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A Chat with Andy Hayler, the World's Foremost Fine-Dining Expert

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Beginning next Monday, the foremost fine-dining expert in the world, Andy Hayler, will be joining us for a chat. We're essentially going to be introducing Andy to the Western Hemisphere, where he should be much, much better known than he currently is - he is the one, single person on Earth whose opinion I would trust about Michelin 3-star restaurants, more than any other. He maintains reviews on his terrific website, AndyHayler.com.

Andy has been to each-and-every Michelin 3-Star restaurant in the world, and has been doing so since 2004. In fact, there's only one he hasn't yet been to ... can you guess which one it is? (Hint: I've been there several times, and so have many people on this website.)

I've been in touch with Andy for over a year; I had never heard of him until one day, I searched the internet for "Who is the most important diner in the world?" and his name came up all over the place. Andy has a perfect system: When Michelin assigns a restaurant 3 stars, the public has absolutely no idea how or why it got 3 stars, and more importantly, who was responsible for the 3-star rating. Nevertheless, there's no question that being awarded 3 stars gets the restaurant a lot of publicity - but if you're traveling to a city, and want to have one, upscale meal, whom do you trust? 

You trust Andy Hayler, because he takes these restaurants - which are (quite literally) all over the map in terms of both location and, more importantly, quality, and normalizes them through the lens of one, single expert who has devoted his life to the task for nearly 20 years. A couple of years ago, I went to La Vague d'Or in Saint Tropez, and Andy's review captured the restaurant brilliantly. Every time I go back to read it, it's as if I'm at the resort once again (one small difference is that I drove from Karen's mom's house in Nice; Andy flew into Nice and took a helicopter). 🤔

Andy is in Japan this week, where he went to the final 2018 3-star restaurant he hadn't yet visited - he's heading back to London this weekend, and will be our guest beginning Monday.

In the meantime, please feel free to submit your questions.  Please give Andy our best hospitality, and remember his name going forward - there's nobody else like him.

Andy Hayler food Biography new.pdf

Please feel free to begin asking Andy some questions, and give him our best welcome. I told him that this would be a leisurely, low-pressure chat, and that he'd be under no time constraints .

This recent review of The Fish House in London is one of my favorites - it appeals to my sense of awful puns.

Here's an interview with Andy from 2013:

 

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Andy, welcome to the United States, and to donrockwell.com! It's an honor to have you here, and I'll have numerous questions to ask you - let me start with one:

I was once chatting with the Sous Chef of Citronelle, the late Michael Hartzer, and he had recently been to Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, where he said he had the best preparations of vegetables he'd ever experienced. In your adventures, which top-level restaurants stand out in their presentations of vegetables? And is there a country or city you've found that tends to treat vegetables with more care and respect than others? (I'm not talking about vegetarian dishes per se, but I don't want to rule those out, either).

As an aside, if I was ever forced (at gunpoint) to become a vegan, and could only have one country's cuisine for the rest of my life, it might just be India, not in small part due to their wonderful breads. Also as an aside, I believe I'd give up meat before I gave up dairy.

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Andy, thank you for so much for doing this chat!  Two questions for you:

1) Aside from obvious destination cities like Paris, Tokyo, Kyoto, and the like, what cities or regions would you say have the best cluster (say 3-4, or more) of fine dining restaurants?

2) And perhaps a related question: what cities or regions do you think have the best ingredient-driven restaurants?  Here, I'm counting both explicitly ingredient-driven places, like Hedone in London, and also places like L'Ambroisie, which source the best ingredients as a matter of course, and excluding molecular gastronomic restaurants.

Thank you again!

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Andy, since many of us will never personally experience a three star restaurant, could you elaborate on the specific factors that elevate a restaurant to exalted status? Is there some winning combination of ingredients (rare? Exotic? Hyper- local?), decor, location, amenities, service quality, etc. that synergistically create the win? And what factors might cause you to disagree with a particular restaurant’s rating? Thanks!

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Andy - thank you for joining us for this chat!

