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'A Michelin star is different - you stand a chance to lose it'

We talk to businesses that have won the accolade about how much rides on the endorsement.

Image: Shutterstock

THE BEAUTY OF a Michelin star is that you can’t buy it – you have to actually earn it.

So says Adriaan Bartels, general manager of the five-star Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, County Waterford.

The hotel’s restaurant – The House Restaurant – was first awarded the accolade in 2010, just two years after it opened its doors.

Unlike many other food awards, the Michelin star is unsolicited. There is no application form and there is no fee. That gives the prize more integrity, Bartels says.

“Somebody comes and says, ‘You’re good enough to get this award and we’re going to give it to you every year, but I’m going to test you every year – and if you’re not good enough, I’m going to take it away’.”

As was the case for chef Kevin Thornton when he lost his star in 2015. He subsequently closed down his Stephen’s Green restaurant, Thornton’s, after 25 years in business.

“That is ultimately the difference in Michelin,” Bartels says. “You stand a chance to lose it.”

the house restaurant The House Restaurant Source: Cliff House Hotel

Revenue

When asked to give an estimate of how much additional revenue the star has helped generate for the property, Bartels says it’s hard to put a figure on.

“What complicates us is that were were in the depths of recession when we opened in April 2008. In September, the world crashed, and 2009 and 2010 were very difficult. The uncertainty of the financial world was creating all sorts of problems for us.”

That said, he believes the star did help “in terms of putting some wind up our sails” and helped generate a flurry of publicity the luxury hotel badly needed.

“It helped us drive business forward because we could talk about something that was unique to our property,” he says. “At the time, we were the only star outside Dublin (excluding Northern Ireland), which was a significant factor. People had a reason to come and visit us.”

1400x910_mm851_nv_chh-4884_final Chef Martin Kajuiter Source: Cliff House Hotel

Promotion

For Enda McEvoy, owner and head chef at Loam restaurant in Galway, the true value of a Michelin star is “kind of a chicken-and-egg thing”.

“It has definitely driven interest. It was a great promotion for us in the first year, but it’s hard to gauge how much custom we got out of it,” he says.

Similar to The House Restaurant, Loam acquired its Michelin star not long after it opened in 2015.

McEvoy says there was a noticeable uptake in summer bookings last year, but he is “putting that down to a New York Times article we were in”. Loam was included in the newspaper’s travel feature on Galway.

“That drove a lot of traffic to us. Whether that journalist would’ve come to us if we hadn’t got the star, I don’t know.”

Nevertheless, McEvoy believes there is a general misunderstanding of what the Michelin star actually represents.

“I think the Michelin being associated with luxury is a misconception,” he says. “What Michelin wants to do is showcase restaurants that are consistently good and consistently excellent. They only judge what is on the plate.”

To make sure Loam was delivering a consistent service, Michelin inspectors secretly visited the property 12 times before deciding to give it the award.

A Michelin star restaurant is “not a typeset”, McEvoy says. They are all “individual restaurants and individual businesses”.

“For a more luxurious restaurant, you get three ‘knifey-spoony’ symbols. We’re not a luxurious restaurant with chandeliers.”

Instead, McEvoy describes Loam as “a very Galway restaurant” with a casual dress code – “sneakers and flip flops” are allowed – as well as a simple menu.

Enda Enda McEvoy Source: Loam

Recognition

Before opening his own premises, McEvoy previously earned a Michelin star for JP McMahon’s Galway restaurant, Aniar.

It is clear that while it’s an honour to have two separate Michelin stars under his belt, it doesn’t play a much of a role in McEvoy’s day-to-day cheffing.

“Michelin is just a guide book at the end of the day,” he says.

“It’s great to be recognised by the industry and get a pat on the back to say you’re doing the right thing. But what we do every day is try and come up with dishes that showcase where we are and the people that supply us.”

Bartels agrees that the award is important, but not a driving factor when it comes to running a successful restaurant.

“It’s not that you sit there and say that you’re going to chase a star,” he says. “We were simply saying this is our food offering and if you like it and think it’s good enough, great.”

Written by Conor McMahon and posted on Fora.ie

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