Prior to the publication of The Michelin Guide, "The Good Food Guide 2018" appeared on the shelves of various book shops.
For the first time in my life, I have bought myself a copy though I'm not sure why since I find it to be an intensely annoying publication based on the opinions of seemingly poncey elitist "inspectors" ("the restaurants included in The Good Food Guide are the very best in the UK", says they self-importantly) along with the opinions of middle class food snobs - a sort of upmarket remoaner "Tripadvisor" collection - with the most astonishingly hilariously pretentious quotes sprinkled liberally throughout the publication - "...a modern classic pairing of scallops and maple-glazed chicken wings, leaking umami from every pore, gains even greater resonance from baby parsnips fragmented with woodruff. Fish dishes rise to the aromatic challenge too, when miso-glazed cod arrives in geranium and coconut broth, while the favoured dessert has been bergamot parfait with orange jelly and liquorice cream." It's hard to believe that anyone writes like that anymore.
That said, the book does have a sense of where we are now with British dining. Elizabeth Carter, the Consultant Editor, hampered by her flowery writing style, in her introduction reviews the current issues for we who like to eat out in Britain and sets current developments in a historical context.
She deals with the now rather hackneyed subject of "the increasing sophistication of the restaurant-going public" and its effect on sustaining "a higher level of achievement at the cooking end".
She writes about the way that "grand old dining-rooms are being seriously challenged" and that there is a "very strong sense of the generational passing of the baton". "They're not afraid to use the fine-dining moniker - in the modern way, of course: relaxed, engaged and entirely focused on the food. It makes the current restaurant scene a hectic one, but one that is more varied, more accessible, and certainly more exciting."
Carter then gets bogged down, inevitably, in the London dining scene and how rents are leading to restauranteurs opening establishments in neighbourhoods rather than in the city centre. We won't worry ourselves here about the suffering of London diners. However Carter writes "And it's not confined to London - it's happening throughout the country made possible by the happy coincidence of an increasingly sophisticated and demanding audience of young professionals" (Corbyn-supporting, Brexit-rejecting champagne socialists who live in places like Moseley and Harborne). Dining out is certainly an important facet of modern social history.
Carter writes about some exciting young chefs in this context - those who are reaching out for the baton - and includes Paul Foster who was named The Guide's "Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year" in 2012 and draws attention to his first solo business venture here in our area at Stratford-upon-Avon in the form of Salt in Church Street which he opened earlier this year. I have dined there myself three or four times and agree that this enthusiastic young chef is coming up with some remarkable dishes but likewise there were one or two which seemed to miss the mark. Foster seems to be The Big Thing in the West Midlands at present just as Matt Cheal was last year. I'm nor even sure if I prefer Salt to its next door neighbour, No. 9 Church Street, long established and home to some excellent dishes although sometimes Chef's creations have not always appealed to me in the eating as much as I thought they would on paper.
I'm not entirely sure that the young Turks are actually taking over from our West Midlands giants at present though if I were to name one the reader might not be surprised to read that that name would be Alex Claridge whose The Wilderness goes unmentioned in the 2018 Guide (unlike The Michelin Guide).
Elizabeth Carter writes about the impact of the new chefs on the move from tasting menus ("food spread over three or four hours with price-tags heading north of exorbitant"), though I'm not entirely sure if this gradual death of the Tasting Menu is not due more to the dining public and established chefs just getting fed up with the whole thing as seems to have been the case with Richard Turner at Turner's at 69 in Harborne and with him, his customers.
She deals with the trend of sharing plates, not in itself to me a particularly important issue and urges diners to reject loud music in restaurants. I agree with her on that one but wish she would also campaign against loud diners in restaurants as well - if anything they're more of a problem than the mood music.
So, if I hate the book, I do at least appreciate the introductory review.
I also like The Good Food Guide's highly detailed scoring system even if I don't necessarily agree with all the scores it hands out. Purnell's scores an ungenerous 5 out of 10 which is defined as "exact cooking techniques and a degree of ambition, showing balance and depth of flavour in dishes" - I think Glynn Purnell does a little better than that. The score of 6 for instance is "exemplary cooking skills, innovative ideas, impeccable ingredients and an element of excitement". Who can question that Purnell's dishes are full of innovative ideas and I do not believe that anyone who has ever dined there could not have experienced "an element of excitement" (much more than Simpson's (cooking score 7).
So, who makes it into the 2018 Birmingham list? Well there's Adam's (score 7), Carter's Of Moseley (6), Edmund's (3), Harborne Kitchen (4, new entry), Lasan (3), Opus (2), Purnell's (5), Purnell's Bistro (2), Simpson's (7), Turner's at 69 (4) and Two Cats Kitchen (2, now closed).
The Guide includes its top 50 restaurants in The United Kingdom list in the book and Birmingham has only two restaurants placed in that list - Simpson's at number 40 and Adam's at number 43. Well, we all like lists, don't we?