My question is more around, despite the attention the 3 starred places receive - what draws you to a smaller, more mom and pop, type place in your travels?  Is it just to experience something truly "local" or are there specific types of cuisine that hit home for you (whether because they draw up certain memories from your past or there are just specific tastes that hit the sweet spot for you)?

Thank you!

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Andy,

Thanks for your time and willingness to do this. I was curious whether you felt that there is good consistency in ratings between countries; in other words, do 3-stars in France mean the same as 3 stars in the UK, or Germany, or Japan? Recognizing that dining experiences can be so vastly different as one travels between cultures, cuisines, service styles, etc., I guess I'm wondering what the metrics are to assess high-end dining throughout the world--and what are the minor elements that turn a great restaurant into a legendary one.

Thanks!

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4 hours ago, dcandohio said:

Andy, since many of us will never personally experience a three star restaurant, could you elaborate on the specific factors that elevate a restaurant to exalted status? Is there some winning combination of ingredients (rare? Exotic? Hyper- local?), decor, location, amenities, service quality, etc. that synergistically create the win? And what factors might cause you to disagree with a particular restaurant’s rating? Thanks!

To follow up on DCandOhio's question, I wonder how much does creativity factor into 3 star status?  In my personal experience, the 3 stars aren't just executing at a high level, they almost always are doing something unique.  

2 hours ago, seanvtaylor said:

Andy,

Thanks for your time and willingness to do this. I was curious whether you felt that there is good consistency in ratings between countries; in other words, do 3-stars in France mean the same as 3 stars in the UK, or Germany, or Japan? Recognizing that dining experiences can be so vastly different as one travels between cultures, cuisines, service styles, etc., I guess I'm wondering what the metrics are to assess high-end dining throughout the world--and what are the minor elements that turn a great restaurant into a legendary one.

Thanks!

And following up on SeanTaylor's question, where do you find the highest quality 3 star restaurants and lowest quality 3 stars (by country or by continent)?

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Hi Andy. 

Thank you for bringing your dining insight and expertise to the incredible dining enthusiasts that make up DonRockwell.com here in the States (and specifically here in Washington, DC)!

I have two questions for you...

1. What is your favorite Michelin 3-Star Restaurant on EACH of the continents? and why?

2. If you were able to choose your "Last Supper" of your most favorite dishes ever, what would you enjoy eating?

Grazie! -Lisa

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I'd like to get your thoughts on two hot topics in the restaurant industry right now: the impact of the #MeToo movement and concerns about diversity and inclusion. 

There has been a heated debate about how journalists, traditional/digital media should approach these issues and its impact on their coverage or assessment of restaurants, chefs and restaurateurs. Despite some pressure, Michelin, Worlds 50 Best, OAD and the newly launched World Restaurant Awards are not responding to the under representation of women and people of color (token best female chef awards notwithstanding)  nor have they addressed #MeToo.  On both points, James Beard has arguably taken the most significant leadership position on these challenges through their programming and awards. Very little has been written about the role of opinion leaders and social media influencers. This is interesting since the combined interest of these stakeholders drove significant changes in the sustainability, nutrition and sourcing practices of the industry over the past 15 years and they have heavily rewarded leadership in these areas. 

What is the role of opinion influencers in tackling these systemic industry challenges? Do opinion influencers have a duty to discuss #MeToo and diversity and inclusion as it relates to dining with their readers and followers?  How, if at all, should these issues be taken into account when considering what restaurants to promote, dine at or review?  Should opinion influencers be demanding better leadership practices, diversity and inclusion? Should awards and rankings ask their evaluators to take these issues into consideration or include them in their evaluation processes?

Please do not interpret these questions as being critical of your writing or social media presence. As a talented and experienced, albeit amateur, eater, who has been involved with several awards/rankings programs, I grapple with how to approach these issues myself. 

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Following up on questions above regarding how the quality of food varies from country to country (or even region to region) - in your opinion what's the biggest factor in an area having exceptional food?  Is it more history, quality of local ingredients, talent or something else entirely?

