On this trip to London I decided that to be a true foodie I needed a few Michelin stars under my belt (quite literally I guess). After a bit of research, I found Pied-a-terre on Charlotte St in London - a respectable 2 michelin stars and not too many dollar signs on the rating. French food, of course, but in an obscure twist prepared by an Australian chef with a seafood allergy.
And so I went after work one day, bright and early in the evening since I had no reservations. I need not have worried; I was the first person in and had the pick of tables, waiters and newspaper. I'd resolved to stick to the simple and within budget but when the menu card came filled with drooling descriptions, temptation took over. I ordered the whole deal, a seven-course degustation thingy. Then I sat down with the day's news and waited.
A progression of very interestingly plated dishes followed. Pied-a-Terre is very modern; chocolate walls, thick square glass slabs as serving plates and small rectangular china topped with exotic dishes. But of course, the real test - the food (Michelin stars incidentally, are given only for food, not the ambience). Some interesting amuse-bouche landed up in the beginning, followed soon by the food. The first three courses - a pumpkin soup, a scallop ceviche and a foie gras in a sweet wine reduction - were absolutely stunning; some of the best food I've had anywhere. Yes, pumpkin soup was quite memorable - somehow a world of flavors had been persuaded into the orange mash. The ceviche was a startlingly lively green and seafood concoction, while the regulation foie gras came in floating in an out-of-the-world sauternes reduction. The remaining four courses (this was a degustation menu, remember) were just as beautifully presented and very good, but none reached quite the heights of ecstasy of the first three. The next thing worth swooning over were the petit-fours with the coffee. Still, 60% of a meal being heavenly is not to be sneezed at. The final bill was a bit of a lump even for someone steeled to degustation menus - GBP90 without wine; we're talking $150 for dinner here (without a drop of wine to soften the blow) so I strongly recommend an expense account.
Bottom line - I'll be back once I've filled the hole where my pocket used to be.
I also tried some poorer cousins - two restaurants with just one tiny Michelin star each. The first was a middle-eastern restaurant called Noura in Belgravia that had the most amazing shawarma (and I do really mean amazing). The stuff is miles better than your average streetside thing, tender, melting, complex spices and all that kind of thing. Shawarma, in my experience, is usually closer to backyard barbecue than gourmet - often satisfying but usually not transporting. This one was at least a leave-the-ground if not actual transport. There were a lot of mezzes there that looked like it had the potential to amaze. Desserts (many kinds of baklava, what else) were competent, but unexciting. I'm in some confusion, though, about which Noura got the Michelin star (there are four in Paris and one in Lebanon).
Another single starrer was Greenhouse - all cool modern elegance with touches of wood and green. The degustation-with-wine lunch, presented with great style and a GBP60 bill was very nice (maybe even very very nice), defnitely the sort you remember with a great deal of satisfaction but, well, no ecstasy.
So here's my take on Michelin stars (or at least the four under my belly button). One star - it's going to be very good food but you may not remember it a month later. Two stars -you'll remember both the food and the bill that came with it. Three stars - haven't got that far yet.
Incidentally nothing in the USA has a Michelin star; not because food is bad here but because Michelin does not review American cities yet (they're planning their first New York office, I hear). They did give Nobu's London version a mere single star, but I haven't been there.