Archive for January, 2010

Interview: John P Davey (January 2010)

Posted on: January 11th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
John P Davey

John P Davey

Having spent the last 25 years in front of house management positions, John P Davey is well placed to pass on hisknowledge, skills and experience to those in the trade. This is exactly what he plans to do, with the upcoming launch of a consultancy company. is a new venture about which John enthuses, in fact enthusiasm, warmth and generosity of nature were apparent in abundance when Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide caught up with John at The Lanesborough Hotel, London. Interview took place December 2009.

Tell us some background about yourself?

After school I started a three year chefs training course at Bristol Polytechnic. A year into the course, in 1970, I was invited down to The Imperial Hotel in Exmouth to do some commis front of house work. I really enjoyed the experience and it was at this time that I realised that my natural vocation would be looking after people in the front of house rather than the kitchen.

During the penultimate year of college I had the opportunity to go with a friend to Zurich and work at Hotel Baur au Lac. It was a very strict regime in those days and we worked almost exclusively in the basement polishing cutlery or cleaning glasses; we may have occasionally got to the door of the restaurant with a tray but never actually got in!

My romantic life took me back to Switzerland and my first hotel experience was in Vevey at Les Trois Couronnes. I learned so much of the fundamentals there, just by watching the staff at work – the importance of the initial meet and greet, the leading of the customer into the rest of their dining experience and so on. At the same time I starting learning French and as I was still young become fluent relatively quickly. Having the ability to keep my hand in with languages has helped a great deal throughout my career.

At my next adventure, The Lausanne Palace, I went right through the stations from fourth station chef de rang upwards and the day that I made first station was one of the proudest moments of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute – from ‘dressing up to put on a daily performance’ to plating for customers at the table.

Maurizio Santambrogio the manager, was such an inspiration to me in every way and I still think of him today – how to be absolutely professional and have fun at the same time.

The last twenty five years plus have been a fun, roller-coaster adventure of front of house management – taking in hotels and restaurants of the highest order and meeting and enjoying the company of people from all walks of life!

What is your front of house philosophy?

The head chef and the restaurant manager are like two captains of the same ship and communication between them is absolutely vital. This ensures that from back to front and front to back everything runs smoothly and seamlessly to the customer. Daily team meetings are an integral part of this process, to get the eye for detail right for the upcoming clients.

It is a fundamental that the customer must never (or as infrequently as humanly possible) have to actually ask for something – be it bread, butter, water or wine – the staff must be acutely aware of these attentions to detail and almost instinctively (as a second nature) give the customer what they need before they ask for it.

As with any professional job, it is important to take pride in performance, in doing a first class job, but also to have some fun in the process. The better organised, prepared and disciplined the team unit – front and back – then the better operations work from kitchen through front of house.

There are the simple things, like having processes in place and following those processes – right from induction of a newcommis through to complex service arrangements. In a way I think of it as a kind of ‘advanced driving’ course, knowing how to drive properly is a given, the next step is taking in all the information from your peripheral vision all the time; this is a skill but is a skill that can be acquired nonetheless

The nuances of detail are so important, as one example, not interrupting the flow of a conversation between guests at the table, when a simple mutual nod will suffice.

There is also the concept of table maintenance – the table looks impeccable before the customer arrives and there’s no reason why that table can’t remain in that condition throughout the evening: Clearing crumbs, changing napkins, covering blemishes, removing plates and cups promptly and so on.

To a degree front of house must also be aware of the upselling opportunity – for instance, should the customer be considering having a main course and no starter, one could suggest it may take time to prepare the main course “how about sharing a starter” and then organise a starter on two separate small plates.

In similar regard, modern fine dining is possibly missing the digestif opportunity. In most cases you have to ask for the digestif menu, when its something I’m sure many customers would enjoy at the end of a meal. In a completely separate area, menu writing is generally a skill that has become something of a lost art – the perpetual use of the words ‘and’ and ‘with’ instead of illustrating adjectives appear to abound in restaurants at every level.

What is your plan for business ventures in the future?

Having gained so much experience over the last 30 years, I want to take the opportunity to give back to the industry – to give the sparkle in the eye, to engage with bright young people and just give them that little bit of guidance, to give restaurants that edge in providing customers with what they want.

There’s the opportunity for people to come into this wonderful industry and learn so much – about other people, about service, about the industry.

It would be great to share some channelled enthusiasm and hope that just some of it proves infectious!

Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir; Menu Découverte (2010)

Posted on: January 11th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Raymond Blanc

fine-dining-guide was privileged to meet Raymond Blanc over breakfast, to hear his latest ideas for Le Manoir.  Almost breathless with enthusiasm, he tells us of changes to the restaurant seating, redecoration of some of the courtyard rooms, and plans for a spa and a thousand-tree orchard.