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1 hour ago, FranklinDubya said:

Following up on questions above regarding how the quality of food varies from country to country (or even region to region) - in your opinion what's the biggest factor in an area having exceptional food?  Is it more history, quality of local ingredients, talent or something else entirely?

FranklinDubya, are you asking what the biggest factor is in order to receive Michelin stars? Or what the biggest factor is to have Andy deem something "exceptional cuisine?"

For example, I've read that China is one of the world's great cuisines; yet, I have never seen it (with the exception of when Chef Peter Chang is actually *in the kitchen*) - I've eaten "Chinese food" hundreds of times, and other than Chang's cooking (reference for Andy), I have never, not once, had truly great Chinese food - that doesn't mean it doesn't exist; it just means it doesn't exist where I've been! :)

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1 hour ago, DonRocks said:

FranklinDubya, are you asking what the biggest factor is in order to receive Michelin stars? Or what the biggest factor is to have Andy deem something "exceptional cuisine?"

For example, I've read that China is one of the world's great cuisines; yet, I have never seen it (with the exception of when Chef Peter Chang is actually *in the kitchen*) - I've eaten "Chinese food" hundreds of times, and other than Chang's cooking (reference for Andy), I have never, not once, had truly great Chinese food - that doesn't mean it doesn't exist; it just means it doesn't exist where I've been! :)

Ahh I should've been more clear - I'm asking more what he thinks contributes most to a city or region having great food both in terms of the michelin level but also across the board  *irrespective of the cuisine / cuisines one finds within*.

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57 minutes ago, FranklinDubya said:

Ahh I should've been more clear - I'm asking more what he thinks contributes most to a city or region having great food both in terms of the michelin level but also across the board  *irrespective of the cuisine / cuisines one finds within*.

You're talking about city- and region-specific things, such as "the population density of New York City," "the ancient traditions of China," etc? If so, this is an interesting question, because peasant culture forces people to be creative with cuisine. I look at breads being made in Iran, for example, and am mesmerized.

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On 9/27/2018 at 4:26 PM, DonRocks said:

Andy, welcome to the United States, and to donrockwell.com! It's an honor to have you here, and I'll have numerous questions to ask you - let me start with one:

I was once chatting with the Sous Chef of Citronelle, the late Michael Hartzer, and he had recently been to Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, where he said he had the best preparations of vegetables he'd ever experienced. In your adventures, which top-level restaurants stand out in their presentations of vegetables? And is there a country or city you've found that tends to treat vegetables with more care and respect than others? (I'm not talking about vegetarian dishes per se, but I don't want to rule those out, either).

As an aside, if I was ever forced (at gunpoint) to become a vegan, and could only have one country's cuisine for the rest of my life, it might just be India, not in small part due to their wonderful breads. Also as an aside, I believe I'd give up meat before I gave up dairy.

---

[Moderator's note: I put the links into Andy's response below - all links go to Andy's website (I figure he's too modest to insert them himself). I highly recommend that readers scroll through all the pictures in Andy's reviews, in addition to reading them. Cheers, DR]

Thanks for your question Don, and for inviting me to this forum. I am delighted to be here, and would like to thank the readership of this site for already preparing some excellent questions. Don has been kind enough to introduce me, but just to summarise. I am a restaurant critic that has been fortunate enough to have travelled widely, and have at various times since 2004 been to every 3 star Michelin restaurant in the world. My recent trip to Japan meant that I have been to every 3 star restaurant in the 2018 guides, though of course the 2019 season is now upon us, with the Inn at Little Washington being promoted in the 2019 Michelin guide to Washington D.C. - I will visit that restaurant in the spring. I have had a career combining food with technology, and live in London with my wife Stella, a physician.

