Michelin UK and a Soho newbie

Dear Jackie interior

Nick considers some eye-opening figures behind the just-released 2024 Michelin guide to UK restaurants and introduces Dear Jackie.

These prices stand out for me from this recently published guide: £75, £115, £120, £145, £175, £185 and £420.

These are some of the set-menu prices of the 11 newly-appointed one-star restaurants in the UK Michelin Guide announced earlier this week and mark a phenomenon that I don’t believe has been touched on in any of the accompanying media coverage.

Of the 11, eight offer only a fixed-price menu:

  • Akoko: £55 for the shorter, £120 for the longer set menu
  • Humo: £58, £108 dinner
  • Chishuru: £75 for dinner
  • Restaurant 1890: £75 lunch, £175 dinner
  • Ormer: £115 for seven courses
  • Humble Chicken: £145
  • Aulis: £185
  • Sushi Kanesaka: £420

Only Mountain, Pavyllon and Dorian offer wide-ranging choice.

Five of the 11 are in hotels, including 1890 in The Savoy, Ormer in Flemings, Pavyllon in the Four Seasons and Sushi Kanesaka in 45 Park Lane. Two stars were awarded to Brooklands restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel.

I am not surprised at the predominance of hotel restaurants. In a repeat of a similar phenomenon in London 30 years ago, they are in a very strong position to make this happen. Hotel groups have the resources – the capital, the staff and the ability to absorb the early losses – that invariably accompany the opening of any new restaurant. But I do believe that this emphasis on set menus is worth pointing out because it is fundamentally skewing the terms of reference of restaurant brilliance.

I like choosing from a menu. It makes for variety, comparison and interchange with the waiting staff – all reasons why I enjoy going out to restaurants. The menu does not have to offer as many dishes as used to be offered. But there has to be some choice, in my opinion, to make a restaurant. It also makes the whole experience more enjoyable – the sight of different dishes going to different tables still excites me – and it also presents the kitchen with a different set of challenges from just preparing and cooking the same raw ingredients.

The preponderance of restaurants resorting to set menus must of course be another consequence of COVID and all the repercussions from this. A set menu brings with it considerable advantages for the restaurant – fewer staff, a lower wage bill, very limited food waste – and a set menu will allow the restaurant to offer a slightly more attractive menu price.

But I believe that there is a fundamental difference between a restaurant that offers a full à la carte menu and one that offers only a set menu. And that difference ought to be spelled out, particularly by Michelin, a guide which continues to have influence because it laid down clear guidelines when it first appeared.

What do you think?

Many congratulations in particular to Brett Graham and his team for The Ledbury’s promotion to three stars; to Johnny Lake and Isa Bal and all at Trivet for their second star; and to everybody at JKS for the awarding of a second star to Gymkhana.

Dear Jackie, Soho

I had thought that an early-evening reception at the Wallace Collection to mark an old friend’s fully justified CBE would supply another old friend to accompany me to dinner at Dear Jackie in the newly opened Broadwick Soho Hotel, to take the place of my sick wife. But nobody was available so I went on my own, having booked for two.

As soon as I entered the extremely smart hotel and asked about the restaurant, I felt a bit of a loser. This is a place for couples or larger parties. There were lots of smiling faces. Everything was spick and span and recently painted. I was greeted by a waiting committee of three young women and one man. I explained my solitary status to the receptionist who immediately put me at my ease, took my coat, bag and hat, led me down the colourfully painted staircase to the restaurant and showed me to an extremely comfortable corner table that had been set for two.

I looked around and was at first disappointed to be the sole single diner in a room that had obvious appeal to young women, who outnumbered men 8:2. Then, as I sank back into my comfortable banquette, I was relieved to be on my own. The music was so loud that any discussion would have been extremely difficult.

The hotel is the brainchild of entrepreneur Noel Hayden and is named after his mother. It has been designed to recall the glamour of the hotel he grew up in (the Mon Ami in Weymouth, which his family owned). Hayden obviously has the money and the common sense to choose his team with care. He has delegated responsibility for the overall design to Martin Brudnizki, whom I first met 25 years ago when he worked for the late David Collins, and who is responsible for the, ahem, eye-catching décor of the new Annabel’s and Sexy Fish in London and the Soho Beach House in Miami. Here he seems to have relaxed and had fun. The restaurant is replete with Murano lighting, red silk walls covered in plates of every dimension, plush booths and tables inlaid with a tiled pattern and topped with red table lights. It comes together to give the impression that the restaurant and the hotel have been here for a long time.

Dear Jackie wall detail

The restaurant management has also been chosen with care. Here Hayden has partnered with Jamie Poulton and chef Ed Baines, who for the past 20 years have been the successful owners of Randall & Aubin restaurant on Brewer Street nearby (and I can still recall when it was a butchers). Together they have chosen Italian food as their leitmotif, a style of cooking that is sexy, romantic and has broad appeal.

The menu is brief: four starters, four pasta dishes and five main courses. It is written in clear English; and throughout there is an attractive balance of all that the kitchen (behind thick, blood-red curtains) produces: Navelina orange with raw sea bass; quince and hazelnuts with La Latteria burrata; Sicilian lemon with sheeps’ milk ricotta; roasted pine nuts and cavolo nero with chickpea farinata.

Dear Jackie kitchen

I was impressed with what I ate: their version of spaghetti alle vongole with Datterini tomatoes and bottarga – although the heavy cream quotient negated the taste of the sea (£24); a terrific main course of monkfish whose flavour was enhanced by a strong sauce of nduja, the Calabrian sausage, mixed with San Marzano tomatoes (£36); and a really outstanding Sicilian lemon tart that had been grilled under a salamander, served alongside a scoop of mascarpone ice cream (£9). And it was encouraging to see a kitchen making a fuss of the humble fennel as it appeared here in a hot, melting rendition of fennel parmigiana. With this I drank a glass of Tenuta San Guido’s Le Difese 2020 (£14) and a glass of Gaja’s Dagromis Barolo (£26) which was a 2019 rather than the 2017 promised on the wine list.

Dear Jackie lemon tart

I left Dear Jackie and the Broadwick Soho Hotel extremely satisfied. Hoteliers are in a very strong position to realise that most guests in their restaurants are aware of more than just the food and the wine – and here I was also impressed by the warmth of the predominantly female staff as well as the overall design. Hayden is a brave man who has put his money where his mouth is, to very good effect.

Dear Jackie, Broadwick Soho 20 Broadwick Street, London W1F 8HT; tel: +44 (0)207 047 4000. Dinner only, every night.

Every Saturday, Nick writes about restaurants. To stay abreast of his reviews, sign up for our weekly newsletter