How would you sum up this year’s guide?
It is a good year – there is a vibrant, diverse selection for the guide as a whole.
For the stars it has been a very good year. We have seen interesting food and interesting chefs, there are so many highlights.
What stands out for you?
The star for the Wild Honey Inn pub in Ireland stands out – here is an older chef who cooks in a really staunch style. Then you have got Niall Keating who has gone into Whatley Manor where there were such big shoes to fill with a two Michelin starred chef leaving.
It was just an utter delight to see Paco’s Tapas in Bristol get a star; it is a brilliant business and it was really one of my meals of the year. You sit at those tall tables and have one their wonderful gin and tonics and one of their numerous courses. It is an addictive, fascinating place with really good food.
Of course there is Tom Kerridge and The Coach at Marlow – this is completely different to the Hand and Flowers. It has taken them a while to get up to the standard – they were Bib Gourmand before, and it is still great value; from a bacon sarnie in the morning to lunch and dinner.
Has there been a spike in contenders for the Bib Gourmands?
Yes, absolutely. It is a brilliant year; we have a great variety of Bib Gourmands and they are really important to us.
We haven’t changed the price [three courses for £28] for so many years because we keep finding places like Kiln and Kricket. The Bib has evolved over the years and let me quash any talk of it being half a star or a nearly star; absolutely not – it is completely different to that. The Bib is for a bistro neighbourhood type place. These are often busy, there is good footfall, sensible prices, it’s in and out – it is very much of the style we eat in today. It is a different style to the stars.
Small plates fits into that perfectly because you can eat within the limits that are set by the price.
There are some big names back with new restaurants?
Yes, Phil Howard came back with Elystan Street and Michael Caines who really just opened Lympstone Manor after such a long time in the planning. Claude Bosi’s cooking has changed from his cooking at Hibiscus; it now much more gutsy and robust but still with some creative elements.
How do you assess the national culinary landscape?
We would like to see more outside London. It would be great to have a launch event in another city but there are parts of the country where it is pretty flat and not much going on.
There are still things going on in Yorkshire and Birmingham but it is not as buoyant as in London, we often get accused of being London centric but we have 60 stars that are in London and that is where there are more things opening up. We have a team with cars and they go anywhere but we have to go where there is a lot happening.
Scotland is pretty flat really, I drive around there still thinking “where do people go?” Tom Kitchin’s pub Scran and Scallie is a highlight in Edinburgh – we could do with ten more in Scotland.
But overall, I still think there are young chefs who work in London and go out to work in the countryside. We would like to see more of that.
Where it is all heading?
The restaurants set the trends, we are just the observers of what is going on. I do think it is going to be more casual – I spoke to one of the inspectors the other day and we said we used to go out for dinner and it would last three and a half hours. We could go to three places in that time these days. Times change.
What concerns me slightly is the amount of people in restaurants who are on their phones. They are almost ignoring the staff serving and the chefs cooking. You ought to answer them when they put the food down, show a bit of respect for the work that has gone into it.
Some restaurants have got a more casual approach to service these days but don’t be fooled by the casual approach – they know a lot about wine, they are very serious; it is more support for the chefs and the kitchen these days.
It is a good time at the moment – all my colleagues from abroad are saying they don’t see the variety that we have here. We are very fortunate.