To begin with your question on vegetable dishes. Some high end restaurants are noted for their vegetable dishes, such as 3 star Arpege in Paris, where Alain Passard at one time went entirely vegetarian on his menu, though he relents these days with the odd meat dish. He has two dedicated gardens in the countryside that supply the restaurant, so has a lot of control of his vegetable supply chain. I think that to experience really top class vegetarian dishes that you need to start with very high grade ingredients, as indeed could be said of any dish.In my experience the highest quality vegetables are to be found in the Mediterranean and in Japan. If you are ever in the south of France then pop into the markets along the coast, such as Cannes, or across the Italian border in Ventimiglia, to see just how superb the vegetables are there. The 3 star Louis XV in Monaco takes advantage of these nearby markets, and is another restaurant that over the years has produced some top quality vegetable dishes. Japan is interesting because they have a deep food culture that supports a lot of farmers that strive for the pinnacle of quality, and have enough diners prepared to pay for meals that involve them. When visiting Tokyo people often visit the tuna auctions at the huge fish market Tsukiji (which is about to move locations) but I was just as impressed by the vegetable market next door. The quality of vegetables and fruit in Japan, whether it be tomatoes or aubergines or amazing strawberries and peaches, is unsurpassed in my view. Japanese cuisine involves relatively little meat, so there are plenty of restaurants that showcase these products. One in particular that impressed me was Nakahigashi in Kyoto, where the chef has been foraging herbs many years before Noma in Copenhagen existed. 

In terms of sheer variety of vegetarian dishes, though, I would agree with Don that India would be my choice. I have travelled to India over twenty times and had the chance to sample a dazzling variety of dishes across its numerous regions, each of which has its own culinary identity. No other country has such a dramatic range of vegetarian dishes, prepared in all kinds of ways. Of course there are many other examples of restaurants across the world doing great things with vegetables, from Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns through to l'Enclume in Cumbria in the UK, to Bras in France and also its sister restaurant Bras on lake Toya in northern Japan. 

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Hello Andy,

Thank you so much for participating here!

I'm wondering about changes in the Michelin landscape post-social media. Have you noticed any changes in either the cuisine or the experience at Michelin-starred restaurants since the advent of social media? If you have, what changes have you noticed and do you see changes for the better, or worse?

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3 hours ago, Keithstg said:

Hello Andy,

Thank you so much for participating here!

I'm wondering about changes in the Michelin landscape post-social media. Have you noticed any changes in either the cuisine or the experience at Michelin-starred restaurants since the advent of social media? If you have, what changes have you noticed and do you see changes for the better, or worse?

Thanks for your question Keithstg. Assuming that social media got going properly around 2004 with Facebook, then I think there have been a few effects. The popularity of people taking photos of dishes on their phones and posting them e.g. to Instagram, seems to have done a couple of things. Firstly it has caused many chefs to rethink dish presentation, and to think more about how the dish looks rather than just how it tastes. You can see this a lot in Scandinavian cuisine, with considerable use of edible flowers to decorate plates, and artfully tweezered wood sorrel and the like to make dishes pretty and to appeal to social media. Another effect is indirect, with new dish ideas travelling instantly from location to location via social media. This has meant that an idea for a dish in (say) Tokyo can rapidly find its way on to a plate in Chicago or Rome. It no longer requires a cookbook to be published for dish ideas to be  adapted elsewhere. To take one example, Michel Bras is famous for a vegetable dish he called gargouillou, which involves dozens of vegetables, herbs and flowers prepared in assorted ways (some raw, some pickled, some cooked) and assembled on the plate. I have eaten versions of this dish all over the world, with or without acknowledgement to Bras. This kind of spreading of dish ideas has become much more rapid since the advent of social media. I suppose one additional change is that I no longer get looked at oddly by restaurant staff when I take pictures of my meal! 

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Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and I have read several of your outstanding reviews since Don began retweeting them.

The internet is all about car crashes and trainwrecks. Disasters always interest people. So, if you feel comfortable disclosing, what was the worst, or most disappointing, 3-star restaurant you have dined at? Thanks!

