A Review of the AA 2012 Restaurant Awards 6

Monday night saw the AA 2012 awards dinner at the Hilton Park Lane, London. Unlike recent years there has been a distinct lack of excitement  or speculation on behalf of chefs. Foodies don’t really seem to share  the same passion of the Villeroy & Boch plates that bear the AA’s symbol of dining excellence, the rosette.

This however didn’t stop there being a little bit of interest being generated when I tweeted a teaser to my followers:

Heard some of the promotions for the #AAguide , ahead of the awards dinner on Monday. 1 new 5rosette 1new 4rosette & new entry for @JCchef1

There was a little bit of speculation as to who the new 4 & 5 rosette holders would be, with restaurants like Dinner by Heston, Hibiscus, Pollen Street Social, The Square & Ledbury all being touted. Whilst they were all worthy candidates, my followers failed to look further a field.

Dinner by Heston achieved a new entry at 3 rosettes along with Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social and Coworth Park (whether or not the award is for Restaurant John Campbell is unclear). I’d expect maybe for next year any number of these eateries to be promoted into the top 30 as all of the principles have held 4rosettes in previous years.

The talented Brett Graham would have been a safe bet considering the Ledbury’s meteoric rise of the past number of years, and as Andy Lynes pointed out on Twitter:

@ChefHermes Square 5 Ledbury 4 (how can the Ledbury only have 3 rosettes, that’s mental).


Although I did point out to him that there is occasionally a discrepancy between the guides:

@andylynes the square & le gavroche have both been 2stars & 3 rosettes in their time.

A new 5rosette restaurant came in the guise of Michael Wignall at the Latymer, Pennyhill Park, Surrey. Mr Wignall has always been highly rated, taking his eponymous restaurant one step further than his previous post at the Devonshire Arms. The question is, will there be a disparity again between the two major guides come October 6th & the release of the red book?

The one of the two new 4rosette restaurants, Glenapp Castle is set in 36 acres of wild Scottish countryside from where the kitchen draws it’s inspiration. At no time in the run up to the awards did I get any hint of a promotion for this idyllic estate.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth concerning the other new 4rosette winner, the Ocean restaurant at The Atlantic Hotel on Jersey. I’d heard on more than occasion that Mark Jordan was in line for promotion yet when I tried to get a confirmation on the story I was told that he was denying it. Only with days to go was I convinced enough to tweet about it:

Latest Rumour: New #AA 4 rosette @_markjordan @ the Atlantic #chefs

Having reviewed Mr Jordan’s book, Ocean Voyage his food looks clean and unfussy yet inspiring with none of the gimmicky molecular shenanigans. Jersey is looking more & more like a gourmet destination with there already being another 4rosette eatery (Bohemia) & two other 3rosette hotels as well.

Other new additions to the top 10% club at the AA awards were as follows:

• Castle Terrace Restaurant – Edinburgh
• Coworth Park – Ascot
• Montagu Arms – Beaulieu
• The Crown at Whitebrook – Whitebrook
• Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
• Feversham Arms – Helmsey
• Fishmore Hall – Ludlow
• Pollen Street – London
• Roux at Parliament Square – London
• Saddleworth Hotel – Delph
• Theo Randall – London
• Thornton Hall – Thornton

After you read the above list then scratch below the surface several questions start to arise.

With costs being cut at the AA and the line between the role of inspectors & consultants becoming more and more blurred, the inevitable question starts to be asked. The promotion of Feversham Arms  is possibly understandable with a talent like Chris Staines taking a role in the food & beverage department last year, but how do other properties make it to the elevated position of 3rosettes when they have yet to appear on the foodie radar?

Of course with the demise of the Von Essen empire earlier this year, I was being asked as to how this would effect their standing in the guides. After a quick surf around the recently updated AA website I ascertained the following:

  • Cliveden – Waldo’s (None, change of chef, formerly 3rosettes)
  • Ynyshir Hall (None, change of chef, formerly 3rosettes)
  • Lower Slaughter Manor (None, formerly 3rosettes)
  • Lewtrenchard Manor(3rosettes despite listing a chef patron who left 3months ago)
  • The Samling (None, formerly 3 rosettes)

What the investigating of the Von Essen situation confirmed is something that has been know within in catering for some time. That inspections are not as regular as they should be for an annual publication, and there have been wide spread reports that the AA will only be inspecting properties once every two years unless the properties pay a consultancy fee. To highlight this very situation the AA report on Waldo’s, Cliveden, the stately pile in Berkshire says:

As we go to press, there is a change in the kitchen once again, following the departure of Chris Horridge.

Mr Horridge left in March 2010, in plenty of time for the previous guide, let alone this new one.

Other award winners on the night were:

  • AA Restaurant of the Year England – The Hand & Flowers, Marlow
  • AA Restaurant of the Year Scotland – Gordon’s Restaurant, Inverkeilor
  • AA Restaurant of the Year Wales – The Crown at Whitebrook
  • AA Restaurant of the Year London (sponsored by AA Business Insurance) – Terroirs.

From everybody connected with the Chef Hermes Blog, I like to say a big congratulations to all the award winners.

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