The Michelin Guide in France comes under fire again from those that believe that the stars awarded are not always commensurate with the food served and the prices charged. With a meal for two in three star establishments often costing between 450€ and 1100€ food critics — as opposed to Michelin inspectors — often agree that there is little difference between three and two star restaurants apart from the price. One such critic Meg Zimbeck the highly acclaimed food blogger (Paris by Mouth) spent more than 7000€ of her own money eating anonymously in all nine of the three star and all six of the two star restaurants in Paris!!
In one of her articles on the subject she writes “There is an obvious barrier in understanding these restaurants: the staggering, outrages almost immoral price of a meal!” She continued, “No one, I mean really no one, who writes about food would pay for themselves in a three star restaurant and neither would their editors” So the writer put her money where her well educated palate is and compiled her own reports at her expense. Her conclusion, much like many of us, I suppose, is that you can eat as well if not better in some lesser establishments. She quotes eating at Alain Ducasse’s famous three star La Plaza Athenée, which cost an eye watering 1100€ for two as ‘absolutely horrible’. When she returned for an invitation meal offered to all food writers in Paris she stated that while it was a more extravagant affair with flowing champagne — ‘it was still horrible!!’
The Michelin guide “directs people to some of the least exciting and overblown dining in the city. A three star designation indicates extravagant prices, plush surroundings, and a surfeit of staff. It does not, unfortunately, always lead you to the best food in Paris.” Overall, Zimbeck concluded that while there are some “truly enjoyable” meals to experience at the three star level, very few of the dishes were markedly better than what she had experienced at Paris restaurants that cost a fifth or a tenth of the price.
I have had the ‘pleasure’ of eating at several one star restaurants, including some of those that we have on our door step. I have eaten at one two star restaurant, but never a three star. I tend to agree that I have eaten better in lesser eateries that cooked with more heart and less hydrogen! I ate many years ago in a Michelin restaurant just outside of Cherbourg and got food poisoning. We should have known we were on to a bad ‘un when we went in. The restaurant was decorated in dark blue, but the sign outside said restaurant ‘Maison Rouge’!!
THOSE READERS FROM the West of England may well remember Thornbury Castle just outside of Bristol. The castle was built as a residence in 1511 for Edward Stafford the then 3rd Duke of Buckingham. However the Duke ran into a spot of bother with Henry VIII being accused of treason and so met his demise at the end of the executioner’s axe. Henry confiscated the house and used it himself, staying there in 1535 for 10 days on his honeymoon with new bride Ann Boleyn.
Following the English Civil War, the castle fell into disrepair, but was renovated in 1824 by the Howard family. Between 1966 and 1986 the castle was operated as one of the UK’s top restaurants by Kenneth Bell MBE with staff that included a soon to be food writer Nigel Slater and now a MasterChef New Zealand judge Simon Gault, honing their culinary craft. I first met Kenneth in 1974. No one deserved to be lord of the manor more than him. He had an air of aristocracy about him and was a fine mine host. He also has a major claim to fame in as much as that during his reign the hotel restaurant gained one of the very few Michelin stars in Great Britain at the time.
Kenneth retired after he sold the property for an undisclosed sum and it was eventually owned and operated by Van Essen Hotels. In 2011, following the administration of Van Essen Hotels, the property was on the market for 7.5 million pounds and was bought by Luxury Family Hotels as part of a 30 million pound purchase of a seven strong portfolio.
The castle is now for sale again for offers in excess of 8.5 million pounds. Set in 14 acres of landscaped grounds this 28 bedroom Grade 1 listed building has a two rosette restaurant and conference and banqueting facilities. At the time of writing I believe it is still for sale, so if your back pocket is bulging and you fancy being ‘King of the Castle’ then it’s being marketed by Savills. I’ll just go and check my bank balance!!