The pinnacle of restaurant cooking is to gain three coveted Michelin stars. In 2008 there were 68 restaurants in the world given this accolade by the famous inspectors, and, just for fun, I recently completed eating in all of those establishments. This four-year journey has taken me from California to Tokyo, from the remote hillsides in France and Spain to a sushi bar in a shopping mall in Japan. The cheapest meal cost £87 a head (at the simple but welcoming Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo), while the costliest was the final blow-out of the trip, a 20-course tasting menu with matching wines at Per Se in New York, which cost over £500 each.
It's been a fantastic trip. For me, the most striking setting of the top 68 is at Le Petit Nice in Marseilles, with its spectacular Mediterranean view, while Auberge de l'Ile in Alsace had a charming riverside setting. I've also learnt that diners at three star places are a varied bunch, from elegant French ladies through to seedy-looking businessmen with remarkably attractive, and inevitably far younger, female companions. But sometimes there are whole families dining with young children: parental devotion of the most expensive kind.
The logistics of booking in to the world's greatest restaurants have often been challenging: at one place in Tokyo they don't accept reservations unless you go with a Japanese speaker. For the big metropolitan places, you'll need patience and a sturdy "redial" button.
In fact, though, the finest meals turned up unexpected places. While France still dominates numerically with 25 three-star places, some of the best cooking is to be found, implausibly, in Germany: the meal at Schloss Berg, near the Luxembourg border, which serves impeccable French food, was the best of 2008 for me.
At this rarefied level, chefs are equally highly skilled, so I found that ingredients tend to be the differentiator. The stunning produce of the Riviera means that restaurants such as Louis XV in Monaco can transform humble side dishes into something remarkable – I'll never forget a dazzling vegetable dish I ate there, of radishes and strips of 'trompette', a type of courgette local to the area.
Vegetables weren't all I ate, though, and inevitably so much fine dining takes a toll on the waistline – I had to going to the gym regularly as an antidote. I am also luckily that my long-suffering wife is a keen foodie and has been able to share with me most of these dining experiences. The challenge is never quite complete, however, because the three-star list is actually a moving target: from time to time Michelin bring out new guides to new countries. Next stop, Hong Kong.
Andy Hayler writes about his trip at www.andyhayler.comReuse content