

But this year, everything is different - in that it's hard to predict anything about what it might look like.

What was meant to be the first year of a ticketed ceremony at The Roundhouse will now be an online stream and an all-digital guide, which sounds rather underwhelming to say the least.

120 years after it launched, will this year be uneventful and dry, out of respect for the difficulties endured by the sector as a whole, or will the guide turn it around?

Come January 25th, can it publish a guide that both acknowledges the difficulties the industry has faced this year but still recognises the UK and Ireland's culinary talent?

Stevie McLaughlin

"I don't for one-minute think that there's just going to leave everybody alone and write-off the year," Stevie McLaughlin, executive chef at two Michelin-starred Gleneagles said. 

"The book is pretty traditional in its appearance and execution; in the way it's written and put together. But if there is no book, they can do with it what they want - which I think is a good thing, because it's a unique, extraordinary year so they can do something unique as well." 

Not expecting anything too radical, however, he added: "You know how life-changing, potentially, an award or a deletion can be for people, let alone, some people don't know if they have a business." 

"That's the great thing about Michelin, you just don't know, they keep you on your toes. That's why it's always so relevant, so important, so widely read and talked about." 

Luke Tipping

Unsure of when the announcement is to be held this year, chef director of Simpsons, Luke Tipping, jested: "I don't even know what the date is today; I only relate to the days when I have to take the bins out at the minute."

Echoing Stevie's point about stars versus survival, he said: "It is a brilliant accolade to have, we've had it 23 years, it's been great and I would hate to lose it; but more importantly, the last thing I'd want is to never open this restaurant again." 

Simpsons is one of a number of restaurants to feature in the book to have completely changed what it does and how it does it in the context of the pandemic.

Think of other examples: Paul Welburn's The Oxford Kitchen became 215 Kitchen and Drinks, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw became Outlaw's New Road and Daniel Clifford's Midsummer House emptied its wine cellar and removed the vegetarian and vegan options from its tasting menu - all have streamlined what they do for the sake of increased clarity, and for Luke, this warrants some recognition from the guide.

After the first lockdown, he said, "we were cooking some of the best food we ever cooked because we changed our opening hours, we changed our menu format, we did a simpler, smaller offer and it springboarded us for when do open that we will carry on in that vein."

"We got stronger from it - and I hope we did get inspected at that moment because I think we were flying."

Not only this, but The Simpsons' @ Home offering is something that, like Simon Rogan, Luke expects to continue selling even once the pandemic is behind us.

"They should do awards on takeaways - all the Michelin inspectors should have boxes delivered," he joked.

Tristan Mason

Like Luke, Tristan Mason hopes that the inspectors will judge his restaurant on the basis of how it fared between lockdowns.

"We expected to be really quiet," he said, "but what we found was that it was really, really busy, and talking with customers - is that they'd rather go out now for one nice meal rather than three okay ones." 

In terms of what he expects, however, he said: "I would be surprised if they made many amendments this year - but you never know with Michelin, and that's why Michelin are who they are." 

"It's always a bit of a frightening time of year - and exciting at the same time - and always unpredictable," he added, and said that he and his team would likely organise a Skype call on the night of the ceremony to follow it all together. 

Having first opened Restaurant Tristan during the financial crisis, the chef said that being new then was "much harder" than the past year had been for them - a sentiment echoed by Luke, who said: "If you've got some kind of pedigree you can get loyalties from it - but to try and open a restaurant coming up, that'd be a very difficult situation."

Enda McEvoy

Chef and owner of Loam in Galway, Enda McEvoy, has managed to stay busy enough throughout the crisis, with six months of being open (and busy) in 2020 and the launch of a bakery and wine shop, Éan.

For him, "Michelin have been a great support to a lot of restaurants," and this year's guide "is a way for them to show their support for restaurants."

This, he said, "all depends on what tone they take. They obviously can't take a 'business as usual' tone."

"They should really spend this year highlighting the positivity in the restaurant world - which is what they do, even when they can't find much to shine a light on," he added.

Having earned the guide's first ever sustainability award last year, the chef believes that the guide should make this more of a key focus of their overall evaluation.

"By bringing that issue to the fore it is going to encourage more restaurants to take it a little bit more seriously - on things like food waste, treating staff fairly and stuff like that," he said.

Laughing at the possibility of receiving another star, he said: "Things like that this year aren't going to really matter are they. An extra star isn't going to make the pandemic go away.

"I'm not concerned about that, as long as they take it as an opportunity to acknowledge that it's been a tough year for everybody - which I guess is what they're going to do."

Though people won't get to celebrate it together as they usually do, "it is an occasion for people to bond," he said.

"There's always been a bit of speculation, it's like a team sport for a big group of socially inept social sideliners." 

"That is what people are looking forward to - and a bit of gossip. Chefs love gossip, they're mad for it," he chuckled.

As for the decision not to print the guide, "it's a bit of a shame not to have a physical copy - why not just print a glossier version and sell it for more money?"

"It's iconic; the shape and colour and feel of it, with those floppy pages - it’d be a shame to lose that."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th January 2021

Michelin Guide UK 2021: 'It's a way for them to show their support for restaurants'