The Michelin Guide is the most known and accredited European hotel and restaurant guide. Despite the fact that Michelin publishes a large number of books for travellers and good food lovers the public always refers to the Michelin Red Guide, which rank the hotel and restaurant according to its hankered stars.
The first version of the guide was published by Michelin at the beginning of the century. The French industrial, king of the tyre empire, wanted to provide a guide for the drivers who wanted to find a good place to rest and eat during their long travels. Not many know that originally the guide was distributed for free and the cover was blue. After few decades the cover’s colour was changed into the nowadays well known and unmistakable red.
The Red Guide is published every year in more than fifteen countries and covers hotel and restaurants in Austria, Belgium & Luxemburg, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, Switzerland, the UK and Ireland. Overall the Michelin books collection cover more than 45,000 hotel and restaurants in Western Europe.
The Guide has kept its original objective and nowadays is still a selection of good establishments, not a critical review. The secret of the success of the Red Guide is given by its simplicity of the star awarding system and the authority that it has gained throughout the years among the tourists and the hotels and restaurants owners: over 1.2 millions guides are sold every year in Europe and nearly half of them are the Michelin Red Guide.
The stars award system is the key: each restaurant and hotel gets an evaluation according to quality of their cuisine above all, but also service and comfort are taken into account. Restaurants and hotel are rated according different selection of price and comfort. Getting a Red Guide star it is not an easy task, restaurants and hotels are rated from zero star up to three stars.
A three stars means : “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”
A two stars means: “excellent cooking, worth a detour”
A one star means: “a very good restaurant in its category”
There are also other symbols for rating hotel and restaurants used in the Red Guide: the “Bib Gourmand” was established in 1955 indicates good-quality cooking, with special focus on local recipes and ingredients, below a certain price (between 50-60 US$ per menu). The “Bib Gourmand” takes its name from the Bib, the big Michelin man, symbol of the tyre company for more than one hundred years. Forks and Spoon are also another indicator: they specify the level of comfort of the establishment in terms of size of the rooms, quality of service and cover.
The stars system works through a network of anonymous inspectors who visit hotel and restaurants throughout the year. According to the level of the establishment and in case there is the possibility to assign a star the number of visits increase: usually each restaurant receive a secret visit once every year, but depending on the comfort level and quality hotel and restaurants can receive up to ten visits per year, always by different inspectors. Personally I believe that being an Michelin Red Guide inspector is one of the most fascinating job in the world, travelling throughout the year, searching for the best cuisine: a unique culinary experience.
Having a dinner in a three stars Red Guide restaurant is the ultimate experience for those of you passionate about gastronomy. There is not a limit for the number of three stars restaurants that the guide can select every year, but due to its rigour only a few across Europe can receive this unique award.
In 2007 France is the country with the highest number of three stars restaurants, Italy and Spain are right back. Too much chauvinism? The Red Guide is published in France, but after all it is an institution and its judgement are not debatable.
The list above shows some of the three stars rated restaurants of the 2007 Red Guide edition. The most amazing trip I could imagine would be discovering all the corners of Europe riding a motorbike and after a whole day surrounded by unique landscapes enjoying the pure culinary pleasure.
First published in Men's Passion issue #1 November-December 2007