Irish restaurants have done well to win Michelin stars recently, but achieving the coveted award brings a big pressure to retain it, writes Dan Buckley
There must be something in the wind when two of Ireland’s new Michelin-starred restaurants have weather-related titles to their name.
Aimsir (Irish for weather), the restaurant at Cliff at Lyons, Co Kildare, run by head chef Jordan Bailey and his wife, Majken Bech-Bailey, was the big winner for 2020. Less than five months after it opened, it is now a two-star restaurant.
On the west coast, in Galway, Aniar scored its first star. Galwegians know more than most the meaning of Aniar (from the west)because that is where the prevailing wind comes from (an gaoth aniar).
It may be stretching things to add, as weather-related, The Greenhouse, in Dublin City centre as it finally gets a second accolade, joining Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud as the capital’s only two-star restaurants.
Five restaurants in Ireland — two in Dublin and one each in Cork, Limerick and Belfast — have been added to the 2020 edition of the Michelin Guide: Great Britain & Ireland.
The latest additions bring to 21 the number of Michelin-starred restaurants on the island. Ireland now has three two-star restaurants and 15 establishments with one star. There are also three one-star restaurants in Northern Ireland.
“This is an amazing year for the Republic of Ireland, with five new Michelin Stars being awarded — two of them at two-star level,” said Rebecca Burr, director of the Michelin Guide: Great Britain & Ireland. “This brings the total number of starred restaurants in Ireland up to 18, and is just reward for the determination of young chefs who are keen to make their mark on the Irish dining scene.”
Loam in Galway, which already has one star, was also awarded the guide’s Sustainability Award.
“Chef-owner Enda Mc-Evoy was the first in Ireland to champion natural ingredients and build personal relationships with his suppliers. The menu is small so as to reduce food waste,” the Michelin Guide tweeted.
For McEvoy, sustainability is not just a promise, it’s a passion.
“It’s the only way to go,” he says.
The annual series of red-covered Michelin guides to hotels and restaurants first appeared in 1900, initially as a free guide for motorists in France.
In 1952, the company published a guide to Spain and the first guide to Great Britain & Ireland appeared in 1974, with 25 restaurants awarded one star. Michelin now publishes 25 annual guides covering parts of Europe, America, South America, Japan, and China.
There are currently a total of 2,682 Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, 111 of those at three-star level. France is the country with the most starred restaurants in the world, with a total of 601. Japan comes a close second with 563.
Winning a Michelin star can be a source of delight, but it also brings pressure to retain them. Revamping a menu or renaming a restaurant is one way of losing them.
The same goes for ‘Bib Gourmand’, the Michelin accolade that recognises establishments that offer “good quality, good-value cooking”. In effect, it is reserved for restaurants that offer three-course meals for under €40. Any major structural changes could mean losing a Bib Gourmand.
When the Michelin Bib Gourmands for 2020 were announced, nine Irish restaurants, six in Dublin, two in Northern Ireland, and one in Co Waterford, failed to retain their place on the list.
The Copper Hen in Co Waterford moved from Fenor to Tramore last December, while the Bar + Grill at James Street South in Belfast, merged with James Street South restaurant last September to become James St.
Losing a star can certainly turn up the heat in the kitchen. French chef Marc Veyrat has announced that he’s suing the guide over the loss of a star. His restaurant in the Alps, La Maison des Bois, attained the coveted three-star rating in the 2018 France Guide, but was downgraded to two stars in the 2019 guide. Veyrat claims that the decision was based on a misunderstanding over a cheese soufflé.
Veyrat says that Michelin inspectors believed the soufflé was made with cheddar, when in fact, the yellow colour in the dish came from saffron. He asked for the restaurant to be removed entirely from the guide but Michelin refused.
His lawyer, Emmanuel Ravanas, told the New York Times that Veyrat is now suing in the hopes that the guide will “produce documents,like restaurant bills and reviewer notes, that would help explain the demotion”.
A court hearing has been set for November 27. Although arguably the most well-known and respected restaurant and hotel guide in print, Michelin is no stranger to controversy.
In 2004, former guide inspector Pascal Remy published a book in which he claimed that there were just five full-time inspectors in France, that restaurants could go up to 30 months between inspections and that some three-star restaurants only retained their rating because they were considered ‘untouchable’ by the guide.
In 2005, Michelin was forced to withdraw its Benelux guide when it was discovered that it had awarded a ‘Bib Gourmand’ for good food at a reasonable price to a restaurant that had not yet opened when the guide was published.
In 2017, one of France’s most acclaimed chefs, a man who has held three Michelin stars since 1999, asked to be stripped of them. Sebastien Bras, who runs Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole, in rural Aveyron region, said he yearned to be free to cook away from the hysteria that comes with Michelin stars.
He said he’d grown weary of maintaining the exacting standards of Michelin’s anonymous judges, who could step into his restaurant at any moment. Bras took over the kitchen at Le Suquet from his father Michel in 2009. The elder Bras had held three Michelin stars since 1999, and his son said that knowing a single below-par dish could cost him his reputation had created unbearable pressure as a chef.
“You’re inspected two or three times a year, you never know when,” he told news agency AFP in 2017. “That means that every day one of the 500 meals that leaves the kitchen could be judged.”
Michelin agreed, with the company’s then brand manager Claire Dorland Clauzel saying: “It is difficult for us to have a restaurant in the guide which does not wish to be in it.”
However, the restaurant was back in the 2019 guide, with two stars. According to a statement attributed to Michelin’s international director Gwendal Poullennec, inspectors felt that the “chef had refined his concept”. As a result, they felt that not including the restaurant was “against the rapport and trust we have built with them over many years.”
Bras was not amused. “This contradictory decision has left us with doubts, even if we no longer worry about either the stars or the strategies of the guide,” he told AFP.