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On 9/27/2018 at 4:26 PM, DonRocks said:

As an aside, if I was ever forced (at gunpoint) to become a vegan, and could only have one country's cuisine for the rest of my life, it might just be India, not in small part due to their wonderful breads. Also as an aside, I believe I'd give up meat before I gave up dairy.

As a small side note, depending on where in India you are, Indian cooking is not particularly vegan friendly due to the use of dairy (ghee and yogurt).  For example, naan often contains yogurt in the dough. 

You would be better off in S. India, which uses less dairy and tends to rely on coconut milk as the fat.  Of course, S. Indian food is pretty damn tasty, so I wouldn't feel sorry for you!        

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Andy:   Thanks for coming by.  I admit to not knowing of your experience and reputation.  I've only read a bit about you and your long experiences to date:

In your opinion and experience are certain national or regional cuisines evolving in a more interesting, exciting, and pleasing way than others?  If so which ones?   Are there interesting and exciting trends with fusion among cuisines that have sparked your interest?  If so what are they?

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On 9/27/2018 at 6:45 PM, Simon said:

Andy, thank you for so much for doing this chat!  Two questions for you:

1) Aside from obvious destination cities like Paris, Tokyo, Kyoto, and the like, what cities or regions would you say have the best cluster (say 3-4, or more) of fine dining restaurants?

2) And perhaps a related question: what cities or regions do you think have the best ingredient-driven restaurants?  Here, I'm counting both explicitly ingredient-driven places, like Hedone in London, and also places like L'Ambroisie, which source the best ingredients as a matter of course, and excluding molecular gastronomic restaurants.

Thank you again!

Hi Simon. Perhaps the best example of a cluster would be San Sebastian in Spain. Here you have a trio of three star restaurants and a 2 star place. San Sebastian is a good example because it actually has a lot of depth in its cuisine, with a huge number of pintxos (tapas) bars, and other excellent restaurants in and around the city. My favourite restaurant there is a place called Ibai, which has fantastic ingredients cooked simply. I actually prefer Ibai to the multi-starred restaurants of the city.  

The greatest concentration of stars globally in a small area is to be found in the tiny village of Baiersbronn in the Black Forest, where you have a pair of excellent three star restaurants as well as a two star in a little country place, as well as some other good local restaurants. 

For ingredients-led restaurants you can consider the two turbot restaurants of Getaria in Spain called Elkano and Kaia Kaipe, who specialise in whole turbot charcoal grilled in the open air. They are not so far from Etxebarri, where local ingredients like red prawns are grilled over various types of charcoal. Naturally you can find such places in Italy. One of my favourites is Don Alfonso 1890 on the Amalfi Coast. this restaurant has its own farm opposite Capri and grows the best tomatoes I have ever tasted. There are also plenty of such restaurants in Japan, where specialisation is taken to extremes. For example in Tokyo a number of restaurants, such as Nodaiwa, serve only eel, prepared in various ways. Other restaurants serve just crab, and there are more examples like this. Japan is also famous for its beef restaurants. For example Aragawa in Kobe serves Kobe beef, and in fact only a sub-species of Kobe cattle called Sendai.

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On 9/28/2018 at 7:56 AM, dcandohio said:

Andy, since many of us will never personally experience a three star restaurant, could you elaborate on the specific factors that elevate a restaurant to exalted status? Is there some winning combination of ingredients (rare? Exotic? Hyper- local?), decor, location, amenities, service quality, etc. that synergistically create the win? And what factors might cause you to disagree with a particular restaurant’s rating? Thanks!

Thanks for your question. Restaurant criticism is not a science, but there are some factors that most of us can probably agree are important in a dining experience, other than service, price and ambience. In terms of assessing food, I look for: ingredient quality, technical skill, presentation and the balance of the ingredients and flavours. Michelin are cagey about their criteria but in interviews have said that they look for ingredient quality, technical skill and balance (they call it "skill in their preparation and the combination of flavours",), creativity, consistency and value for money). Other interviews with Michelin have mentioned the personality of the chef coming through, whatever that means. However there is a decent amount of overlap here. There is no magic "tipping point" that makes a restaurant two stars as distinct from one star or three. It is just an arbitrary cut off point that Michelin apply. It is worth saying that Michelin repeatedly claim that their assessment is "only about the food", so those expensive wine glasses, smooth waiters and starched tablecloths are, at least in theory, irrelevant.  There are about four times as many two stars at three stars, and five times as many one star places as there are two stars, to give a sense of the size of the bands. All that Michelin say is that a one star restaurant is a "good restaurant in its category", two stars is "worth a detour" and three stars is "worth a special journey".

