It seems like a lifetime ago since The Better Half and I set ourselves the task of trying to be Michelin guide inspectors – to see if we could figure out what it is they look for when handing out their much coveted stars. It was a really enjoyable experiment, but are we any clearer on their expectations? Not really. It’s all personal preference – as the saying goes “One man’s trash, is another man’s treasure”. I have learnt what I like when eating out though – it’s a lot about who I am with, the atmosphere of where I am and the service. It’s all about the feeling I get. Am I left with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside? It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a fine dining restaurant or sitting on the side of the road eating street food! But I digress….
We started this experiment way back in July with our one star lunch at Alyn Williams at The Westbury. Swiftly followed by our two star lunch at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. Having the two experiences so close to each other meant that I could easily compare them. Apart from all the added extras, I would say that our meal at Hélène Darroze was far more refined. The room was beautiful, the crockery and cutlery just stunning – maybe it’s just me, but it felt and looked like it had the touch of a very elegant woman! Service was absolutely top-notch and I learnt that the team have all worked together for a very long time. They work every shift together and all take holiday their holiday at the same time. This is a well-oiled machine! While Alyn Williams on the other hand, was just nice. My food was nice (you may remember TBH declaring his dessert the best he’s had this year, but this is my blog after all so it’s my call! Sorry, love!). So round 1 for me, has to go to Hélène Darroze at The Connaught and the two star restaurant trumps the one star. No surprises there then.
There was quite a lengthy gap between our two and three star experiences. Firstly because I couldn’t choose which three star restaurant I wanted to go to and then when I finally decided on one, I couldn’t get a table until October! That wasn’t go to do. So I had to settle for Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester. First world problems! But there was to be more spanners thrown in the works – they don’t serve lunch on weekends and they were closed for all of August for their summer holidays! So to move things along, TBH and I took the day off and headed to Mayfair on the first Friday in September.
The restaurant is beautiful and I was surprised at the quite girly pink decor. It was classy, but for me it lacked atmosphere. Service was excellent, although it felt over-rehearsed. TBH commented that it felt like watching synchronised swimming and at times there was waiting staff coming at us from all angles. Remember what I said about that warm fuzzy feeling inside? Well I just didn’t get it. There was nothing wrong per sé, but I guess I just don’t like that overly stuffy level of service. A lot of people do, so it really is down to personal preference.
Funnily enough we ate in a restaurant last week that isn’t starred and had such a wonderful experience. Not only was the food excellent, but service was so warm and charming, I was even given a little goodbye peck on the cheek when we left as if we were old friends! I loved it! If I’m going to be imparting with my hard earned cash, I want to feel like my custom is valued and that I’m not just like any other punter.
So in conclusion, I’m not totally in agreement with the people from Michelin. For us, the three star wasn’t necessarily the best, as you would expect it to be. Here is how The Better Half and I ranked this experience:
- The outright winner was the two star Hélène Darroze at The Connaught
- Goes to One Star Alyn Williams at The Westbury and
- Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
In my not-so-professional opinion, I would say the Michelin starred rating system is a good indicator of quality and a certain type of je ne sais quoi, but there are dozens of restaurants out there that do not have a star, yet are doing some really exciting things in the restaurant world.
My advise is to go out there and try them but don’t let those Michelin stars blind you! They’re not always all that!
Until we eat again!