Monday, 3 October 2016

4. Birmingham's Michelin Constellation 2017 - Peel's Is A New Star.

  Today's (3 October 2016) "Michelin Guide 2017" launch event held at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in Savoy Place in London has defined the Food Scene in Birmingham for the upcoming 12 months.

  The event was held at that particular venue as it is said to pay homage to the Guide's historic motoring background, the Guide having been introduced in France in 1900 by AndrĂ© and Edouard Michelin to inform motorists of where they could find good food and accommodation, the location of the most scenic driving routes and the places where driving essentials such as tyres - naturally - could be bought. Thirty five thousand copies of the first edition were printed and given away free by the brothers and 4 years later, a Belgium edition was released.

  The first edition of the British Isles version was published in 1911. The Guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments in 1926 though initially this involved the awarding of a single star with the hierarchy of 3 stars being introduced in 1931 and the meaning of each star being defined in 1936 so that:- 

  1 star was defined as representing "A very good restaurant in its category" (Une tres bonne table dans sa categorie)

  2 stars were defined as representing "Excellent cooking, worth a detour" (Table excellente, merite un detour)

  3 stars were defined as representing "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey" (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage").

  No Guide for Britain was issued from 1931 to 1974, the first star being given in 1974 to Le Gavroche, then in Lower Sloane Street in London, founded in 1967 by Michel and Albert Roux. Birmingham's first Michelin stars were not obtained until 2005 when Jessica's (chef Glyn Purnell) and Simpson's (chef Luke Tipping, relocated from Kenilworth) were both awarded a single star.

  Since 1955 the Guide has also awarded the Bib Gourmand which recognises restaurants which offer "exceptional good food at moderate prices" - a menu offering items priced below a maximum determined by local economic standards. Bib (Bibendum) is the company's name for the Michelin Man which has been its logo for more than 100 years. 

  The 2016 British Guide included 3 x 3 stars, 23 x 2 stars and 143 x 1 stars plus 155 Bibs Gourmands where meals should cost up to £28. Famously Birmingham restaurants took 5 x 1 stars in the 2016 edition - Purnell's, Simpson's, Turner's, Adam's, and Carter's Of Moseley.  

  And so .... to 2017. Who's up and who's down in Birmingham and The West Midlands?

  Peel's Restaurant At Hampton Manor in Hampton In Arden with its chef Robert Palmer was the only winner of a new one star award in the West Midlands. There were no other changes in star status in the area - Purnell's, Simpson's, Carters of Moseley, Turner's@69 and Adam's all keep their one star. Out of 18 new single star winners the usual London-centric awards gave 7 of the awards to the capital's restaurants with a further 3 in the Home Counties. 

  Slightly further afield in the West Midlands - Le Champignon Sauvage retains its 2 star status and The Butcher's Arms in Eldersfield in Worcestershire and The Cross at Kenilworth (in Kenilworth of course) retain their single star status.

  One can only conclude that travelling out of the safe south east is just that little bit too tiresome for Michelin inspectors though a trip up to Cumbria always seems worth the effort, an underpopulated area which has 2 new star winners. There was only one restaurant which was upgraded from one to 2 stars - Raby Hunt in Darlington so it seems as though Glynn Purnell will have to keep battling on for another year. 

  The ceremony which was streamed live on You Tube was rather awkward and the audience of prominent chefs didn't really look as though they were enjoying themselves that much. Still, there were canapes and champagne served at the end to cheer them all up. 

  Spare a thought for poor old Manchester, which, every so often, claims that it's Britain's "Second City"  - it still hasn't got even a single Michelin single-starred restaurant. Perhaps the Michelin inspectors don't like the place because it rains there so much!

  Peel's new star seems to be well deserved - the restaurant won the 2016 Birmingham Food And Drinks Awards "Best Fine Dining" prize with Hampton Manor also winning the Birmingham's Best Hotel award. 

  So Birmingham moves on with another Michelin starred restaurant in its vicinity. Great!


