The French-owned guide, notoriously stingy when it comes to according British restaurants its coveted stars, has been unusually generous, some would say profligate. While there were no advancements to three stars, there were three new two-star restaurants, and an increase from 42 to 52 one-star.
The new two-star restaurants are the Lettonie in Bristol, the Altnaharrie Inn in the Highlands, and Paul Heathcote's at Longridge, Lancashire. Altnaharrie Inn, a remote guest house in Ullapool serving a set menu to 18 guests, is a wild card. 'You can't call that a restaurant] It's not like doing 100 covers from a carte,' said one restaurateur, echoing a common sentiment.
As usual, however, the heartiest contenders at beating the French at their own game came from the north of England. The Box Tree at Ilkley, West Yorkshire, which had two stars from 1977 to 1986, was the first British-owned and run restaurant to win two Michelin stars. Now the 33-year-old chef Paul Heathcote has just repeated the trick for the North with Heathcote's at Longridge, Lancashire.
Mr Heathcote started cooking, aged 16, at 'a glorified Berni Inn' in Bolton. A meal at Sharrow Bay, Ullswater, Cumbria, convinced him he wanted to cook. Twelve begging letters later, Sharrow Bay gave him a job, followed by stints at the Connaught and Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. He opened his Lancashire restaurant in July 1990. Those who have not eaten his food may still have felt his influence. It was his tutoring of Reg Johnson, a Lancashire poultry man from Goosnargh, that brought free-ranging, corn-fed chicken, ducks and guinea fowl to the region.
The anomalies in the guide that have troubled critics of Michelin in the past remain. None of the dashing British chefs, such as Alastair Little, Simon Hopkinson and Sally Clarke, who brought the London scene alive in the Eighties, receive stars. Two of Britain's best country pubs - the Fox and Goose at Fressingfield, Suffolk, and the Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, Gwent, refuse entries in protest.
By contrast, starred chefs worry that the wash of new entries devalues their accomplishment. At least one newcomer, Harvey's in Bristol, plays classical 'greatest hits' compilations in its dining room. At the classic one-stars, such as the Capital Hotel in Chelsea, such a practice would be unthinkable.
Suspicion is rife that Michelin is plumping up the ranks of one and two-star restaurants in order to make long-awaited advancements next year in the three-star category. No more than three restaurants have ever held the rank since the British Michelin began publication in 1974: the Waterside Inn at Bray, Berkshire, and La Tante Claire and Le Gavroche in London. Only two have ever held it at the same time. By contrast, the 1993 guide to France contains 19 three-star restaurants, 84 two-star and 488 one-star.
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