Viewed as a global epicurean currency of sorts, Michelin’s star system translates well anywhere in the world, with gourmands and chefs alike chasing the coveted awards. Originally published in 1900 as a travel guide for French motorists, the now familiar three-star system was introduced in 1931 to denote excellence in varying degrees – from the merely exceptional to those restaurants representing the pinnacle of gastronomy.
New York and London’s ongoing association extends to the famous little red guide, as their respective editions are released within weeks of one another. While London’s 2016 edition preceded that of its transatlantic sibling, New York’s 2016 updates offer similar insights into its sprawling dining landscape.
The latest round of awards have largely gone to unconventional choices, as ultra-focused Asian restaurants have seen deserved accolades. Notably, London’s Umu has been upgraded from one- to two-star status, while Japanese sushi master Matsuhisa Araki’s eponymous Mayfair sushi counter has debuted with two stars (its previous iteration in Tokyo held the full three – this is Araki’s first year in London). Similarly, New York’s high-end Japanese counters Cagen, Hirohisa and Sushi Yasuda have received their first stars, as has Tempura Matsui, which focuses on tempura in a seasonal omakase (chef’s selection) format.
Unjustly seen as cheap and unrefined despite its burgeoning popularity, Thai cuisine has also made inroads in Manhattan with the awarding of single stars to the East Village’s slick Somtum Der – which specialises in the fiery flavours of Thailand’s northern Isan region – and Uncle Boons, a more casual affair run by two former Per Se chefs. Brooklyn’s Semilla – which specialises in vegetarian tasting menus – has also been awarded its first star, adding further diversity to a guide traditionally filled with lumbering French restaurants.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of those too; every three-star restaurant in each city has retained its stars, and the guide still errs heavily towards classical Gallic and modern European dining rooms, a source of criticism for detractors who question the guide’s contemporary relevance.
Few would argue there are more relevant restaurants in London now than Lyle’s – James Lowe’s stripped down modern British eatery in Shoreditch – and Portland, a fine casual hotspot lauded for its creativity, both of which received their first stars. 'The next generation of chefs are really coming through to give the established chefs a run for their money,' explains Rebecca Burr, the Guide's editor. 'They all have their own individual style and their ability – coupled with their confidence – looks set to lead them on to great things.'