Today we discuss the history of the Which? Good Food Guide and in particular review the brand new (published September 2008) 2009 edition.
The Good Food Guide was first published in 1951 with founding editor Raymond Postgate. It was actually not until the 1960’s that Postgate teamed up with Which? As an organisationWhich? is a consumer focused registered charity that is wholly independent, recognizednationally and strives to improve goods, services and standards for consumers. Yes, Mr Postgate could not have asked for a better partner.
Over the last 57 years, the Guide has been in seven safe pairs of hands. Yes only seven. Elizabeth Carter is in her second year, having taken over from Andrew Turvil. Like editors before her she has stamped her personality on the Guide: There is county navigation, colour photographs, chef interviews, reader’s awards, the Top 40, the ‘also recommended ‘and digestible bite size descriptions of every restaurant entry.
All this while remaining loyal to the legacy of her predecessors: The Guide maintains that indelible stamp of its inherent writing style, including the consistent, concise and accurate restaurant descriptions that reflect the pleasures of dining out so well. The scoring system too has remained untouched. Since 1996 the marks have been awarded out of ten. One might imagine, especially if new to the Which? Good Food Guide, that a mark of 1 out of 10 is in some way a slight or that this is a poor restaurant.
Nothing could be further from the truth; a mark of one puts a restaurant in the top 3% of restaurants in Britain (given the fair assumption that there are around 50,000 restaurants in Britain). As the marks go up, the restaurants get better and better until you reach the best of the best.
So is the Guide elitist? Far from it: At a restaurant scoring as high as 8 out of 10, comfortably in the top twenty restaurants in Britain, the Guide highlights a three course set lunch for £22.50. If anything, over the last few years, top end gastronomy has been applying downward price pressure on local pub food. This could comfortably be argued and discussed, but in another episode.
In the Which? Good Food Guide, how are the marks determined? Is it service, decor, ambiance or fashion? No, none of the above, it is purely the food. As always, the Guide has a pool of independent inspectors that have strict and well thought through criteria to measure the food on a plate: That is the type and quality of ingredients, then the preparation, conception and execution of the dishes.
So is there a theme for the 2009 Guide? The press release focuses on two distinct areas – The “Top 40” chart and “up and coming” chefs. The new chefs on the block. The editors comment is as follows:-
Is the old guard about to be toppled? These are exciting times for the UK restaurant scene with some really talented young chefs emerging who could go all the way to the top
To expand on this statement, five examples from the Top 40 Restaurants Chart are given. The chart in full can be found by following the links on the website to the podcast page. Let’s bring back our top ten feature and adjust it to a top five – here they are, the up and coming top five…the comments given are taken directly from the 2009 Which? Good Food Guide.
At 5 is Michael Wignall at the Latymer, Surrey, a new entry at 27 in the Top 40 who demonstrates “a complex and highly technical modern approach”
At 4 is Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House, Marlow, a new entry at 19 in the top 40 “shows elements of pure genius”
At 3 is Shaun Rankin at Bohemia Jersey, up 12 places to number 17 is “a hugely accomplished talent cooking at the top of his game”
At 2 is Jason Atherton at Maze, London, up 19 places to number 15, demonstrates “confident, pace setting cooking and compelling flavour juxtapositions”
At 1, the top up and coming chef, is Nathan Outlaw of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall, up one place to number 11, has been making “discreet but powerful waves by producing incredible food”
That’s it, the up and coming new chefs on the block, top five.
So the 2009 Which? Good Food Guide will sit proudly on the bookshelf – as well thumbed as its predecessors. Whether you are a regular visitor to fine dining restaurants or just someone looking for that new place to visit, then you won’t be disappointed with this Guide.
You can buy the guide by visiting www.which.co.uk or from any good bookseller.
That concludes Fine Dining in the UK episode 6 – the podcast brought to you by www.finediningguide.co.uk
Until next time. Happy eating!
The Which? Good Food Guide 2009 Top 40 Restaurants
1) The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire (10/10)
2) Gordon Ramsay, London (9)
3) Petrus, London (8)
4) Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxon (8)
5) Square, London (8)
6) Le Champignon Sauvage, Glos (8)
7) Le Gavroche, London (8)
8) Waterside Inn, Bray, Berks (8)
9) Vineyard at Stockcross, Berks (8)
10) Pied a Terre, London (8)
11) Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall (8)
12) Tom Aikens, London (8)
13) L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria (8)
14) Restaurant Martin Wishart, Ediburgh (8)
15) Maze, London (7)
16) The Capital, London (7)
17) Bohemia, St Helier, Jersey (7)
18) Hibiscus, London (7)
19) Danesfield House, Bucks (7)
20) Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon (7)
21) Restaurant Sat Bains, Notts (7)
22) Anthony’s Leeds, Yorkshire (7)
23) Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Scotland (7)
24) Holbeck Ghyll, Windemere Cumbria (7)
25) Fischers Baslow Hall, Derbyshire (7)
26) Simon Radley at the Grosvenor, Chester (7)
27) Michael Wignall at the Latymer, Surrey (7)
28) Whatley Manor, Wiltshire (7)
29) Hambleton Hall, Leicestershire (7)
30) Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo, Wales (7)
31) Harry’s Place, Lincolnshire (7)
32) The Creel, Orkney, Scotland (7)
33) Mr Underhill, Ludlow, Shropshire (7
34) Old Vicarage, Ridgeway, Derbyshire (7)
35) Castle Hotel, Taunton, Somerset (6)
36) The Greenhouse, London (6)
37) Club Gascon, London (6)
38) Kitchin, Edinburgh (6)
39) Simpsons, Edgbaston, Birmingham (6)
40) Crown at Whitebrook Gwent (6)