THIS month we consider one of the great questions of our time – what is the point of Michelin stars? I suppose that once upon a time, such recognition was a reliable indicator of quality, but these days there are so many guide books and restaurant awards – not to mention the dreaded Tripadvisor – that you can find out everything from the origin of the cutlery to the chef’s inside leg measurement before even going near the establishment in question. I ask because there has been some small gnashing of teeth in the Cotswolds as a handful of our better establishments have had their Michelin approval removed this time around. But does it really matter? We already know that these are great places to eat so why are we so in thrall to the opinions of a French tyre manufacturer? (We must exclude from any of the following comments our very own Le Champignon Sauvage, where chef/owner David Everitt-matthias has been getting the balance of fine food and formality just right for decades.) Eating a meal in a Michelin-starred restaurant is not always the pleasant experience you might think. Such is the weight of expectation that many diners are reduced to strange behaviour. On one side of you will be a couple of earnest foodies, quizzing the poor waiter over which side of the valley the walnuts on the salad were grown. They will then descend into a silence of intense concentration, the only sound being the clink of cutlery and the rustle of cardstiff table linen as they surrender their taste buds to the holy ministrations of the chefs. On the other side will be that modern-day curse, the food bloggers, clicking and flashing as they photograph every aspect of the dish on their phones before bunging it up on Instagram – by which time the food is cold and the maître d’ is clenching his frustrated fists and contemplating bloggercide. And in between flits the pompadured sommelier who sneered at you for ordering the second cheapest bottle on the eye-watering wine list and gets his revenge by sticking your plonk in an ice bucket at the other end of the room. Listen pal, I’ll decide when to top my glass up, not you. Now get that bottle on the table, pronto. This stereotypical Michelinstarred experience is a long evening of smarmy service, over-elaborate cooking, daft prices and ‘personality’ chefs. And do we really need to have our peas peeled or our lamb shredded, rissoled, faggotted, puréed and smeared? To be fair (and I don’t know why I bother), the French tyre company has tried to move away from this characterisation by becoming more diverse. Unfortunately the ridiculous result can be seen in last month’s award of three stars – as good as it gets – to a London restaurant called Araki which has only nine seats. I’ll repeat that: it has only nine seats, which amounts to a star for every three customers. You will never be able to eat there because it will now be fully booked until the day the poor chef expires and so the whole exercise is completely pointless. I suspect they’re just taking le pee now.
TIME for the annual rant about firework abuse. This year November 5th falls on a Sunday. We can therefore expect a weekend’s worth of whizz-bangs over three nights. For those of us with dogs of a nervous disposition, this is not only sufficient but also too much.
However, as a magazine which defends the rights of people to do what they want as long as they don’t harm others, it’s something we have to put up with. But let me tell you, the amusement value in watching a shivering whippet dressed in an Eric Cantona T-shirt wears pretty thin by the Third Night.
Michelin Man: Now let us drink!