Michelin claim that their criteria are identical globally, though having eaten at all of their 3 star places I would disagree with this. That is a topic in itself, but it is fair to say that a lot of people think that the Asian guides (outside of Japan) seem to be quite inconsistent and in some cases wildly generous with their stars relative to, say, Europe. It is perhaps unfortunate that Michelin have started to produce guidebooks at the behest of tourist boards, who pay for the guides - this is the case with Seoul, Bangkok, Shanghai, etc, as that further raises suspicions that Michelin's impartiality may be suspect.

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On 9/28/2018 at 1:21 PM, Rovers2000 said:

Andy - thank you for joining us for this chat!

My question is more around, despite the attention the 3 starred places receive - what draws you to a smaller, more mom and pop, type place in your travels?  Is it just to experience something truly "local" or are there specific types of cuisine that hit home for you (whether because they draw up certain memories from your past or there are just specific tastes that hit the sweet spot for you)?

Thank you!

Thanks for your question. I am definitely interested, when travelling, in trying local cuisine rather than just glitzy places aimed at wealthy international travellers. For example, when in the Black Forest recently I enjoyed some local Bavarian dishes like Swabian pork with sauerkraut and mustard at Sattelei. In both Shanghai and Taipei recently I tried several versions of xiao long bao, the soup dumpling with a liquid centre, which is a local favourite. I particularly liked some grilled sardines at a taverna called To Psaraki

I like most cuisines so I am not necessarily drawn to any one, though I am especially keen on Indian food so I am always pleased if I can find a good curry on my travels. 

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Andy,

Thank you for doing this chat.  I wanted to see the answers to some of the above questions before I posted because they are way more interesting questions than my questions.   

I know every critic is different, but what are the small things- it could be service, or attention to detail things- that when done right really make a meal special for you?  

Also, what is your favorite more low brow food to eat when you are not on the job?

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Andy, 

Thank you very much for your entertaining and informative thoughts so far. I talked with Gerry Dawes (with whom we did a chat a few years back), and he perked up when he discovered you were fond of regional cuisine as well as the Big Guns - he may be chiming in also. Between the two of you, I'd say we'd pretty much have all of Spain covered!

As someone who was dining out as many as fifteen times weekly, I found myself yearning for basic food, coupled with skilled execution. I don't know how many run-of-the-mill restaurants you encounter, but when I was running around, trying to cover all of Washington, DC, *most* of my meals were distressingly ordinary. When you travel, I suspect you don't have both lunch and dinner, each day, at starred restaurants: Do you find yourself coveting simple meals, without excessive saucing and too many ingredients? I'm not necessarily talking about a lettuce salad, but maybe something like a perfect piece of fish, with well- (but not overly) seasoned vegetables? I find that, all too often, restaurants feature "kitchen sink" dishes, either feeling the need to show off, or to pretend that "more is better," perhaps because they're scared that if they offer simplicity, people would prefer to stay at home and do it themselves (which I don't think is true - in today's busy society, cooking is becoming very much of a lost art). Interestingly, when I see pictures of all your top-top-level restaurants, especially in Japan, simplicity shines through *despite* there being numerous ingredients in a dish. I guess what I'm asking is: Do you ever get exhausted from thinking all the time, and just want to have a simple, home-cooked meal that requires no analysis?

