OPINION: Why our foodie stars shine their light right across the county
- Credit: Tori Hancock
This week saw the annual event which every professional chef pretends not to be interested in, but which in fact they all cannot take their eyes off - the publication of a new Michelin Restaurant Guide.
With it, comes the announcement of which restaurants have won, or hung onto, the coveted stars.
Despite many chefs having gone public about being uninterested in such accolades, in reality that insouciance lasts only until ‘Le Guide’ announces that they have won a star, and their booking lines go red hot. Only a tiny number have refused the accolade, or subsequently returned their stars.
The opinion of a French tyre manufacturer really shouldn’t be so important, but the fact is that anyone winning a star can be guaranteed that every table will be booked up for months in advance.
Michelin has traditionally been stubbornly London-centric, so it is great news for Norfolk that not only did our two existing starred restaurants retain their ratings (Morston Hall and The Neptune in Hunstanton), but for the first time in 13 years there is a new winner in the county: Meadowsweet in Holt. Congratulations to all three establishments.
It’s a shame the inspectors didn’t focus their attention on Norwich, where there is more than one restaurant which really should be receiving the star treatment, but who knows how the mysterious tyre company employees decide which establishments to visit.
Now, before the keyboard warriors who populate the bottom half of the internet start foaming at the mouth, let me pre-empt their cries that gongs given out to expensive ‘fine dining’ restaurants are irrelevant to the vast majority of the population.
- 1 Classic vehicle day coming to stunning gardens this weekend
- 2 Mum killed in A47 collision was ‘walking to Norwich’, inquest hears
- 3 7 pubs up for sale or rent in Norfolk
- 4 Man in his 20s dies after crash in west Norfolk
- 5 'Beheading' comment sees councillor reported to police
- 6 Jailed this week: County lines gang and man found with cocaine in his car
- 7 Man accused of murder refuses to appear in court
- 8 Shock as Ukrainian solidarity flags daubed with Nazi swastikas
- 9 'I can't stop Western Link work starting in my woodland'
- 10 Councillors quit Conservative group over multi-million-pound building move
True, only the well-off can afford to eat in such places (although it’s always worth checking out the lunchtime menus, which often offer tremendous value), but there is a definite ‘trickle-down’ effect, and food trends started in high-end eateries often end up affecting everybody’s plates.
For example, the ethos at Meadowsweet, the newest recipient of a star, is to source their food carefully and ethically. ‘We take our responsibility seriously when it comes to sourcing produce, using small regenerative farms, sustainable line caught fish from small boats and unpasteurised cheese from
independent farmers,’ says their website. Included on their menu is much local produce, from Baron Bigod cheese to Brancaster oysters and Hindolveston lamb.
This matters, because winning a star means that a restaurant starts to attract national attention, from serious foodies, writers and commentators, and other influencers.
These are the restaurants which set food trends, and if those trends include championing the food and drink made locally, that means that those products will gain a national and international audience and reputation. Something that traditionally Norfolk’s food and drink sector has been pretty ineffective at achieving.
Turning our county into a foodie destination will bring in more visitors, who will spend their cash at other local businesses, from hotels to pubs, local shops to visitor attractions. Tourism and food production (in that order) are the two biggest employers in Norfolk, so an accolade which showcases one and boosts the other can only be good news, even for people who will never cross the threshold of anywhere offering a fine dining experience.
There is a big ‘but’ in all of this, though. Michelin, being a French company, tends to give out its gongs to a certain style of restaurant, with a more formal feel, multi-course tasting menus and what can only be described as a ‘French’ feel.
That’s fair enough – that is what the Michelin Guide does – but the disproportionate influence of this one restaurant guide does tend to penalise places which offer a more informal, culturally-diverse style of dining. Which is a shame, because this is just as important to the hospitality trade (arguably more so) as the kind of fine dining establishments which dominate the Michelin stars list.
So my conclusion is this: let’s congratulate and celebrate Norfolk’s three Michelin star holders, but let’s not be too blinded by the accolades and ignore the many other eating establishments which are doing great work across the county.
Take a look at other guides which reward a different style of dining (Hardens is one I particularly recommend); try places you haven’t been before; and above all support the many excellent, independent, locally-owned restaurants which Monsieur Michelin has once again chosen to ignore.