Famed for his meticulous attention for detail – “excellence is the accumulation of seemingly inconsequential, minor and weightless details” – he is on his way to London to choose materials for one of his thirty two individually designed rooms. Clearly, his creative genius shows no signs of abating – if anything the reverse. As his vision for Le Manoir nears completion, so a renewed energy and drive are much in evidence.

It is now over twenty five years since Raymond Blanc moved from his small restaurant in a shopping parade in Summertown to this elegant, honey coloured manor house in rural Oxfordshire.

This period has seen major building projects: the magnificent conservatory extension to the restaurant, the private dining room, new kitchens, the Cookery School, the garden wing rooms, and the remodeled entrance and car park. Vegetable, herb and tea gardens, beautiful lawns, and delightful walks, with access to a Japanese tea house and Orangerie, bear witness to the mature development of the estate.

As a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, Le Manoir combines the traditional with the modern. All the extensions are in harmony with the original house. The masculine exterior is balanced by feminine interior designs, especially in the courtyard wing.

The Anais suite in which I stayed has a romantic feel, with its glass fronted real wood fire, contemporary erotic painting, glass sculpture, female manikin and “do not disturb” red bow. Impeccable attention to detail is shown in the thoughtful additional touches: candles in the marbled bathroom; fruit, water and Madeira; note pads and pens by each telephone. The technically minded are considered too with an iPod docking station and complimentary broadband Wifi access. To ensure maximum comfort, guests are contacted before their stay to express a preference for blankets or duvets, and, in turning down the bed, the maid leaves a small bottle of pillow spray.

Rooms in the main building are decorated and appointed in a more classical design as befits their historical character. The Botticelli room, for instance, has an exquisite bathroom – accessed up a spiral staircase – with two facing Victorian claw footed baths. The Dovecot, once used to store the restaurant’s mineral water, has been converted to a split level suite, complete with oak beams and mirrored views of the croquet lawn.

However, the climax to any visit to Le Manoir must be eating the food that made Raymond Blanc a world renowned chef.  This too shows no signs of waning. Over aperitifs and canapés in one of the three luxuriously appointed lounges, the diner can peruse a menu that offers an embarrassment of choice, from the three course menu du jour at week day lunches, through the carte, to the nine course menu decouvérte, which features many of the newer dishes.

The original restaurant comprising two interconnecting rooms has been more than doubled in size by a high pitched conservatory, which exhibits an enchanting glow in the evening and commands a clear view of the gardens during the day.  Well spaced tables, excellent acoustics – a boon in a busy restaurant – and helpful, knowledgeable service, also make this the perfect platform for Raymond’s culinary delights.

Freshness and seasonality are enduring hallmarks of Le Manoir’s dishes. The extensive organic vegetable and herb gardens provide most of the kitchen’s needs. The finely tuned cooking is based on classic French techniques, with a lighter, more contemporary touch, whilst revealing elements of fusion in some dishes. Flavours are clean and the presentation is finished with conscious artistry. Luxuries such as caviar, truffles and foie gras often appear, but always to elevate and enhance.

For those opting for the menu découverte, constant interruptions to announce each dish are avoided by an accompanying menu; indeed the diner has to request announcements if they so wish. The sourcing of the top rate ingredients is hugely important to Raymond, so it is no surprise that this is given in detail:

The menu decouverte opens with a tartare of wild yellow fin Indian Ocean tuna with a Japanese savoury custard of exquisite velvety texture which complements the delicate fish perfectly.

A confit and parfait of Landais foie gras has all the richness one would expect, but this is balanced by a pineapple and vanilla chutney, with sour dough toast replacing the more traditional brioche.

Plancha seared hand –dived scallops from Loch Leven arrive with a smoky caramelisation that enhances their taste and texture. Cauliflower puree and curry oil bring the dish together in a trinity of harmonious flavours.

Wytham Farm free range poached hen’s egg is the star of the next course, which shows confidence in the use of an excellent but basic main ingredient. The Jerusalem artichoke foam with pickled mushrooms and winter truffle add elegance and richness.



The sixth course features a stunning fillet of wild Cornish gill-netted brill (above). Braised to a melting tenderness, it is topped with a generous portion of caviar, covering a native oyster which adds a contrasting freshness and texture. The seafood is lifted by a wasabi beurre blanc which stimulates our nasal senses but does not overpower the dish. This was a most refined plate, exciting in its conception and brilliant in its execution.


By comparison, the meat course does not reach such heights, but is still very good. Roasted Goognargh duck breast (above) is perfectly timed to a medium rare to produce a distinct but gentle gaminess.  The richness of this dish is moderated by being cooked without the skin, with contrasting accompaniments of caramelised chicory and mandarin curd.