Oh, and I either saw or read somewhere that you're having trouble finding great Indian cuisine in London (was it London?) - does this still hold true? Long ago, I went to a restaurant called Zaika in London (Michelin one star, Chef Vineet Bhatia), and at the time, it was the best Indian meal I'd ever tried. I also enjoyed a more modest pillbox called Malabar (a Bib Gourmand), and an even simpler restaurant called Woodlands, a Southern Indian vegetarian restaurant which specializes in Dosai - we actually have two branches of Woodlands in the Washington, DC area, and you should try the Special Rava Masala Dosa (the crepe being wheat instead of rice) if you haven't - you can leave your coat and tie at home for Woodlands. :) I should add that I've never been to India, and that my reference standard for Indian cuisine, I'm afraid, is London - I've been assured from actual Indians (people who really know great cuisine) that the regional cooking in India-proper cannot be compared to anything available here in the states (count yourself fortunate being in London).

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On 9/28/2018 at 2:19 PM, seanvtaylor said:

Andy,

Thanks for your time and willingness to do this. I was curious whether you felt that there is good consistency in ratings between countries; in other words, do 3-stars in France mean the same as 3 stars in the UK, or Germany, or Japan? Recognizing that dining experiences can be so vastly different as one travels between cultures, cuisines, service styles, etc., I guess I'm wondering what the metrics are to assess high-end dining throughout the world--and what are the minor elements that turn a great restaurant into a legendary one.

Thanks!

Excellent question. Michelin would claim that their standards are the same globally but I would say this is not true. There may be a number of reasons for this. Until 2004 Michelin were just in Europe in terms of their restaurant coverage. I gather that at the two and three star level there is some sort of internal QA review e.g. a place in Spain cannot be promoted to two stars unless an inspector from another country signs it off. Assuming this is true then it can be seen to be quite practical in Europe given the small distances, and probably a good idea. However such an approach would be very expensive indeed if it was extended globally, and the Michelin Guides are without doubt under financial pressure. There have been a few articles about this and at one point a few years ago they were losing many millions a year. Although the Michelin tyre corporation regards the guides as a PR expense, they will nonetheless not be allowed to spend willy-nilly. Indeed this is almost certainly what is behind the recent trend towards their taking money from tourist boards to do a guide, as happened with Seoul, Bangkok (both these are well documented) and almost certainly others. Hence I doubt that Michelin employ the same level of internal QA globally that they do in Europe. An example of this is in Hong Kong, where a restaurant called Sun Tung Lok, went from no stars to three in a year, and then was immediately demoted. This would have been unthinkable in the old days, where even legendary restaurants like Jamin and Louis XV went from one star to two and then to three. The inspection teams in the newer guides may also be less experienced, though doubtless there is a degree of cross-border inspection for new guides. 

Whatever the explanation, the standards seem to vary. The Hong Kong guide has been notoriously volatile and, in my view, unreliable. The same team presumably did the new Shanghai guide, which included some really shocking restaurants at the two star level. I have less issues with the Japan guides, though in the beginning they also made bloopers like giving Hamadaya in Tokyo 3 stars, which they at least quickly fixed the following year. The Japan team is, I believe, now entirely Japanese except for one French inspector, so does not have a "French bias" as some newspaper articles have claimed. It may also help that the standard of restaurants in Japan is generally very high, so it is rare to get a really bad meal at almost any level. Even within Europe there are some curiosities e.g. George Blanc still retains 3 stars as he is a bit of a culinary icon in France, yet virtually no diners that I know reckon it to be close to 3 star level. In general Michelin seem slow to give stars and slow to take them away, though this seems to be changing a bit recently.  

In my own opinion you can group the current 124 three star places into three buckets. There are about two dozen world class restaurants, a dozen or so shockers that seem to me just errors, and the bulk are in the middle. These three star restaurants are mostly better than the average two star, but are a step down from the real world-beaters. I have noticed that in recent years many of the newer three stars have been in this bracket, with very few indeed that I would say would deserve to be in the "true" three star bracket - it may be that they are simply running out of new genuinely top class restaurants to promote, yet feel the need to do so anyway to generate guide sales and/or headlines..

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