Green stars, two female chefs at the top and a controversially quick award: This is 2021 UK Michelin Guide during the pandemic
2020 was a disastrous year on all fronts, but the hospitality industry – a fundamentally social, customer-facing sector – was one of those hit hardest by Covid measures. Faced with cyclical closures, curfews and redundancies, restauranteurs started to petition for an official ministry for hospitality in order to create some kind of governmental infrastructure that might support their businesses in the long term. Meanwhile, in the short term, chefs had to reinvent their ventures, offering takeaway services – even more classic venues such as Le Gavroche and Core by Clare Smyth modified their signature plates for an at-home dining experience.
In spite of the year’s challenges, a rainbow of resilience formed over the capital, gifting us with an array of new kitchens: Muse by Tom Aikens, Fallow, Sollip, Kol, Evelyn’s Table and Behind, to name a few. Three of these invested their efforts in a counter-dining project, responding to a demand for a more intimate experience – a trend which has unfortunately been hampered by the current circumstances. Indeed, these are tricky times, and not all businesses have been lucky enough to land on their feet on this unchartered ground; on the flip side, many beloved venues have sadly had to close their doors for good.
If this wasn’t enough, with a looming Brexit, a number of talented chefs have vacated the UK restaurant scene, leaving a notable void in their absence. The insular political atmosphere is not great news for a sector which, though progressive, still needs to achieve greater diversity. While London is at the forefront of the promotion of a multicultural dining scene, proper diversity and representation are a fair way off, as has been highlighted by a year of protests in response to institutionalised discrimination.
While usually industry professionals and foodies alike eagerly await the iconic Michelin announcements to find out who will join the culinary elite – or solidify their reputation further – naturally it will be harder to relate to this 2021 edition given that we couldn’t dine out, or travel, as we would have liked. However, the show must go on, and just like every country represented by their esteemed accolade, Michelin has soldiered on through this new territory, continuing to set the bar for a fast-evolving hospitality sector.
The first major news of the evening is the debut of the green stars, which highlight restaurants that are leaders in sustainability practices. The guide’s director, Gwendal Poullennec, says “our [green star] recognition goes beyond the search for the best cooking. It enables us to also turn the spotlight on those with a great sense of responsibility towards the environment.” These were awarded to 23 establishments: Angela’s, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Black Swan, Combeshead Farm, Daylesford Organic Farm, Inis Meáin, Inver, Kai, L’Enclume, Loam, New Yard, Oxo Tower Brasserie, Henry Robertson at Palé Hall, Petersham Nurseries Café, Sat Bains, River Cottage Kitchen, Silo, The Dining Room at Whatley Manor, The Small Holding, Where the Light Gets In, The Ethicurean, Hypha and Tredwells.
Of the 17 new single stars, seven have come from London: Cornerstone and Casa Fofō (Hackney), SO|LA (Soho), Davies & Brook and Benares (Mayfair), Muse by Tom Aikens (Belgravia) and Behind (London Fields). The decision to award a star to Andy Beynon’s debut venture, Behind, is quite controversial because the restaurant opened on 23rd October, operating for less than 20 days. Outside the capital, Cail Bruich (Glasgow), Dede (Baltimore, Republic of Ireland), Osip (Bruton), Hide & Fox (Hythe), Outlaw’s New Road (Port Isaac), Hjem (Wall), Roots (York), Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall (Ripon) and Latymer at Pennyhill Park (Bagshot) have joined the club.
Then the bigger news: Da Terra (Bethnal Green), Story (Southwark) and A Wong (Pimlico) – which we all love – receive the second star. While this would be a huge announcement per se, the best is yet to come.
Core by Clare Smyth (Notting Hill) and Hélène Darroze at The Connaught (Mayfair) are awarded the coveted third star, Michelin Guide’s greatest accolade, which simply elevates its receivers to a legendary status. We’ve been lucky enough to visit these two restaurants recently and we can confirm their level is amongst the very best. It doesn’t go unnoticed that two women for the first time reach this position, joining the likes of chefs Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck, Alain Ducasse of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester – who congratulates the two recipients live during the online ceremony – Alain Roux of the Waterside Inn, Gordon Ramsay of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Pierre Gagniere/Johannes Nuding of The Lecture Room & Library at Sketch.
After the good news, the list of closed and demoted establishments is released. From two to zero: Greenhouse (Closed), Umu, Ledbury (Closed) and Restaurant Nathan Outlaw (Closed). From one to zero: Alyn Williams at the Westbury (Closed), The Square (Closed), Roganic (Closed), Texture (Closed), Social Eating House, Aquavit, Matt Worswick at The Latymer (Closed), Wilks (Closed), Pony & Trap (Closed), Red Lion Freehouse, The Flitch of Bacon, Oxford Kitchen (Closed), Black Rat, Braidwoods (Closed), James Sommerin (Closed) and Mews (Closed). Once again chef Adam Handling, despite running one of London’s best restaurants, doesn’t get his first star.