What is the maximum number of Michelin stars for a restaurant?
At just over one hundred years old, the Michelin guide has become one of the most coveted indicators of quality in fine dining. Initially, a motorist’s guide to encourage road travel across France, the guide has now evolved into one of the most prestigious yet secretive rating systems for quality cuisine. Updated annually, the guide presents a listing of the best restaurants across the globe for diners looking for exceptional experiences. With one, two, or up to three stars to gain, a restaurant can obtain various levels of prestige. Restaurants and chefs will consider the acquiring (and losing) of stars as defining moments of their careers. And yet, in recent years the guide has changed to a more inclusive reflection of a more comprehensive style of eating cultures, now awarding stars to pubs and street food carts.
One-stars are defined as “a good place to stop” with food made according to high standards. Two-stars are “worth a detour”, with “excellent cuisine.” And finally, the highly coveted three-star rating is for those restaurants that are “worth a special journey” with exceptional cuisine and harmony. There is also the Bib Gourmand, given to those restaurants serving “exceptionally good food at moderate prices.” Aside from stars and the Bib Gourmand, various other symbols are used to describe the dining experience like comfort level or outdoor seating. More contextual markers are used to denote special tapas bars in Spain, street-food stalls in Asia, and quality pints in the UK.
The actual rating process, however, remains a fairly mysterious affair. The determining factors are vague markers that include quality of ingredients, mastery of flavour and technique, the chef’s personality in the cuisine, the value of the food, and consistency across several visits. The Michelin board has made it clear that quality ingredients do not necessarily mean luxury ingredients, and that often the simplicity behind quality produce prepared with the utmost respect is more than enough to warrant the guide’s attention. Balance of flavours and techniques is equally relevant and can make or break an inspection. Food alone is not enough, and there needs to be a particular identity that comes through from the chef to make the food stand apart from other restaurants.
Ratings are thus largely focused on the actual food and the chef, which is why stars are often associated with chefs despite being awarded to restaurants - and why they can become so personal for many. Other factors of the dining experience like decor and service are not taken into account when awarding stars, although they are indicated on the full guide. For restaurants that already have stars, they’ll be reinspected annually to decide whether those stars should be kept or lost. The number of times that happens remains a secret, although it has been suggested that one of the main causes for the loss of a star is a lack of consistency across these visits.
In contrast to other rating systems, the Michelin guide does not take into account public consumer ratings and takes no advertising and has no hidden fees. Anonymous restaurant reviewers called Michelin inspectors are the ones who determine whether or not a restaurant is worthy of a star - these patrons are often food industry professionals who must be entirely inconspicuous, able to dine without raising any suspicion from restaurant staff for the most objective reviewing (and of course, with a highly refined palate and sense of good taste). They’ll provide a detailed account at a reviewers’ gathering, and all make a joint decision together.
Despite the various criticism the Michelin guide attracts - often accused of snobbery or of bestowing incredible pressure upon chefs and restaurateurs - there is no doubt that the awarding of a star can boost business massively. Nonetheless, many argue that the prestige of a star should be kept in perspective. With a more varied set of eating establishments receiving stars, it’s clear that the most important criteria is the food, and not the traditional fine dining accoutrements of the last century.
3 Michelin star restaurants: the full list
The Michelin guide is generally assembled according to cities, countries or states in the case of the US. It is only in the past fifteen years that the Michelin guide expanded beyond Europe, although not every country or continent has Michelin-starred restaurants.
Tokyo currently stands as the city with the most Michelin stars for 2020, with 11 three-stars, 47 two-stars, and 165 one-stars. As for the country with the most stars, it comes with little surprise that the birthplace of the Michelin guide holds the honour. France currently has 628 Michelin stars, with a whopping 29 three-stars, 86 two-stars, and 513 one-stars.
Behind restaurant won its first Michelin star after just 20 days of serving eat-in diners. We spoke to chef Andy Benyon about his extraordinary feat, and the fastest Michelin star in the east (London).