(with apologies to David Bowie)
The man from Michelin has spoken. This year’s recipients of coveted stars have been revealed. Once again there were no new starred venues in Scotland although two establishments now have a Bib Gourmand. The latest announcement was met with the usual excitement that accompanies the annual ‘big reveal’. And it confirmed that the urge to be recognised in this way is just as strong now as it was when the guide started in 1990 at the Michelin tyre company in France.
Thinking that more travel would increase tyre sales, the Michelin brothers, Andre and Edouard, produced a guide with maps, details of where to buy petrol, hotels along the way and, of course, restaurants. By the 1920s, the company had recruited restaurant inspectors who would award a star to the best places. Eventually a grading system evolved, with the secret diners marking them with zero to three stars. Nowadays, despite other guides and rating systems offering valuable information and judgements, Michelin remains the gold standard around the world. A relatively small number of inspectors – around 120 globally – eat and make judgements on the quality of restaurants.
There are four categories of award, ranging from the Bib Gourmand to the top-rated three stars. The ‘Bib’ takes its name from Bibendum, the tubby Michelin Man who is the company mascot. This award is given to restaurants serving good food at reasonable prices, meaning three course for less than £28.
One star is granted when the inspector believes a place is worth a stopover on your journey, with food of a consistently high standard. A two star restaurant is worth a detour, offering skilfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality. To be awarded the top accolade of three stars, the quality must be good enough to justify a special journey. The cooking is distinctive and executed in a very precise manner using highest quality ingredients.
While the standard of the food is the key to clinching a star, the wine clearly plays a big part in the overall quality of the dining experience. As such, the house wine in a starred establishment should be of excellent quality. And, in the case of matching it to the food, the sommelier will have chosen carefully to ensure the drink – it may not always be wine – is a perfect complement to the dish.
No restaurants graduated to the three star level this year, and there were no new awards in Scotland, despite 21 places in Great Britain in Ireland earning a first star and three adding a second. Three Scottish stars were lost – Albannach, Lochinver and Martin Wishart at Cameron House because they are closed, and Boath House, Nairn, which asked to have its star removed. Meanwhile, The Sugar Boat in Helensburgh, and Monadh Kitchen in Glasgow were added to the Bib Gourmand list.
The places that were recognised will no doubt be celebrating with bubbly, and if you want to join in, or you have another reason to pop a cork, here are some suggestions for various budgets: