Chefs around the country will be setting their alarms for 6pm today for the announcement of the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2021 awards, hoping that a little bit of stardust will be sprinkled our way. The link to the online ceremony, which will reveal the new Michelin-starred restaurants and Bib Gourmand awards, will be published on the guide's Twitter account, @MichelinGuideUK.
Given the backdrop to this year’s announcement, Michelin issued a statement 10 days ago to explain why it is launching a new guide when the coronavirus pandemic means restaurants have been barely operational for the last 12 months. It is not blind to the harrowing times, it explained: the guide will promote the industry and shine a light on it in a global context.
There is of course the question of how Michelin’s inspectors have managed to draw any meaningful conclusions during such a brutally inhospitable year. The integrity of the guide has always hinged on the fact that its specially trained, anonymous inspectors make several visits to a restaurant, as consistency is one of the key criteria.
The odds-on favourite to bring home a new gong is Dede, the Baltimore restaurant opened by Ahmet Dede
The recent statement, however, said that much of the work for the 2021 guide was started in August 2019 and continued until the lockdown in March 2020. Additional time was bought by delaying the guide for four months – it was originally scheduled for October 2020 – and making it digital-only. “The methodology remained the same, and there was no change in the standards we looked for,” Michelin says.
Although they may well have been missing their customary two meals a day during three separate lockdowns, the inspectors were back to the troughs during the short periods when restaurants were open, particularly before Christmas, laying a visible trail of breadcrumbs as they shared photographs of their meals on social media.
So what can we expect this evening? Michelin has launched 14 country guides since March 2020, but the recently launched French guide is perhaps the best indicator of what may be in store. While there was much trumpeting about 57 new awards – including a star for a vegan restaurant – there were also 33 deletions, with a reason in brackets beside each one.
Many had closed or changed concept, but 19 of them were “demoted”, which is at odds with the guide’s stated intention to remain loyal to restaurants as the “industry continues to grapple with the effects of an unprecedented health crisis”.
This is worrying news for restaurants such as Aniar, in Galway, which has been closed all year. Penalising it would be viewed as churlish, given the current environment.
Also up for review will be House Restaurant, at the Cliff House Hotel in Co Waterford, where there has been a change of chef. No surprises are expected here, as the new chef, Ian Doyle, is highly rated, having spent four years as head chef in the two-Michelin-star Oaxen Krog, in Sweden, and two years in Noma before that.
But we can expect to see one deletion, as L’Ecrivain has already announced its intention to close in March.
The odds-on favourite to bring home a new gong to the Republic of Ireland is Dede, in Baltimore, the restaurant opened by the Turkish chef Ahmet Dede, who won a Michelin star for the now shuttered Mews restaurant, nearby.
Dede was awarded nine out of 10 in my review in The Irish Times last summer. He has all the ingredients the inspectors look for: as a former Michelin-star chef, he is a known quantity; he is backed by a supportive business partner, Maria Archer; and the guide has shared its pre-Christmas visit on social media.
In London, we may see a three-star award for an Irish chef, if Core by Clare Smyth lands a third star
Also getting a publicised visit was Lignum, in Co Galway, but as Danny Africano is a relative newcomer, Michelin is more likely to hold back for now and keep it on the watch list.
Other contenders include Allta, in Dublin, headed by Niall Davidson, a chef the inspectors will be familiar with from his time in London. But as it was open for only a limited time, Michelin is unlikely to have had sufficient opportunities to visit. It should be a shoo-in for 2022.
Bastible, in Dublin, has been in the frame, but, again, it is unlikely that the inspectors have had enough opportunity to visit since the departure of the Noma alumnus Cúán Greene.
Liath, in Blackrock in south Co Dublin, is rumoured to be on the watch list as somewhere with ambitions beyond one star, but as it has been closed for most of 2020, no change is expected there.
In London, we may see a three-star award for an Irish chef, if Core by Clare Smyth lands a third star.
For the Bib Gourmand awards, which the guide defines as places that offer "good quality, good value cooking", there is potential for more additions, including Pickle, Volpe Nera, Mamó, Potager, and Woodruff in Dublin; Beach House, in Tramore, Co Waterford; and Éan, in Galway; as well as places Michelin visited recently: Quinlan & Cooke, in Kerry; An Port Mór in Westport, Co Mayo; Oar Doolin in Co Clare; and Goldie and Cush, in Cork.
The buzz is more likely to be around the new "green star" award for "restaurants committed to advocating a virtuous, sustainable approach to gastronomy". Aishling Moore's fin-to-tail fish cookery at Goldie is likely to be on point, as is Loam, which received the sustainability award last year, and Ean, its recently opened sister restaurant.
We will see the return of the sommelier award, which was won by Jurica Gojevic of Adare Manor in 2019, and also two new awards: young chef and service. Also of interest is the recently launched Michelin app, which is free of charge (indicating that we, the diners, are the product) and allows access to more than 20,000 selected restaurants and hotels globally. User friendly and well designed, it will soon include a booking mechanism.
At this evening's ceremony, which will be hosted by Gwendal Poullennec, the international director of Michelin Guides, we can expect slick PR videos; speeches peppered with words like tenacity, resilience, excellence and creativity; and, we are hoping, a few wins for Ireland's wonderful chefs, who deserve so much of our support.