British pubs are the new Red

October 11, 2011

The Red Guides are out. Michelin launched its 2012 guides to Great Britain & Ireland and London Restaurants & Hotels late last week. Anything of interest for the business traveller?

“No matter what level of business you’re doing, you’ll find something of interest from the 1,500 hotels and 2,000 restaurants, whether it’s a three-star restaurant in London or a country pub where you can sit and talk in private.”

So said the UK guide’s new editor, Rebecca Burr (the guide’s first female editor in Britain), when I caught up with her just after the launch. Burr worked as a Michelin inspector for 12 years before taking the helm and has had a busy first year, with 90 new restaurants in London and 75 new pubs to include.

Although Michelin’s Main Cities of Europe guide (published every April, covering 44 cities in 20 countries) is the best fit for the continental business traveller, we talked about how the UK guides should be used by the travelling exec.

“Deals can be done in the most uncompromising places,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be that place that everyone’s talking about. “

Businesspeople like consistency; with a Michelin recommendation they know that if a two-star is selected for an important meeting, it’ll be the same level across any city. And that’s not necessarily a restaurant…

The big news last week wasn’t about restaurants or hotels – there were no new three-stars awarded, no big losses either. In fact, headlines made much of the fact that an English public house – the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire – became the first pub to receive two Michelin stars. The 2012 UK guides include 13 pubs with star ratings.

Star value
Why are British pubs producing such fine dining? Over to Burr: “We’ve found that chefs who perhaps have been working for other people buy a ramshackle pub and don’t have to do a lot to them – the talent’s in the kitchen.”

It’s not hard to see why pubs are doing so well here. A win-win for the consumer, they generally offer good value for money, are casual, relaxed and, unlike many restaurants, offer the flexibility of one or two courses.

Burr adds that gastro pubs have also put Britain on the map: “There was a feeling that we were slightly the laughing stock of other European cities, but that’s all out of date now. We can hold our heads high!”

She has been amazed with the number of luxury bedrooms at some of the middle-of-nowhere inns – “they’re everything you’d want in a luxury hotel.”

Burr argues people need to stop thinking that star restaurants are expensive. “There are several restaurants in London that we wouldn’t put in because of the prices they’re charging – they should be of a star level, but they’re not, and you would pay the same, so there is no benefit to our readers of putting them in.”

Underlining Michelin’s focus on value for money is the Bib Gourmand category, which requires three courses to fall under 28 pounds whenever the place is open. This year they found 28 new venues in this category, of which 13 are in London.

Valued for their consistency and independence, there are 27 Michelin guides in 23 countries. Ninety full-time inspectors pay their own bills, as they have done for over 100 years (the first edition was published in 1900). This year’s guide, published for the first time before Christmas, sees a wide geographical spread of new stars, three new ones in Scotland, one in Wales and four in London, which include ‘Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’. Next month, the 8th edition of Michelin’s Pub Guide is released; expect over 500 of these food-led, character-full venues.

(Caption on blog landing page: View of the collection of Michelin’s “little red guides” at the company headquarters in Paris March 4, 2010. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen)

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