Cafes less than starry-eyed over award

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The Independent Online

The Michelin Guide's attempt to embrace a wider, more eclectic range of restaurants within its culinary bible has backfired with the revelation that the less traditional eateries have only been awarded low ratings.

The crowning glory of three stars remains strictly reserved for an elite band of four, while two- and one- star ratings are still out of reach for many top-class restaurants. However, the Michelin Guide bestowed an unusually large number of lower ratings, including 17 new one-stars and 25 new Red Meals, this year.

Highly lauded restaurants such as London's River Cafe and Alastair Little were unimpressed with their Red Meal ratings. They criticised inspectors for being out of touch and burdened by French bias.

For the first time in its nine-year history, the River Cafe made its way into the gastronomic index - albeit unwittingly. The popular Italian restaurant was not exactly bowled over.

Rose Gray, the co-owner, was taken aback by the entry. Once reassured the restaurant had achieved red "M" status, code for "less elaborate but carefully prepared meals", she replied: "We are really low down, is that what you are saying? ... Hooray, good, fabulous." It didn't matter, she insisted. "For me the Michelin Guide means very little. After all, we haven't been in the Michelin Guide since day one and lots of people like us. We get awards from other guides that give us top ratings."

A Michelin spokesman denied there was a deliberate attempt to broaden the criteria this year. "Anyway there are any number of ethnic restaurants included in our guide," he said.

"The restaurants we have chosen reached a standard that is satisfactory to our board. We are looking at the quality of the food, the care with which it is prepared, and the execution of the dishes."

The pioneering British chef Alastair Little, whose "Red Meal" restaurant in Soho is a non-mover in Michelin's culinary charts, was similarly unimpressed. He dismissed the guide as "totally pointless".

"It's all a bit of a nonsense. They are completely and totally out of touch with what represents decent food in England. They basically seem to like posh French cooking with extreme consistency - which is important - and can't come to terms with popular or populist places at all."

9 The 23rd edition of the Michelin Guide to Hotels & Restaurants in Great Britain and Ireland; pounds 12.99.