City's flourishing restaurant sector described as world class after winning a fourth star
The editor of the prestigious Michelin Guide has labelled Birmingham’s restaurant scene “world class” .
Adam Stokes’ eponymous restaurant in Bennett’s Hill has become the fourth in Birmingham to be awarded a coveted Michelin star and editor Rebecca Burr told the Post that she now wants to see a two-star restaurant in the city.
Birmingham’s rise to culinary greatness has made it the UK and Ireland’s only city, outside the capitals of London, Dublin and Edinburgh) to boast four Michelin star venues, while not a single one can be found in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds.
Birmingham first stars came in 2005 when Simpsons restaurant moved to Edgbaston from Kenilworth and former city restaurant Jessica’s also scooped a star.
Glynn Purnell, who had worked at Simpsons and Jessica’s, went on to open his own city centre restaurant, winning a star in 2009, the same year that Richard Turner won a star for his Harborne venue.
Ms Burr said: “What’s happening in Birmingham is obviously down to local demand.
“Adam must have felt it was worth opening there and you tend to find that if you have one really good restaurant and others open up it becomes a bit of a destination.
“There are just over 2,000 stars right across the world, so for four restaurants in Birmingham to be part of that, it’s world class.”
The New York Times agreed, last year labelling Birmingham in its top 45 places to visit purely because of the city’s burgeoning food scene.
It was one of the main draws for Mr Stokes, bringing him from his head chef post at Ayrshire’s Glennap Castle (where he won a Michelin star) six months ago to a former sandwich shop in the heart of the city.
He said: “One of the things that attracted us to Birmingham in the first place was its existing restaurants and its reputation as a foodie destination, which has got international acclaim.
“We are just pleased that we can be part of that.
“Four Michelin stars really puts Birmingham on the map and that will attract people, not just to the culinary scene, but to the city in general.”
Elated by his win, which comes just ten weeks after the birth of his son, Jenson, he added: “For me, this is completely different to the first star.
“This is my own restaurant with my own name above the door and this is what I’ve been working towards for so long.”
However, some chefs claim Michelin can be both a blessing and curse.
While the 2014 guide brings success for Mr Stokes, it also deletes a star that Leamington’s Mallory Court had retained for 10 years.
The hotel and restaurant declined to comment on the deletion but last year chef Skye Gyngell spoke out about the “curse” of Michelin, after resigning from her Richmond restaurant and erasing her star.
Ms Gyngell claimed the Michelin star label had raised diners’ expectations to a level she felt unable to match.
Ms Burr responded: “That makes us feel so responsible. A restaurant with a star doesn’t have to change anything to retain it, it just has to maintain that level.
“We are making a guide for people who want to go to somewhere like Birmingham and we want to take the guesswork out and point them in the right direction.
“These days there are so many different opinions, blogs and websites, but with the Michelin guide it’s respected and reliable.
“The inspectors’ opinions have never been more relevant. They are very professional, fully trained and we’ve worked in the industry, comparing standards across the world.”
But professional, fully-trained chefs, known for their fiery characters and passion for their profession, must feel distraught to have a star stripped from them.
“It’s not a nice side of our work,” said Ms Burr, “and we don’t like doing it.
“They are carefully considered over a period of time and we always want to know why – what has happened? Has the chef got distracted by doing other things? Has there been a major team change in the kitchen? But we have to reflect our experiences, otherwise we might as well pack up and not do it.
“Yes, some of them phone up in a bit of a state but we tend to say ‘Sit back, look at the menu, reflect, and we’ll come out as inspectors in a few months time’.
“We never write somewhere off. We always go back and consider it again.”
Around 80 full-time inspectors are expected to sample 220 meals a year to compile the guide.
Ms Burr will then go as a secondary inspector to restaurants that have been proposed for a star.
They claim to judge only the food on the plate, so there are no points for decor, service, atmosphere, value – all the things average diners judge a meal on – and Michelin star restaurants have gained a reputation for being “fine dining” venues with pomp and circumstance – and hefty bills.
Ms Burr replies: “What is ‘fine dining’? It’s either good food or it’s not.
“There are pubs and brasseries [without stars] that hide behind salmon fishcakes and steak and chips where, actually, by the end of the meal it’s not cheap.”
She added: “The scene is set for Birmingham to carry on and it would certainly be nice if one of those star restaurants could turn into a two-star to set them apart.
“But we never know who the up-and-coming chefs are. Often they are in the background and then all of a sudden they’ve opened up and they’re causing a stir.
“If the customer base demands it in Birmingham then why shouldn’t the success continue?”