It's squeaky-bum time for chefs as Michelin's yearly announcement approaches
Manchester has some exceptional restaurants. We are undeniably a foodie city with everything from three and rice to reindeer moss. We've got pubs steeped in history, world-class pizza, street food for days, boundary pushing breweries, springy sourdough, skilful sommeliers, oysters, caviar, steak, sausages, nutritional yeast, kohlrabi, hispi cabbage seven ways, vegan tasting menus, miles of Masterchefs... you get the gist.
But what we haven't had for FORTY FIVE YEARS is a bloody Michelin star.
The star gives you a lot of confidence and lets you try and use more creative ingredients
Who cares? Well a lot of people actually. Even if some pretend they don't. A spangler dished out by that pedantic tyre manufacturer is a pretty big deal. Our mates in Burnley and Birkenhead have got them, so why does Manchester keep being snubbed?
Michelin have announced that they will be awarding a record number of stars today and that they are scattered far and wide. Will this year herald our dramatic comeback? And if so, who will be our saviour of savour?
Ahead of the 2020 Michelin guide announcement, we spoke to some of the region’s best chefs including those working in Michelin starred kitchens already and those we think might be in the running this year.
The only new star in the North that was handed out last year went to The White Swan at Fence where Tom Parker is top of the chops. A remarkably grounded bloke is Tom, we spoke to him back in January and caught up with him again recently to ask how his post-star year has been.
“It’s changed things but at the same time is hasn’t, it’s very hard to describe what a star brings. Obviously we are ten times busier than we were which is great. People are travelling a lot further to dine with us which is crazy really because at the end of the day we are still a small pub just outside Burnley.
"I hope the food has got better over the past year, the star gives you a lot of confidence and lets you try and use more creative ingredients which I couldn’t do before.
"Keeping hold of it is harder than getting it I think. We weren’t really trying before but now we have a level to work towards, which is stressful. Anyway fingers crossed for Monday and let’s hope Manchester gets one. I reckon they will.”
But who might in the running this year? The top seed for many seems to be Mana in Ancoats whose hyper-seasonal multiple course menus are brilliant and bonkers in equal measure. This is the restaurant everyone seems to be talking about. But is the food faultless enough for the Michelin inspectors?
Parker thinks so, “I think Mana will get one, I had a really great meal there, and I hope Adam at the French gets one as well, he is a consistently good performer and deserves it more than anyone.”
Both Adam Reid at The French and Sam Buckley's Where The Light Gets In (now with added new head chef Joseph Otway) were left bereft last year. Could they be in with a chance this time? Both are outstanding and highly decorated restaurants, completely different, but in a league of their own.
Marc Wilkinson, the mad scientist who tinkers away in his ‘shed’ AKA Fraiche, has held onto his star for 12 years and it’s currently the only one in Merseyside - although hopes are high for Liverpool's Roski this year. He told us:
“I think Oli Martin should have one without a shadow of a doubt. I dined at Hipping Hall a couple of months ago and there’s no way on this planet he’s not a Michelin star chef. It was a superb meal. I feel for Adam at The French as well. I did a pop-up there along with Adam. He’s a nice guy. He’s a bit vain with his selfies. I rib him about that. He does like his photo opportunities, all backed up with great food though.”
But what do Reid, Buckley and Martin have to say on the matter?
Adam Reid was too modest to comment on his own chances but said: "I think the story this year will be Manchester. There have been some serious openings in 2019 and places like Mana will be exactly the type of business Michelin will be looking for to set the standard for the city."
Sam Buckley has always been one to avoid stargazing and prefer to keep his focus on the ground, nurturing his plants and his team members. He commented:
"My stance is always the same. Although I respect the traditions of Michelin, its legacy and all those who achieve in its glory, it is only a publication of subjective opinion and with no tangible framework at that. As a business like all of us, it must survive and so has to move with current trends rather than adhere to a timeless idea of what a high class restaurant should be. I don't want to say we wouldn't be happy to receive a star but I would never change my style to achieve this and would hope never to apply the unnecessary pressure or strains on the team which can be synonymous with Michelin star kitchens in order to gain a star."
Did he have any predictions?
"I really think we'll see two entries this year for Manchester. I think Adam Reid really deserves one and I think Mana have had such a strong start with a very acute operation that they could go in straightaway. It's like buses, you wait and then two come along at once."
Or three? Where The Light Gets In actually scored higher for food than Mana in this year's Good Food Guide. Sam continues:
"If it were me handing out stars, Umezushi would have had one two years ago."
We reached out to Simon Martin from Mana for a quote, but it seems he didn't want to jinx it. When everyone is whispering your name, it must be a nerve-wracking time.
No stranger to stardust is Paco Perez. With SIX stars strewn across his restaurants in Europe, some are wondering if his Manchester restaurant Tast (co-owned with Pep Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain) could be in with a chance. While Paco only pops over once a month, his talented protege Miquel Villacrosa flexes his creative muscles in both Tast and the more experimental Enxaneta on the top floor, the latter is certainly a contender in terms of quality and innovation.
You'd think Perez would be nonchalant by now. But he told us:
“I would compare it to the Oscars. Sometimes you have movies that you might like or not like but they get the Oscar. Michelin is the same. You can have a Michelin star, it doesn’t mean everyone will love your restaurant. But in the end, being awarded with a Michelin star or an Oscar is always a very special thing. It’s a big recognition from a very prestigious and well-known guide.”
But it's not just northern chefs that are making predictions about Manchester's chances, some big food publications are too. Chef Associates have their money on Adam Reid but Hardens have tipped Mana for a star, saying:
"Marina has spoken. Will Michelin follow? Mana deserve it – it would be such an easy win, surely Michelin will put the ball in the back of the net on this one?"
Manchester's restaurants are bursting with talent and innovation in 2019 and we might be biased but we really think this year is going to be the year we get one, or two...or even three.