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Eating out in the UK and Ireland is the best it has ever been

Richard Vines


 /  Wed, October 9, 2019  /  07:00 am
Eating out in the UK and Ireland is the best it has ever been

Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray sends diners on a 'journey', using a map and magnifying glass at the table (Shutterstock/First Class Photography)

A record number of UK and Ireland restaurants were awarded Michelin stars at a ceremony in London on Monday night, including the ultimate accolade of three stars for the Lecture Room & Library at Sketch, a French spot in Mayfair co-owned by Paris-based chef Pierre Gagnaire. 

A total of 187 establishments feature in the guide for 2020, including four new two-stars and 23 one-stars.

Sketch becomes one of only five restaurants in the U.K. to hold three stars. The flagship Lecture Room is known for quirky and creative dishes such as hand-collected Scottish scallops with pear, celeriac, and shiso, served with turmeric butter and quinoa. The Grand Dessert features seven miniature plates in two servings. The seven-course tasting menu costs £120 ($148), with a vegetarian option.

The décor at Sketch, a London town house with a total of four restaurants and bars, is even more unusual than the food, with huge egg-shaped loos a particular favorite on Instagram. Sketch is co-owned by Gagnaire, who holds three Michelin stars at his eponymous restaurant in Paris, and by the restaurateur Mourad Mazouz, who has establishments in Paris and London.

Three restaurants were promoted to two stars from one: La Dame de Pic, in London; the Dining Room at Whatley Manor, in Malmesbury, England; and the Greenhouse, in Dublin. Aimsir, a restaurant that opened just this year in Celbridge, Ireland, went straight to two stars. Four restaurants in London gained their first stars: Endo at the Rotunda; Dysart Petersham; Da Terra; and Mãos.

“Despite the obvious challenges being faced by the industry here in the U.K., we are thrilled that this has been such a stellar year, and we have seen many first ventures opening and rapidly rising to success,” said Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the guides. 

On the downside, three London restaurants lost their single stars: Benares, Galvin at Windows, and Yauatcha Soho. The Araki lost all three of its stars after chef Mitsuhiro Araki returned to Japan.

The Michelin awards attract considerable criticism, including that they’re unpredictable and often appear inconsistent. But chefs are obsessed with the awards, and getting in or moving up the rankings amounts to considerable money in bookings. Little else is talked about in kitchens before the announcement. This year there’d been widespread speculation that two other London restaurants might be promoted to three stars: Claude Bosi at Bibendum and Core by Clare Smyth. There was also a notable shortage of women winning new stars. The sole beneficiary was Anne-Sophie Pic, who’s based in France.

Michelin has done a reasonable job this year in recognizing young talent, particularly in Ireland, where two restaurants achieved two-star status: the Greenhouse, in Dublin, and the aforementioned Aimsir, in County Kildare, about a 30-minute drive west from the capital. But other respected young chefs were ignored, including the popular Tom Brown at Cornerstone in east London.

No one predicted a third star for Sketch, which won its first star in 2005 and the second in 2012. I’ve long been a fan of the place, but I have no idea why this was the year, though it does deserve it. My best meals in London in the past 12 months have been at Claude Bosi at Bibendum, and it’s very disappointing that Bosi didn’t win his third star.

(The other restaurants earning three stars were Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, both in London; and the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn, both in the village of Bray.)

Brexit, which in London is even more of an obsession than food, has had only a limited impact on high-end restaurants. While it has made it more difficult to hire the European staff on which the U.K. hospitality industry depends, the decline in the value of the pound has made restaurants more affordable for overseas visitors.

The awards were announced at the Hurlingham Club, in a ceremony attended by leading chefs from across the U.K. 

Three stars are given for “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,” Michelin says. “Our highest award is given for the superlative cooking of chefs at the peak of their profession.” Two stars represent “excellent cooking, worth a detour.” One star is for “high-quality cooking, worth a stop.” A Bib Gourmand represents more value-driven restaurants, where diners can get three courses for £28 or less, but not quite at the level of a star.

Read also: Singapore restaurants make history with three Michelin stars

The French tiremaker produced its first guide in 1900. Free of charge until 1920, it was initially intended for chauffeurs. The volume contained practical information including street maps and tips on repairing tires.

Below, a partial list of the winners, with a focus on London. **Indicates a new entry.

Three stars

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London
Gordon Ramsay, London
**Sketch (the Lecture Room & Library), London
Fat Duck, Bray
Waterside Inn, Bray

Two stars

**Aimsir, Celbridge, Ireland
Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Scotland
Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxford, England
Core by Clare Smyth, London
Claude Bosi at Bibendum, London
**The Dining Room, Malmesbury, England
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London
Greenhouse, London
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, London
Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, London
**La Dame de Pic, London
Ledbury, London
Le Gavroche, London
L’Enclume, Cartmel, England
**Greenhouse, Dublin, Ireland
Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin, Ireland
Hand and Flowers, Marlow, England
Midsummer House, Cambridge, England
Moor Hall, Aughton, England
Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac
Raby Hunt, Darlington, England
Sat Bains, Nottingham, England
Umu, London

One star (London)

Alyn Williams at the Westbury
Chez Bruce
City Social
Clove Club
Club Gascon
**Da Terra
Dining Room at The Goring
**Dysart Petersham
Elystan Street
**Endo at The Rotunda
Five Fields
Galvin La Chapelle
The Glasshouse
Hakkasan Hanway Place
Hakkasan Mayfair
Harwood Arms
Kitchen W8
Locanda Locatelli
The Ninth
Pied à Terre
Pollen Street Social
Ritz Restaurant
River Café
St John
Seven Park Place
Social Eating House
The Square
La Trompette

Bib gourmand (London)

Brasserie Zédel
Café Spice Namaste
Cinnamon Bazaar
Hereford Road
Petit Pois
Plaquemine Lock
St John Bread and Wine
Salt Yard
**Two Lights
Upstairs (at Trinity)
Westerns Laundry

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