It was a podium finish for a jubilant Ahmet Dede at the Silverstone Circuit in England on Monday when Clare Smyth, the chef and owner of the three-Michelin starred Core restaurant, announced that the Co Cork restaurant he co-owns with Maria Archer had been awarded two stars.
Also sharing the glory and adding to Cork’s triumph was Terre, the restaurant at Castlemartyr Resort, which opened last September and was awarded one Michelin star.
But outside of these wins and awards for service and mentorship for Declan Maxwell and Michael Deane, there was a feeling that the wheels had come off for a number of restaurants in Ireland.
The expectation that Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen would land three Michelin stars was widely touted, not just in Ireland but overseas, with a number of UK chefs saying in press previews that its time had come.
Row Wines review: A new restaurant offering a rare thing – small plates and a glass of wine that won’t break the bank
The chief inspector of the Michelin Guide UK & Ireland, who was available for comment following the announcement of the awards on Monday evening, was giving little away. The assessors have visited regularly, he said, to gauge the way the cuisine at Chapter One is evolving and maturing.
[ Michelin stars: The power to make or break careers, businesses – and lives ]
When everything is in place for Chapter One, be in no doubt, it will be joining the family of three-star restaurants.
“To become a three-star restaurant is to basically say that this is one of the best restaurants in the world. It’s a restaurant that is going to provide an incredible experience. Not only just the sophistication and originality and personality of the cuisine, but there’s also everything else that goes with it,” he said.
“So when we make these decisions, and the inspectors absolutely love seeing a new restaurant join the family of three-star restaurants, we have to be very, very sure of our decision.”
[ Restaurant review: One of the best – and most expensive – meals I’ve ever eaten ]
The good news was that no restaurant in Ireland lost a star or was demoted, although the situation with Aimsir restaurant in Kildare is a glaring outlier for the ultra-cautious guide.
Jordan Bailey, the head chef, and his wife, Majken Bech-Bailey, will be finishing up in the restaurant after their final service on April 15th. The chief inspector said they were surprised to hear that they were moving on, but for now, anyone visiting would have a two-star experience, and they would reassess the restaurant when they left. As Michelin now works on a digital platform, they can react to changes more quickly.
[ New two-star Michelin restaurants, but when will Ireland get a three-star? ]
There was disappointment in Galway too, as Lignum, a restaurant with high expectations of a Michelin star, ultimately received no award. The Michelin inspectors are famously thorough in their evaluation of restaurants, ensuring that each bite is of the same exceptional standard.
They use five criteria: the “quality of the ingredients used, mastery of flavour and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in his cuisine, value for money and consistency between visits”.
Chef Danny Africano is full of ideas, he regularly changes his multicourse menu, and although this can be exciting for the diner – because the food is very good indeed – it may be the sword he falls on when box-ticking inspectors rock up.
If one amuse bouche is not up to standard, there will be no green light for a coveted star. There is of course a balance to be struck between playing it too safe with boring consistent dishes and a multicourse menu which provides numerous obstacles.
[ Aimsir resignations: Couple who set up Michelin two-star restaurant quit their roles ]
It is no doubt disheartening for Africano and his team, but he may well reflect on how long it took Viljanen to get to where he is today. He was passed over for several years before landing his first Michelin star for The Greenhouse in 2016, and that was after he dropped a few extraneous elements from his menu.
Ultimately, we’ll celebrate the victories bestowed upon us by the Michelin Guide and the major triumphs in Cork. But in the absence of a handbook or a clear understanding of how the Michelin inspectors work, there is an uncomfortable feeling that we should be celebrating more.
And reluctantly, we’ll wait another year, at least, before Ireland is awarded its first three-Michelin star accolade.