Monday 18 December 2017

Lucinda O'Sullivan: The Michelin Guide bypasses best of Irish dining

Irish Independent's Luckinda O'Sullivan on why Irish restaurants get a raw deal when it comes to the Michelin Guide.

RAVE REVIEW: Cormac Rowe of Lady Helen at Mount Juliet
RAVE REVIEW: Cormac Rowe of Lady Helen at Mount Juliet
DESERVED: Garrett Byrne and Brid Hannon of Campagne, Kilkenny, which got a Michelin star

Lucinda O'Sullivan

Lucinda O'Sull

Michelin Guide announced its much vaunted Michelin Stars 2014 last week with editor Rebecca Burr saying, "We have never produced a GB & Ireland guide that provides our readers with such diversity and variety.

Fantastic B&Bs, wonderful pubs, stylish hotels, world class restaurants and great value eateries – we have them all in our guide".

Well, not for Ireland, it hasn't.

Apart from two very welcome and much deserved Michelin stars for the Lady Helen Room at Mount Juliet Hotel in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, and Garrett Byrne's Campagne Restaurant in Kilkenny City, it is a case of glaring omission of some of our best restaurants. It is also almost like it just ticked the boxes of existing restaurants holding its stars.

The omissions of Michelin 2014 in Ireland are breathtaking. Mickael Viljanen of The Greenhouse in Dublin is an obvious one for those in the foodie arena. His food is artful, thoughtful, inventive, and the man should have had a star a couple of years ago. Sunil Ghai of Ananda Indian Restaurant Dundrum is almost incomparable. The lightness and subtlety of his use of spicing and sophisticated presentation has seen him win Best Chef in Ireland 2013. He would be a star in London or New York. Ananda is owned by Asheesh Dewan and celebrity chef Atul Kochhar of Michelin-starred Benares Restaurant in London, and Atul too has expressed surprise that Ananda does not yet have a Michelin star. Graham Neville of Restaurant 41 at Residence Club has a lightness of touch in his always perfectly judged ethereal food while Paul Flynn of The Tannery in Dungarvan should have had a Michelin star many moons ago.

The funny part of it all is that the definition of one star by Michelin is merely 'Very good cooking in its category', two stars is 'Excellent cooking, worth a detour' whilst three stars is 'Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey'. Are they trying to say that none of these places offer enough for the one star 'very good cooking' award. Bullshit.

There are a number of restaurants unrecognised in Ireland that are as good as, if not better than, some of the Michelin-starred restaurants that I have been to in France and in London. However, whether you like or loathe the Michelin star system, it is a validation for many chefs as to the level of their work.

As for the Michelin Bib Gourmands, I am almost lost for words when it comes to who should have got new Bibs here. Contrary to what Michelin says, it has no "wonderful pubs" mentioned in the land of pubs! I think of Pearse & Mary O'Sullivan's fantastic Bulman Pub and Toddie's Restaurant in Kinsale; of Olivier Queva of Max's Wine Bar also in Kinsale, of Wade Murphy's 1826 in Adare, of Finin O'Sullivan of Finin's in Midleton for his Gastropub. I think also of Kay Harte and Marog O'Brien for their respective Farmgate restaurants in Cork city and Midleton. Jerome Fernandes of La Reserve in Ranelagh should have a Bib for his wonderful little French restaurant, as should another Frenchman, Olivier Meissonave, of Dax Restaurant on Upper Pembroke Street. Isabel's on Baggot Street is sublime and should also have a Bib. Seamus Commons of La Fougere at Knockranny House Hotel has also long been neglected as has Phillippe Farineau of The Kitchen Restaurant at Mount Falcon in Ballina. There are many many more. And Lock's Brasserie should not have lost its star.

I often wonder if the inspectors just fly over Ireland without a map for they certainly don't seem to put those rubber tyres to good use. The fact is that Ireland gets neglected on the international awards scene because the inspectors and judges just don't know Ireland. The problem for many guides is that it costs money to have inspectors on the road, dining in restaurants and staying in hotels. In fact, some years ago a veteran Michelin inspector wrote a tell-all book called L'Inspecteur se Met a Table, idiomatically meaning The Inspector Sits Down At the Table (and spills the beans). He claimed they only visited each restaurant about every three and a half years and there were only 11 inspectors for all of France when he was hired and five in his latter days. He also accused Michelin at that time of favouritism towards famous and influential chefs. I know Michelin has changed since then but I wonder how many inspectors they have for the UK and Ireland now – certainly they need to get up off their asses where we are concerned.

But ending on a happy note, I am thrilled for both Lady Helen at Mount Juliet and Campagne, and am not behind the door in saying that I believe I was the first critic to give Lady Helen a rave review in this newspaper in November last year.

Sunday Independent

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