(This exclusive story, with my comment below, was first published in The Herald (heraldscotland.com), October 2, 2018. I think it’s worth adding that there was no advance notice, press release or media office at the Star Revelation event, which started and ran very late for print deadlines. I gathered crucial info with great difficulty and under some stress - but then that’s what we trained journalists do … !]
Three deletions mean a new low of just eight restaurants across the country have retained their single Michelin star – awarded for “high quality cooking, worth a stop” - while restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles retains its two-star gong, awarded for “excellent cooking, worth a detour”, for the 12th year running. By contrast, the Michelin Guide awarded a record 21 new stars for restaurants in England and Ireland.
Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, The Albannach in Lochinver and Boath House near Nairn all lost their stars – the former because of a devastating fire at Cameron House last year, and the others because they have changed their business models. New Bib Gourmands, awarded for ‘good quality, good value cooking’, went to Sugar Boat in Helensburgh and Monadh Kitchin in Bearsden. But Glasgow’s The Gannet lost its Bib, bringing that total to eight and raising expectations among foodies that the respected Finnieston stalwart was due for a star, Glasgow’s first for 16 years. But it was not to be.
Speaking to exclusively after the glitzy Star Revelation event at London’s BFI Imax cinema yesterday – attended by 400 industry insiders including a record 180 chefs and livestreamed on Facebook for the first time ever - chef Andrew Fairlie told me: “This is very disappointing for Scotland’s young chefs, and the surprise for me is that there aren’t new stars for more restaurants in Scotland because so many merit one – such as The Gannet and Cail Bruich in Glasgow, Inver at Strachur and The Three Chimneys on Skye. When you look at those restaurants elsewhere that did get a first star this year, you see they have waited quite a long time for it. So I’d say that if not this year, then definitely in the next couple of years Scotland will do really, really well.”
Tom Kitchin of the Michelin-starred The Kitchin in Leith, whose sister restaurant again failed to retain the star it lost in the 2016 Guide, also expressed disappointment. “It’s frustrating because I really thought there was going to be some movement this year. I believed Castle Terrace was worthy of getting its star back, and that Inver and The Gannet would get something. It’s a case of just keep going I suppose. I’m sure that soon enough Scotland will have one of those really great years.”
“I don’t think the lack of new stars means there’s any prejudice or political agenda”: Michael Smith, chef-patron of Michelin-starred Lochbay Skye
That stoic sentiment was echoed by Michael Smith, chef-patron of Lochbay on Skye, now the most northerly restaurant in Scotland to hold a Michelin star. He told me: “I thought Inver and a couple of other restaurant might be on the inspectors’ radar this year. But I don’t think the lack of new stars means there’s any prejudice or political agenda. I think it’s a matter of time. Chefs need to stick to their guns and keep cooking from the heart and the stars will come.”
Gwendel Poullennec, international director of The Michelin Guide, told the audience that as the world of cooking is now dominated by online customer reviews and opinions, the view of its team of professional inspectors has never been so relevant. “Customers need a reference they can trust and to book a table safe in the knowledge that they will get the very best quality of food and service. This is exactly what the Michelin Guide offers and will continue to offer.
“Gastronomy is a key resource in destinations all over the world. It makes a place more atrractive to visitors, so chefs are ambassadors of their countries.” (Continues below …)
My comment, published alongside my news story (and written to an extremely tight deadline in the middle of the noisy after-party due to the late start and finish of the Star Revelation event!):
In the huge auditorium at London’s BFI Imax cinema, the venue for the glitzy Michelin Guide Star Revelation event, the buzz was palpable among the 400 invited guests – including a record 180 chefs from around Great Britain and Ireland. Andrew Fairlie, Tom Kitchin, Michael Smith, Billy Boyter and Geoffrey Smeddle were some of the Scots chef-patrons among them. Gordon Ramsay OBE, chef-patron of his eponymous triple-starred London restaurant - and one-time patron of Glasgow’s Michelin-starred Amaryllis - got massive applause as he took the stage to present new Michelin stars to what turned out to be 21 restaurants in England, Wales and Ireland but predominantly London.
Yet again, I found myself stunned when Scotland was not mentioned. No new stars north of the Border, then, despite general anticipation that at least two or three fantastic restaurants run by passionate young chefs would be awarded their first gong. Even worse, three were deleted – bringing Scotland to a new low of just eight single stars and one double-star.
It’s difficult not to feel disappointed – alright, then, seriously hacked off – on behalf of our fantastic young chef-patrons’ efforts in transforming Scotland’s eating-out scene into something unimaginable just a few years ago. What galled most was that the restaurants that did get new stars seemed to get them because what they did with fresh local produce. Praise was heaped on the cooking with passion and emotion that “came from the heart”, and often in refurbished croft houses or pubs and often in remote locations. Yet this is precisely what is happening up here. Inver at Strachur, the Whitehouse in Lochaline, Fhior in Edinburgh are just a few of them that spring to mind.
Is it a case of biding their time until the stars come, as more experienced chefs have counselled? I reckon many Scots restaurateurs will be feeling neglected and undervalued, and will see online reviews and customer polls as more influential than Michelin.