Rebecca Burr has completed her third year as editor of The Michelin Guide to Great Britain & Ireland. The 2014 edition was published on Thursday 26th September 2013. Ms Burr also holds responsibility for three further guides at Michelin: The Michelin London Guide, The Michelin Main Cities of Europe Guide and The Michelin Eating out in Pubs Guide.
Simon Carter of fine dining guide interviewed Rebecca at 3pm on the same day as publication at a hotel in St Pancras, London. Here is what Rebecca had to say…
How would you describe, using a paragraph for each: ‘What makes a restaurant with a Michelin star; two stars and three stars’?
The answer to this has not changed – it is the food every step of the way! Where people may be getting confused is where restaurants of different styles and cultures are awarded stars such as Lima, Yauatcha or Hakkasan but it is still the food quality that is being reflected to the readers. Its also about consistency of offering: Tuesday lunchtime or Saturday night, April or September, whether the head chef is in or not, is the restaurant kitchen well managed to maintain those standards and so on.
The step from one to two stars demonstrates the flair, creativity, consistency and quality of individual signature. Restaurants that demonstrate these attributes over a fairly considerable period of time will find themselves at the entry point of a world class level. As at this time, there remain only 403 two stars around the world so achieving such an award tells readers to expect a certain level of consistent quality associated with that standard.
Three stars is still all about the food. I recently went to the two new three star restaurants in Spain and the experience was one of extraordinary skill in displaying absolute mastery of classical through to modern cooking techniques. You really see these truly great (three star) restaurants sharing a committed philosophy of excellence.
How would you describe the general Michelin starred restaurant landscape in 2014?
A great year for cities, particularly London with two new two star restaurants (Dinner by Heston and The Greenhouse) but also Bristol and Birmingham have done well in restaurant terms. Jersey has also proven a destination of choice for our recommended hotels through Bib Gourmand and starred restaurants.
In general the deletions of stars this year across the country have been due to closures (mainly due to chefs moving on), which coupled with the award of fifteen new one stars and two new two stars shows that standards in this country are continually and steadily on the rise.
How are restaurants fairing in the economic times?
Very well and in general have been bucking the economic trend. Perhaps people are more careful about what they will spend and the way in which they will spend, but restaurants in general have risen to the challenge of providing a consistent value for money offering: From food-led pubs, through fashionable boutique hotel restaurants: From single concept dining to iconic country house hotels. The former and latter are in fact the envy of my international colleagues as they are uniquely British and doing so well.
Would it be too strong to suggest there has been a cultural shift toward dining out?
There are a few things that people are reluctant to give up and perhaps holidays and dining out are two of them! However, as the customers’ typical budget has changed so has the supply of more casual, relaxed and low cost restaurants. This has not precluded quality in any way and the Bib Gourmand award has never been more popular with readers.
What is happening at the very top end of the market – Michelin three and two star?
First of all, our team recognize the extraordinary amount of effort (as well as potentially cost) that may go into retaining two or three Michelin Stars. These are a rare breed of restaurant at the world class level. So congratulations are in order to the twenty-one two star and four three star restaurants in Britain for maintaining that great achievement.
Whilst we understand the appetite that may exist in this country for a new three star restaurant we have to be absolutely certain, in every way, that the time is right for that restaurant: From certainty in the kitchen to maturity in the business, that the restaurant would represent Great Britain & Ireland favourably on the international stage.
So while we would be thrilled for say a two to three Michelin star promotion to happen, it has to be absolutely right. I’m not saying that the chef needs to be in the kitchen twenty four hours a day seven days a week but some of the iconic chefs of the past were certainly not diluted in their focus too early in their careers. It is entirely a matter for the chef and the dedication to the restaurant in question.
What trends in dining do you see arising through 2013 and for the future (2014 and beyond)?
An interesting trend at the top end is perhaps towards set menus, occasionally purely tasting menus, while dispensing with the a la Carte. There is a mixed reaction to this from our readers. While the kitchen or chef/patron may prefer this route for economic and practical reasons it places more emphasis on the price point and the expected consistency of quality. One also wonders what impact diminished choice has on repeat custom.
The local and seasonal trend will continue. We’ve also seen dining in more relaxed ‘social spaces’ and as with any trend, the Michelin philosophy will stay the same, if the food is good enough the establishment will qualify for an award.
What’s new with Michelin Bib Gourmand?
Different to a star, not half a star in fact nothing associated with a star, although coming with the Michelin inspector stamp of quality. There are 143 this year, 27 new ones. We look at everything, the price of water, coffee, side dishes and so on to ensure that the restaurant is in keeping with the spirit of an award that is still set at a meal for £28 for three courses.
Certain geographies (for example Benelux) have a Bib Gourmand specific publication, which reflects how popular they are; a market within the market of Michelin recognitions.
The longer descriptions of the Michelin London Guide seem well received?
Aimed at the home market but made by the same team, The London Guide gives an opportunity to be a little more opinionated. Michelin are not critics but observers so the tone of the entries is defined accordingly. Michelin Guide stars are given a whole page of text including colour photograph, specialities across each course and QR Code to locate the entry on viamichelin maps.
When is Michelin Main Cities of Europe due for publication and what can we expect?
14th March 2014. Prague, Budapest and Warsaw are examples of cities that are all moving forward dining wise plus we have the excitement of what is happening in the Nordics. It is still early days for the next guide but we’re delighted with what we’re finding and we look forward to a strong publication.
What news of the 2014 Michelin Eating Out in Pubs Guide?
We get positive feedback regarding the format; the descriptions are a whole page similar to the London Guide. Same philosophy with the same team inspecting so the observations come with the same stamp of quality. The pub is also uniquely part of the British culture and appropriate to be reflected in a Michelin Guide. A number of high quality food-led pubs have also retained their Michelin Star for 2014 so congratulations to those addresses. The Bib Gourmand tends to fit well with pubs and of course there are the inspector favourites, which are always a hit with our readers.
Are there any strategy changes in the pipeline?
I understand that Michelin are trialling a subscription model for digital content in certain geographies and it will be interesting to see how that side of things develop.