Cheeses are exemplary, as seen in a tasting of brillat-savarin, mont d’or and epoisses, confirmed their perfect condition of ripeness. (This is an optional extra course)

Three desserts demonstrate the excellence of the pastry section. Whilst the exotic fruit “raviole” with kaffir lime leaf and coconut jus shows eastern influences, the pear Almondine , caramel croustillant and ginger reverts to more classical French roots. “Coeur de Guanaja” chocolate cremeux with cocoa “grue” nougatine and coffee foam provides a rich and indulgent finish. Excellent coffee and petit-fours complete an exceptional meal.

The wine list features over a thousand bins, with an abundance of Burgundy and Bordeaux but also featuring many from the New World. The sommelier is also happy to suggest glasses or wine to match as few or as many courses as the diner wishes. For instance, the Riesling Grand Cru from Alsace (2005) proves a perfect accompaniment with brill, whilst the Côte Rôtie from the northern Rhône (2004) stands up well to the robust flavours of the duck. As with all top flight restaurants, but even more so with Le Manoir, this is a total experience which engages all the senses and will be remembered for many years to come. Quality of this level does not come cheap, but the value for money is unquestioned.

Interview: Derek Bulmer, Editor Michelin Guides (Jan 2010).

Posted on: January 7th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Michelin Guides 2010

The Four Industry Leading Guides Edited by Derek Bulmer (2010)


Derek Bulmer has been in the Hotel & Restaurant industry all his working life. He joined Michelin in 1977 and worked as an inspector for many years before becoming deputy editor to Derek Brown. For the last thirteen years Mr Bulmer has had editorial responsibility for the GB & Ireland Michelin Guide to Hotels & Restaurants, The Main Cities of Europe Guide and more recently the Eating out in Pubs Guide and The London Guide.

On Tuesday, January 19th 2010, Derek Bulmer found time to record a 12 minute iTunes podcast interview with Simon Carter, editor of . Interview took place at The Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London. The original podcast can be listened to by typing “fine dining uk” into the main iTunes Store search box. The podcast is free to access. This interview is best read in conjunction with the internet first interview with Derek Bulmer that took place in 2005 – many elements (many questions and answers) are timeless.

Tell us about your professional roles and responsibilities?

My main responsibility is to represent Michelin and to provide our readers with the best quality possible selection of hotels, guest houses, restaurants and pubs. I’m specifically responsible for four publications; the main one of course is the Great Britain and Ireland Guide, then there’s The London Guide, which is an extract from GB&I presented in a different way. The Eating out in Pubs Guide, which is an update of all the best pubs once a year and finally The Main Cities of Europe Guide which brings some additional responsibilities for Nordic capitals and capitals in central Europe.

In addition, my team and I assist with some of the new city guides that are being produced on an on going basis all over the world.

With the launch of GB&I for 2010, tell us of some of the trends you see in the marketplace?

Well I think the first thing we’ve noticed is that the industry has been very resilient, more so than we feared, with restaurants surviving the recession better than we imagined they might.

In fact, chefs have been imaginative in putting on different menus that have kept the customers coming in through the door. In effect, in certain places, we’ve seen ‘credit crunch’ menus specifically for these straightened economic times: These restaurants have been successful at keeping customers and will be well placed to move forward when times get better.

Any further, general cooking trends, about which you’d like to elaborate?

Well, we’ve seen the continuation of a trend that I’ve talked to you about for several years now, namely the idea of more flexible, informal dining. There’s perhaps the start of a new trend that is beginning to emerge and we’ll see more of in the future in “tapas” style dining;breaking away from the more structured menus that we’re used to and allowing the diner to order as many or as few smaller dishes as they wish. We’re starting to see more serious chefs going down this particular route.

Tell us about Rising Stars – What do they mean to the reader and the Chef?

The rising star symbol was something we introduced five years ago right across our European range of Guides. The ideawas to give our readers a little more of an insight into our thinking – to tell them who was right at the top of a particular category and therefore who might be considered for promotion in years to come.

It’s had two effects really; readers have tended to write to us more about those targeted places so Michelin get a lot more feedback and sometimes it gives chefs the impetus, or final push, to get from one category and into another. So it’s a kind of incentive? It’s a bit of an incentive and it’s opening up our thoughts to our readership – something we didn’t do in the past.

In terms of the coverage model of inspectors for Michelin, how does that work?

Our inspectors are very mobile. We have around 80 inspectors in total; 70 of them are based and work (most of their time) in Europe along with a further 10 who based in the US and far east.

As I said, they are a very mobile crew, a team is not limited to working in the geography of the guide they make and depending upon the languages they speak, they can work anywhere for Michelin.

