Rebecca Burr has completed her second year as editor of The Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland. In early October 2012, Rebecca found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide. Interview took place at The Gore Hotel, London.
Congratulations on the publication of the Michelin GB&I and London Guides for 2013, remind our readers of your roles and responsibilities within Michelin.
My responsibilities are as editor of The Michelin Great Britain & Ireland Hotel and Restaurant Guide, The Eating out in Pubs Guide, The London Restaurant Guide and The Main Cities of Europe Guide.
The country is certainly much more comfortable in its own heritage with the re-emergence of the traditional British recipes witnessed in many addresses such as Dinner (by Heston), Brawn, Hereford Road and The Gilbert Scott. There’s a pride in re-visiting and perhaps re-inventing these recipes and this not just in London but reflected in many pubs and restaurants up and down the country.
A trend in London may be toward large brasseries with continental menus; places such as The Delaunay or Brasserie Zedel (Michelin Bib Gourmand) are excellent examples of successful restaurants delivering a high quality product that may be a signal that there’s more of this style to come in London.
A developing trend is the continuous evolution of the ‘local, seasonal’ menus to the point that it may be a surprise to visit an address that does not proclaim these ideals. Indeed, many restaurants may be sourcing vegetables from a very local plot including some actually on the premises.
On the whole, in London at least, the recession is being coped with very well, chefs may even be getting a sense of satisfaction from delivering quality food from perhaps lesser cuts at very attractive prices. The rise of “tapas” style dining where the customer can choose how much they want to eat (and spend) has been helping to keep tables ticking over and restaurant ventures flourishing.
Single concept dining is an interesting new trend, where you offer one or two things specifically. Diners are quite unforgiving given the amount of choice available for food generally, so such addresses need to have the product absolutely right all of the time.
Also, a no bookings policy is an interesting trend, you might think it would not necessarily work that well, but certainly in the Soho area of London customers will go from one restaurant to the next, considering their choices and this idea is catching on.
The pubs and restaurants that were once considered high quality “neighbourhood” establishments are perhaps moving into London and the city area in particular. We are now seeing the city postcodes challenging Mayfair for the number of overall entries in the Guide. Not so many years ago the city area was gastronomically quiet but now it offers a thriving food community with quality addresses for diners.
Certainly, what we hear from chefs around the world is that there is a culinary excitement about Great Britain & Ireland and London in particular: More chefs of international acclaim will continue to set up here – after all the market is vibrant, dynamic and diverse – and this will be a continuing trend.
On the accommodation side, where the smaller hotels and Bed and Breakfasts were concerned – an often over-used terms was ‘boutique’ – when in actual fact it might have been a pub with a couple of not so pleasant rooms upstairs: Now we inspect and find many of the smaller addresses equipped with Nespresso machines, iPod docks, fitted out with stylish furniture and offering fantastic breakfasts, so this represents a progression in this type of offering.
What is the current definition of Bib Gourmand and what does it mean to your readers?
The definition has not changed, it’s “good cooking at moderate prices,” it means a lot to our readers and to our inspectors. While there have been two pubs this year; The Red Lion and The Hinds Head that have progressed to a star; it is not a stepping stone to a star, it is completely different.
The criteria is three courses for £28 and London sets the standard on the pricing because if you deliver the required level in London, then a restaurateur should be able to provide a similar quality elsewhere. We’re not terribly rigid on the guideline so much as focused on the entire offering being in keeping ‘with the spirit of the award’: That is to say the wine, coffee and water have to have a consistent policy in line with the food pricing and consistent quality of product.
The award is important as there are only 137 Bib Gourmands in the Great Britain & Ireland Guide, with 38 new for 2013, 11 of those new addresses in London.
The Bib Gourmands are to be found from North Shields to Cornwall as well as the home counties. In terms of London; Brasserie Zedel, Elliot’s, Soif, Copita, Barrica are all different and original and many of our readers will travel around the country searching out Bib Gourmands – a growing area of our Guide collection.
What do you make of the continued emergence of pubs with the ‘gastronomic touch’?
Just to re-define the question – it’s important for pubs to retain a clientele that will keep them ticking over all year round and in many instances that will be retaining customers that just come for something to drink as well as those wanting something to eat.
However, where talented chefs have gone into the pub market, it has given them the opportunity to express themselves in terms of their strength – the food – without perhaps some of the burdens that come with more traditional fine dining: Pubs are comfortable; natural venues to have tables without table clothes and more relaxed service and so on.
To have pubs serving quality food is good for the country; they uniquely form part of our culture and represent an important part of the British way of life abroad. In the early days chefs were possibly reluctant to go into pubs as they may have felt forgotten about but in Michelin terms the recognition system is there for quality of food regardless of where that quality is found – as has been demonstrated with now 13 pubs in Great Britain & Ireland holding a Michelin star as well as The Hand & Flowers in Marlow with two stars.
In addition, there is The Michelin Eating out in Pubs Guide 2013, which is published on 1st November 2012, made by my team. This guide has an ‘Inspectors Favourite’ award that reflects a slightly different set of criteria to the Michelin Guide to Great Britain & Ireland awards. So you will find a broad selection of pubs that have the Michelin stamp of quality, be it a Bib Gourmand, Michelin Star(s) (Michelin GB&I Guide 2013) or Inspectors Favourite (Michelin Eating out in Pubs Guide). The beauty of the Michelin Eating out in Pubs Guide is that it contains descriptions, photographs and a wealth of invaluable information to the reader who may be specifically seeking out pubs.
What do make of the dynamics of the market for restaurant guides?
What really separates Michelin is that we have full time professional inspectors who are benchmarking quality in restaurants, all year round, for their living.
Michelin also invest in their inspectors by ensuring they have a depth of international experience – inspectors from the Great Britain and Ireland Guide will have travelled to Asia, America and across Europe carrying out inspections. Likewise inspectors from other regions will come and inspect restaurants in this territory. This provides the best possible consistency and reliability of international benchmarking. When restaurants are awarded a star they can be certain that their cuisine measures up against that provided anywhere else in the world.
At this time, Michelin is not planning to move away from annual publication of guides and associated awards.
Are there any global messages from Jean-Luc Naret’s successor as International Director, Michael Ellis?
Maintaining a smooth transition has been vitally important as what was in place was already strong with an opportunity to consolidate and build for the future. The aim is to continue impartiality, invest in the inspectors and maintain independence. At the same time, future expansion in coverage is always under consideration.
Tell us about the Michelin Main Cities of Europe Guide?
The publication date is the middle of March 2013 so the inspection process is on-going with visits by inspectors from across the globe inspecting in the ‘Main Cities’. There will be a revised edition with many new entries.
It was good to see new stars coming through in Prague and Athens in 2012 as well as new two stars in Oslo and Vienna. The Guide remains aimed at both business and leisure visitors.
What do you see as the future for the restaurant scene?
People will continue to keep on top of what they are doing, delivering the best possible end product while being careful with their money; this reflects equally upon the customers who are increasingly discerning in their choices, especially in difficult economic times.
The standard will continue to rise with the continually increasing number of talented chefs coming onto the restaurant scene.
Describe a day in the life of Rebecca Burr…
The fact that no two days are the same is what makes the job so interesting and rewarding.
I spend more time out of the office than in – it’s important for me to see a cross section; those with potential, the diversity, the trends as well as the established stars.
I also travel internationally quite extensively in the job – over and above visits to Paris – as part of the role of being a pro-active inspecting editor and decision maker. I’m very proud of the team, from inspectors to administrators, who share the passion. Together we are ambassadors of Michelin.