First published in The Herald, October 2, 2017
Michael Smith’s Loch Bay restaurant in Stein, Skye, was the only Scottish recipient of a new Michelin Star but Kinloch Lodge in Sleat, Skye, has lost its star after seven continuous years. and Isle of Eriska in Argyll, which gained a star under new head chef Paul Leonard last year, both lost their coveted awards.
The Three Chimneys, also on Skye, which gained its first star in 2015 under Smith when he was head chef there, failed to regain its star for the second year running.
Boath House in Nairn, which recently caused a stir by announcing it expected to lose its star and that it was to stop doing its Michelin-pleasing menu because the fine dining experience was no longer what customers wanted, retained its star for 2018.
This means Scotland now has 11 one-Michelin starred restaurants, down from 13 in 2016. Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles Hotel remains the country’s only two-Michelin starred restaurant, an accolade it has retained for 11 years.
In Glasgow, which remains without a star for the 15th year in a row, Stravaigin was the only restaurant to lose its Bib Gourmand, awarded for “good quality, good value cooking”. The Gannet and Ox and Finch retained their Bibs for the city, with Edinburgh retaining four Bibs for Dogs, Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, Passorn and Tom Kitchin's Scran and Scallie.
The overall result prompted some disappointment.
Isabella Macdonald, director of Kinloch Lodge and daughter of its founder, Lady Claire Macdonald, said: “We are so sad not to have retained our precious Michelin star after seven years under head chef Marcello Tully. Our wonderful team of chefs are as brilliant and dedicated as ever, and we will continue to do what we do best – provide delicious and wonderful food in our own unique style.”
Sam Matheson, manager of Boath House and son of the owners, said they were delighted to have retained their Michelin star but were not going to waver from their determination to de-formalise the menu.
"We changed our menu not because we didn't want a Michelin star, but because we wanted to try to shatter the perception that Michelin starred food is formal, stuffy and overpriced," he said. "It is wonderful that we are keeping our star, and we are very positive about going forward and giving our customers what they tell us they want, which is a less formal experience."
Asked if he thought the star might discourage diners, he said: "We'll have to see if it puts off people who want a less formal experience, and we are not sure how the Michelin inspectors will judge it. Time will tell."
Tom Kitchin’s The Kitchin did not gain a second star as widely anticipated, and his sister restaurant Castle Terrace failed to regain the star it lost in the 2016 Guide. Chef Kitchin said: “Firstly, well done to Michael Smith at Loch Bay. I am delighted for him. And of course I am very grateful The Kitchin is still in there after continuous 10 years. Even if it does sometimes drive you mad, to be recognised in the Michelin Guide definitely makes a difference to our business and we work very hard to keep it.
“But each year I think it will be a good year for Scotland and here we are again. I’m disappointed that Castle Terrace did not get its star back. On a wider scale there is so much going on in Scotland that I feel sure we must be close to something more than this.”
That sentiment was echoed by Shirley Spear OBE, co-owner of the Three Chimneys. She said: “This is a disappointing result not only for us, but for Scotland. Are Michelin just giving thumbs down to everything Scotland is achieving in food and drink? There are some very special places that are punching well above the London weight. That Loch Bay is the only restaurant in the entire country to be recognised this way is ridiculous. There are lots of other restaurants in Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Highlands and Islands doing great food that would love to be recognised too.”
At the glitzy live event at the Brewery in London’s fashionable east end, attended by some of the UK’s best known chefs, Michael Smith’s French wife Laurence accepted the star on her husband’s behalf, as he was judging the Young Highland Chef of the Year competition.
Chef Smith said later: "This award means a huge amount to myself and Laurence. It is an honour to receive such world-respected recognition for the efforts and achievements of the team, from such a prestigious institution. The past 18 months have been hard work but rewarding, and we would like to personally thank our fantastic restaurant team: Isabel, Bren and Graeme, as well as our family and friends who have supported us throughout.
"This is not only a wonderful achievement for us at Loch Bay, but also for the wider community here in Waternish, who we are grateful to for their support since our arrival in 2016."
There are now five three-star restaurants in the UK as a £300-per-person sushi restaurant with just nine seats joined the elite of eateries.
The Araki, which opened off Regent Street in London in 2014, joins Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and Alain Roux's Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire; Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in Park Lane and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, as three star holders.
HERE'S MY ANALYSIS ...
It’s notable that while conferring the very rare award of three stars to a nine-seater London sushi bar, the international director of the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2018 (to give it its formal title) announced that reflecting new trends was one of the revered guide’s USPs. The hottest of these trends is the move towards a more casual dining experience.
This doesn’t mean the food itself should be casual, but that the setting in which it’s served, and how it’s presented, is now key. Putting the emphasis on the food itself, rather than worrying about creases in the tablecloth, appears to be what the inspectors want. But more than that, it’s a vital response to the younger millennial demographic that travels the globe in constant search of new eating experiences – and can’t stop Instagramming and Tweeting the results. Millennials are food-obsessed and look for high animal welfare, low food miles and provenance in what they eat. But it has to look good too. In the digital age, where everybody is a food critic, they are arguably the influencers as much as the Michelin inspectors.
Some Scottish restaurants recognised this shift early. Andrew Fairlie and his head chef Stevie McLaughlin, whose restaurant remains the only one in Scotland to have two Michelin stars, consciously began to focus on the presentation of their food when they took over a walled kitchen garden a few years ago. Last night, Fairlie praised Michael Smith, whose Loch Bay restaurant, a converted crofthouse on the west of Skye, is the newest recipient of a Michelin star. He said that Smith was a great example of how Michelin quality dining experience needn’t be starchy or formal.
Smith doesn’t do table cloths; he prefers to emphasise the simplicity, freshness and locality of the ingredients on the plate. Visiting his restaurant on the shore is an experience in itself. All praise to him for his well deserved gong.
But many other restaurants are doing similar things, not least Boath House in Nairn which has de-formalised its Michelin starred menu and dining rooms precisely because that’s what its customers want. The Gannet, Cail Bruich and Ox and Finch in Glasgow; Norn in Edinburgh; and Inver at Strachur, all by talented young Scottish chefs, are among those at the forefront of the new culinary movement, yet they haven’t yet attracted Michelin stars.
Which presents more questions than answers.