For example, a number of the British inspectors do very well with this arrangement; not only will they cover Great Britain and Ireland and the Main Cities of Europe but also are in high demand all around the world with the new City Guides that Michelin are making.

And I guess that would help with the benchmarking of standards across Europe and the world?

That’s the whole idea! We’re aiming to get one consistent standard for entry into the guide, for one star, two stars and three stars around the world: The more experience you have on an international scale the easier it is to get this benchmarking.

Tell us about The Main Cities of Europe Guide and are there any plans to expand that publication?

This year it will be published on March 16th (2010). The main cities is an interesting publication because it allows us to visit countries where no Michelin Red Guide otherwise exists.

In fact, we’re always looking to expand this book, and most years we add cities. This year it will be the turn of Salzburg to be included.

Coming back to the GB&I marketplace, during these difficult economic times, can Michelin reassure chefs and readers that they remain focused on the entire menu and not just set meals?

It’s not our place to tell chefs what menus to put on, Michelin will only go along and consider what they’re offering. Where we find a choice and perhaps that choice includes a temporary menu that has been put on especially for these difficult economic times, Michelin are more likely to eat from the a la Carte Menu.

Michelin understand that in six months time (for example) that the ‘credit crunch’ menu will disappear and the restaurant will go back to their normal menu so that’s the one we’d be looking at to think in the longer term.

On the subject of the GB&I Guide, there may be some feedback from chefs that stars are ‘hard won’ in this marketplace; do you have a view on that?

Yes I do! Stars are hard won; in fact they’re very hard won! The top of the industry has very high and rising standards and Michelin reflects back these very high standards when considering awards throughout the country.

The one thing I would add is that it is no easier today to win a star in France or Italy or indeed New York or Tokyo than it is in GB&I. The reason I know that is because I’ve been personally involved in the decision making process in such places and I certainly don’t adjust my standards to make it easier when I go and work abroad. It’s the same standards throughout.

What benefits to the reader does the London Guide bring?

The London Guide is slightly different – it’s aimed at Londoners first and foremost and visitors to London. People who are not planning to tour the whole selection of GB&I perhaps would prefer a guide that is just targeted for London.

The nature of the book allows Michelin to provide a lot more information – more descriptions, more insight into our thoughts with some tips and guidelines etc. So yes, it’s a book specifically designed for residents and visitors to the capital.

Can you tell us more about the editing process and the production process of the London Guide?

The London Guide is made by the same team of inspectors that are making the Great Britain & Ireland Guide. It is the inspectors job to supply our in-house team of text writers with notes on how the text should flow to reflect the unique nature of each restaurant.

The process is that the inspectors bring reports back to the offices, the text writers write a text, they run them back past the inspector to ensure they have picked up the essence and accuracy of what was intended and then I would have a last look at each of them before they get printed.

What is the current role of reader feedback in the production of the Michelin Guides generally?

Reader feedback has always been important to Michelin. In fact it is actively encouraged through the inclusion of a questionnaire in every Guide we sell. Michelin appreciate information about the hotels and restaurants that we do recommend but also those that we don’t. This helps enrich the guide with knowledge of potential new entries, too.

It’s also very useful to know what readers are thinking about addresses that Michelin may be targeting for a specific award. So it is very good information that we do take into account.

So it essentially contributes to a decision that is made by inspectors and so on?

It does indeed. At the end of every year we have something called a star meeting that may last three days. The team will discuss in great depth all the candidates we are considering for the year – each inspector has the opportunity to talk about meals at addresses in great detail. At the same time we’ll take into account reader feedback for that address, after all we are focused on making the guide for the reader.

Written publications are ‘date in time’ and the internet is about ‘real time.’ Do Michelin have a strategy to take advantage of the ‘information age’?

Yes, we’re always moving forward. We introduced the viamichelin website some years ago, which contains our whole selection on line for free. Additionally, we have the iphone app which allows the user to download the guides of a particular country to their phone. We sell 1.2 million Guides a year, a huge number, and we’re disseminating this information is lots of different ways to reach as wide an audience as possible. While we don’t currently publish updates more frequently than annually (or have any plans to do otherwise), it is something we’ re always thinking about for the future.

What is your perspective of the future of the Michelin publications?

One word would sum that up – Expansion! That something we’ve been doing for the last ten years, you’ll know that we’ve been bringing out a new guide for each year. Last year it was Kyoto and Osaka.

It’s true to say that further expansion will be in the city guides that we continue to make and publish around the world. We may see more expansion – possibly in the US, certainly in Asia.

Thirty years ago, when I started inspecting for Michelin, my visiting was around Coventry and Liverpool, the inspectors of today have much more exciting destinations that they’re going off to! (laughing).