Saturday, 1 October 2016

3. Birmingham Food - Will The Stars Shine Next Week?

  It was really the BBC television programme Great British Menu that brought me to the new stage of my life where I like food. Before, I liked going out to eat as one of the things you do for social interaction and also because I liked going to south Asian restaurants to have curries - but I didn't go because I found food to be (a) interesting and (b) enjoyable.

  And I now I do like food and find it to be interesting. For some years I'd been aware of food - after all there were enough television programmes on the subject which were impossible to miss and you couldn't be ignorant of nouvelle cuisine, the hoohah about sustainability, the tiresome utterances from Jamie Oliver, the stuff about Delia Smith teaching everyone how to boil an egg, the foul-mouthed antics of Gordon Ramsey, the exhaustingly suggestive theatre of Nigella Lawson and so on. But nothing really caught my attention. Well Nigella's programme was, er, quite good fun to watch I suppose.

  But Great British Menu brought real, and often quite accomplished, British chefs to our screens sometimes bringing us fabulous new, previously undreamed-of, dishes (and sometimes some preposterous rubbish). Glyn Purnell was still on his way up when he scored "the perfect 3 tens" for his egg custard surprise which I knew, when I saw it, that I would have to go and try myself. And so I did. And then I discovered that I really did like food.

  And now Great British Menu is back again and I am and shall be riveted for the next few weeks to see what comes along. I like the Friday episodes when Oliver, Matthew and Pru (plus hanger on) squabble and dither about their marks for the contestants' exhausting efforts and never cease to marvel how regularly they disagree with the opinion of the chef judge from earlier in the week. 

   Sometimes I think we are gradually getting away from all that French cuisine stuff on which British chefs have been fixated since the end of rationing. Of course it doesn't help that they all dream of a Michelin star and it really does seem hard to achieve the goal without giving a respectful nod in the direction of those historical characters, Escoffier and Careme. Michelin is a bastion of French chauvinism that continues to judge British chefs on the conventions of a century or two ago which first of all sought to render the vaguely vile food of French peasants at least edible and then give some order to the way a meal was served. And of course the British public is just as bad - mention that a restaurant has got a Michelin star and the punters will flock to pay extraordinarily high prices for the cheapest cuts of meat or the tiniest pieces of fish.

   And of course, in a couple of days time on 3 October, we will know the verdict of the Michelin judges for 2017 and Birmingham chefs and restaurant business owners will either be wringing their hands or leaping in the air cock-a-hoop (that sounds like a good name for a dish - "Coq a hupe"!)
  Will the status of Turner's be affected by his change of direction? - hopefully not - his food seems as wonderful, and expensive, as ever.
  Will Purnell's finally make it over the line to a 2 star status? I had lunch there yesterday - Glynn Purnell's  autumn menu was full of a thousand tastes and surprises and pleasures and had a suspiciously French theme to it - a gorgeously unctious tarte tatin, poulet au lait and spectacularly tasty mushroom duxelles and sauce Abufera but there were also some wonderful British touches to it such as the Brixham cod with a lime pickle and various preparations of cauliflower and gravlax cured sea trout, delightfully pink-orange coloured  with tastes of fennel breaking out all over the dish.  And all (and more) for £45. What else does the man have to do to get the recognition of 2 stars? - move to London or Cumbria, I suppose.
  And then there's the immaculate Adam's. I know the new restaurant hasn't been going for long but, honestly, can it get any better? Smart, chic, spot on and fabulous food - some highly original, some rather more classical and again, such good value. I'm not sure for how long you have to show consistency in the quality of your dishes before that second star comes twinkling out but the restaurant deserves the celestial bodies' to shine on it sooner rather than later.
  Will Simpson's, where a mild service chaos seemed to exist on my last visit along with a sense of the food not really being in the top flight any more (even though "The Good Food Guide" placed the restaurant in its Top 50 UK Restaurants" list only quite recently) lose its star?
  Will Cheal's of Henley receive it's first star?
  All will soon be revealed after the weekend.