Wednesday 24 January 2018

Pompous Michelin shows ruthless streak

Thornton 'shocked' as his top restaurant is stripped of star

SHOCK: Chef Kevin Thornton is still at the top of his game
SHOCK: Chef Kevin Thornton is still at the top of his game

Lucinda O'Sullivan

'A restaurant doesn't get a Star for simply being the best in its city. It has to stand up against starred restaurants all over the world."

So tweeted The Michelin Guide last Wednesday in a thoroughly overbearing and pompous fashion. It didn't say to which city it was referring, people were expressing surprise at the lack of stars for Manchester-based top chefs Simon Rogan of The French and Aiden Byrne of Manchester House. However, the tweet seemed particularly appropriate to Dublin too with the considerable shock that Kevin Thornton had been stripped of his long-held Michelin Star at his eponymous Thornton's at The Fitzwilliam Hotel, recognised as one of the best restaurants in the city.

We have come a long way with food in this country since I started reviewing restaurants 25 years ago, and Kevin Thornton literally was a pioneer in the barren field of good food in Ireland when he opened his first little restaurant, The Wine Epergne in Rathmines, in 1990.

He progressed quickly, moving to Portobello in 1995, gaining his first star in 1996 and a second star in 2001.

Thornton's moved to the Fitzwilliam Hotel on St Stephen's Green in 2002 and lost the second star in 2006. For Michelin to whip away his remaining star now appeared to have been a total shock to him for he tweeted "we feel we are still on top of our game and thrilled with Restaurant of the Year award (Food & Wine magazine) so it's quite shocking/bizarre."

Thornton, it has to be said, has always promoted Irish produce, going right back to his early bacon and cabbage terrine inspired by rural childhood memories, and with his use of wonderful Irish seaweeds, which might not mean a lot to Michelin.

He is a meticulous and artistic man who has also put a lot of time into training young people in his kitchens. Michelin never seems to get it right here and I have always wondered how much time they put into Ireland - on the ground that is!

Whether we like the Michelin system or not, every chef wants to achieve a Michelin Star and they obviously attract a certain type of customer, but, more importantly, when your business has been based around trading as a Michelin starred restaurant for 20 years, it seems particularly ruthless and brutal to have it suddenly whipped away. Thornton's is as good, if not better, than it ever was. Did they really have to be so cruel?

Michelin's second tweet, regarding finally awarding a star to The Greenhouse on Dawson Street, was no better, nay somewhat pathetic, "the time was finally right - proof that talent always comes through," it proclaimed.

Michelin put itself up there as the great authority on fine food, and yet everybody in the food world in Ireland knew Chef Mickael Viljanen at Eamonn O'Reilly's little bijou restaurant should have had a star four years ago, yet year after year was snubbed.

What made the time finally right - proof that talent always comes through (it's a joke)? The talent has been under their noses all during that time, when disappointment after disappointment was meted out to them each year.

This sort of thing can have a huge effect on people's lives and in some cases has had very serious repercussions.

Stars have been retained at most of the previous holders, while Loam in Galway was also a newcomer, although Enda McEvoy had been in Aniar when it first achieved a star.

There are a number of new Michelin Bibs for more casual dining, including Wade Murphy's 1826 in Adare, Delahunt on Camden Street, the Pigeon House in Clontarf (the same team who previously had a Bib at Downstairs in Clontarf), the Copper Hen in Waterford, Giovannelli in Killorglin, and two in Kinsale: Martin Shanahan's brilliant and long-standing Fishy Fishy and the new kid on the block Bastion, of which I've been hearing great reports all summer.

Sunday Independent

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