The renown of the Michelin Guide needs no introduction in the restaurant world. Started in the early 20th century by car tire manufacturers Michelin, the guide was originally a way of encouraging more motorists to get on the road. The guide included tire repair and petrol stations, in addition to places to eat and hotels to stay on longer travels. By the 1930s the popularity of the restaurant section was evident, and the three-star ranking system was developed. The globally-recognized stars are tricky to obtain, and yet some restaurants have managed to receive (and maintain) the full three. According to the official ranking definition, a three-star establishment is “worth a special journey” while two stars are “worth a detour”, and one-stars are “worth a stop.” Aside from stars, a restaurant can be awarded a “Bib Gourmand” indicating good value for money, or the newly added “Green Clover” to promote those establishments dedicated to “preserving resources and embracing biodiversity, reducing food waste and reducing the consumption of non-renewable energy.”
There are currently 135 three-star Michelin restaurants around the world. France and Japan are the countries with the most, boasting a hefty 29 establishments each. The USA comes in second with 14, followed by Spain and Italy tied with 11 each. France has the highest total of 628 Michelin stars, no surprise given the French origins of the guide. However in recent years, Asia has risen to prominence with cities such as Hong Kong and Macau making the three-star rankings. And as cities go, it is Tokyo (for the 13th consecutive year in a row) that can claim the most Michelin stars than any other in the world, with a total of 226. For a breakdown, that’s 167 one-stars, 48 two-stars, and 11 three-stars - in just one city alone. The title for the chef with the most Michelin stars goes to Alain Ducasse who currently holds 20 stars. That’s over 11 restaurants in six different countries, a testament to the Ducasse empire.
How the guide determines its stars is based on five standard criteria that are kept rather vague for industry professionals. Inspectors for the guide are anonymous, never eat for free, and may be accompanied by other guests to maintain their secrecy. More than one visit might be made to decide whether a restaurant is worthy of a star (or two, or three), or of losing one. The pressure of maintaining stars is a challenge, and can even cause some chefs to call it a curse. Case in point: Skye Gingell of Petersham Nurseries in Richmond quit after gaining her first one, claiming the small and familial restaurant quickly became over-packed with expectant guests. Nonetheless, losing a star can be a hard blow, and oftentimes is due to a lack of consistency.
Michelin star restaurants in New York
A long-time culinary mecca in the USA, New York boasts a well-rounded list of starred restaurants. There are only 5 with three-stars and they are all in Manhattan, but the selection is a fine one. Le Bernardin and Per Se have held those stars for 14 years, since the guide was first established in New York. From contemporary styles with grandiose decor like Eleven Madison Park, to the innovative dishes at Chef’s Table, these restaurants are definitely well-deserving of the accolades.
- Masa, Japanese
- Per Se, Contemporary
- Le Bernardin, Seafood
- Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Contemporary
- Eleven Madison Park, Contemporary
Michelin star restaurants in San Francisco
Heralding the West Coast, San Francisco is home to 7 three-stars. The restaurants are each exceptional in their own way - minimalist Benu impresses with its Asian-inspired menu, while Quince offers a stellar farm-driven menu. Meanwhile, Atelier Crenn is one of only 5 female-starred restaurants in the world, led by the visionary Dominique Crenn.
- Atelier Crenn, Contemporary
- Benu, Asian Contemporary
- Manresa, Contemporary
- Quince, Contemporary
- Single Thread, Contemporary
- The French Laundry, Contemporary
- The Restaurant at Meadowood, Contemporary