Hello and welcome to Fine Dining in the UK episode 4- the podcast brought to you by www.finediningguide.co.uk . Today we extend our feature of top tens by examining the top ten restaurants in Britain. This top ten is an extract from the Restaurant Magazine S Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants, so let’s tuck straight in to Britain’s top ten.
1 The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire
2 Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London
3 St John, Clerkenwell, London
4 Hakkasan, Fitzrovia, London
5 Le Gavroche, Mayfair, London
6 Nobu, Mayfair London
7 Maze, Mayfair, London
8 River Café, Hammersmith, London
9 Zuma, Knightbridge
10 The Square, Mayfair, London
When looking at the Best of Britain extract, the first thing of note is that two through ten are all found in London, with four of those concentrated in Mayfair.
Its refreshing, in a way, to see a pushing back of French gastronomic dominance with the Japanese Zuma and Nobu taking their place alongside the Chinese Hakkasan and Italian food lead River Café. St John at number three is a rather bold and eccentric choice, Chef Fergus Henderson has a ‘nose to tail’ philosophy, hence offal, as you might imagine, features highly and regularly on the menu.
At number 5, the traditional bastion of gastronomy Le Gavroche is found anchored in a sea of cosmopolitan modernity. Le Gavroche was opened in 1967 by Albert and Michel Roux and was the first truly gastronomic restaurant in Britain. Now, forty- one years on, with Albert’s son Michel Roux Jnr at the helm, still going strong.
So how was this list decided? First a review of some background: Restaurant Magazine was formed in November 2001 with the strap line – for the professional and the passionate – and over the years the Magazine has met that promise with quality features, excellent journalism and one imagines successful circulation.
The San Pellegrino Restaurant Magazine 50 World’s Best was initiated in 2002 and is now in its seventh year. In 2006 an Academy of voters was formed, known as the Nespresso World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. The Academy involves a panel of typically thirty-one voters for each world “region” (for example, Italy, France, Germany are included as “regions” along with broader areas such as South East Asia and Eastern Europe). There are a total of total of 682 voters.
So who is on the regional panels and how does the voting system work? All we are told is the identity of the chairperson for each panel; beyond that the voters are exclusively chefs, restaurateurs and critics. Postscript: See panel list for UK 2008
The voting system allows each panel member to vote for 5 restaurants, there are two conditions: the panel member must have eaten at a restaurant they are voting for in the last 18 months (sounds sensible) and second that three of the five votes must be cast for a restaurant from a region other than their own (sounds more challenging). The results are collated from a total of 3,410 total votes cast.
So what is the end result? A list that is inspiring, challenging, thought provoking and controversial. Any list that claims to define better and ultimately best will always be subjective and open to debate. All in all, the Restaurant Magazine attempt is a good one, and eagerly anticipated each spring.
By way of a comparison we have an alternative Top Ten Restaurants of Britain – this time from the three leading guides, Michelin, The Which? Good Food Guide and the AA Restaurant Guide. Six points per Michelin Star, 3 Points per Good Food Guide mark out of ten and two points per AA Rosette.
So lets go back to the table for Britain’s Top Ten.
1= Fat Duck, Bray Berkshire (3 Michelin Stars 9 Which Good Food Guide 5 AA Rosettes 55 Points)
1= Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London (3 9 5 55)
3 Waterside Inn, Bray Berkshire (3 8 4 50)
4 Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire (2 9 5 49)
5 Petrus, Belgravia, London (2 8 5 46)
6= The Vineyard, Stockcross, Berkshire (2 8 4 44)
6= Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon (2 8 4 44)
6= The Square, Mayfair, London (2 8 4 44)
6= Pied a Terre, Fitzrovia, London (2 8 4 44)
6= Restaurant Martin Wishart, Leith, Edinburgh (2 8 4 44)
6= Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, Glostershire (2 8 4 44)
An immediate positive note on the Guides list is the geographic spread; taking in Scotland, Gloucestershire, Devon, Oxfordshire and three in Berkshire.
The 2009 Which? Good Food Guide will be published in September, the early press release already explains that The Fat Duck will be following in the footsteps of Chez Nico in 1999 and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 2005 and awarded a perfect 10.
In 1995, Heston Blumenthal opened the Fat Duck on the site of the old Ringers pub. There were wrought iron tables and chairs and an outside toilet. The restaurant fayre was nothing spectacular – duck leg and mashed potatoes followed by sticky toffee pudding. However, the changes brought about by delivering molecular gastronomy were extraordinary; a meteoric rise through Michelin to Three Stars by 2004.
Blumenthal’s contribution is undoubtedly immense; there are three fundamental aspects brought to the forefront of chef thinking in Britain.
First, the physics – the molecules of meat determine taste and texture, these molecules are damaged when cooked at temperatures that are too high, so Heston introduced long slow cooking at lower temperatures to optimise taste and texture.
Second, the chemistry – certain taste combinations work at a chemical level that we would not otherwise appreciate, Heston explored this and found combinations like Salmon and liquorice work on the palate (which appears today on the famous tasting menu).
Third: The impact of senses other than taste on the eating experience. This is where Heston continues to experiment with things you see, feel, hear and smell that all add to the overall eating experience including and beyond enhancing taste.
So the undisputed top two are the same on both lists. However there the comparison ends with only Philip Howard at the Square featuring on both lists.
Why so much difference? To answer that we must take a closer look at the criteria used in each case. The Guides are clear in so much as they focus purely on the “food on a plate.” This means type and quality of ingredients, level of preparation, conception and execution of the dishes. It is fair to say that our restaurant going experience is determined by a number of factors that go beyond what we actually eat; such as the service, décor, atmosphere or ambiance, mood, fashion and modernity.
One restaurant, for example, may appeal to a completely different demographic compared to another. An understanding of this helps us to appreciate and rationalise both lists.
So in the end one may marvel or wonder, agree or disagree but in any event fine dining in this country is strong, vibrant and diverse. Should you choose to visit any of the eighteen different restaurants featured then you’ll be sure to have a good time.
That concludes podcast episode 4 of Fine Dining in the UK, the podcast brought to you by finediningguide.co.uk.
Until next time