The Michelin system uses the following guide for starred restaurants:
One star = very good cooking
Two stars = excellent cooking
Three stars = exceptional – worth a special journey
Michelin stars are awarded on a yearly basis, with inspectors visiting each establishment anonymously. Precise guidelines for gaining a Michelin star remains a secret, although there is much speculation. Michelin stars are highly coveted.
The star system, as outlined above, is also used alongside a range of other symbols and categories, including bib gourmand (1997) which describes a restaurant offering “good cooking at moderate prices”.
Due to the secretive nature of Michelin and its star system, many questions surrounding the process have never been answered.
Restaurant owners and chefs have no idea how often they are re-inspected. It was once believed that inspections took place annually. However, there has since been speculation that several visits by a number of different inspectors can and have taken place within the space of just a few months.
Until 2006, Michelin covered only Europe. Today, many more countries and cities are covered, including Macau, Hong Kong, Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Japan. The different guides are published at different times throughout the year. Debate remains as to how similar the Michelin star standard is across the various guides, as there appears to be some variation.
Although smart linen, expensive crockery and luxurious or highly fashionable decor is considered one of the expectations for a restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star, in recent years there have been examples of stars awarded to establishments featuring none of these. One such example is Sushi Saito, which is a simple wooden counter set up in a multi-storey car park. However, basic equipment, like commercial ovens, and the appropriate standard of food hygiene is typically required as part of the Michelin star rating system.
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Four restaurants in the UK were awarded three Michelin Stars in 2019.
In 2005, Michelin introduced what is known as a ‘rising star’. An Espoir denotes those restaurants which are particularly good and are being considered for a star. They are able to keep this status for a maximum of two years. They may or may not be promoted to full Michelin star standard during this time.