Monsieur Michelin, you miss the point

Full serve: Deduct points for use of the word "sublime".
Full serve: Deduct points for use of the word "sublime". Photo: AFP

As this year's restaurant bible is published, Anthony Peregrine suggests an alternative scoring system.

News of the adjudications of the Michelin Guide to France 2014 was leaked last month, and their relevance was held up for some serious scrutiny.

The French restaurant world, which is always simmering, came to the boil.

While the losers despaired or simply railed against the system, the winners happily went on local television to pay tribute to their grandmothers, at whose knees they learnt how to gut guinea fowl.

They ascribed their subsequent success to the quality of produce used. "Nature dictates my cooking," they no doubt said.

The formula rarely changes. No chef ever puts his new accolade down to boil-in-the-bag technology, or says it is a feather in the cap for pot noodles.

This is fine, almost endearing, but there are certain elements of French restauration that Michelin never addresses and which need to be corrected.

In my world, each failing mentioned below would lead to loss of points, the loss of sufficient points, leading to the loss of a Michelin star. (The French are Cartesian. They will understand that.)

IDIOCY ON ARRIVAL

■ The maitre-d': "You wish to dine, monsieur?" ("No, I wish to play croquet. Please clear a space.") Two points lost.

■ "A table for one, monsieur?" I often travel and, therefore, dine alone. This throws waiting staff. "For one?" they repeat. "Certainly," I cry, closing the door firmly behind me. "As long as we can keep the other 47 at bay."

ORDERING

■ Unless you are very lucky, house aperitifs are invariably coloured nuclear orange, the result of mixing concentrated apricot juice with the cheapest sparkling wine. A Scotch is always preferable. I really don't know why Michelin never mentions this.

■ Menu descriptions longer than the meal itself, tending to imply that the chef is a poet and a sage.

These are to be proscribed, unless the exponent is the incomparable Christian Sinicropi of the Palme d'Or restaurant in Cannes. In a land of impenetrable philosophers - Descartes, Sartre, Cantona - Sinicropi remains the least penetrable of all.

His menu texts wrap themselves around each other into a sort of zenith of incomprehensibility.

Thus, from his autumn menu: "A dimension of emotion, of sharing, of palliative exchanges superimposed on an initial approach with a title of nobility in two, three or four phases."

In the presence of such genius, one can but genuflect.

But lesser talents aiming for incomprehensibility remain all too comprehensible, so we shall deduct points for each menu use of (the French versions of) "symphony", "harmony", "ethereal", "sublime" and any other terms suggesting we are in for an apparition of the Virgin Mary rather than a meal.

Points are also lost for all references to "the hills and valleys of our region", "traditional peasant practices", and "long-forgotten vegetables".

■ "Oven-roasted" and "pan-fried" are obvious points losers. (Where do you expect to roast and fry? In the car boot?)

■ Nor do we need to know the name and address of the fellow who supplied the goat's cheese. We're not here to make friends with cheese producers.

WINE

■ It is time to state the obvious: being a sommelier is not a serious job. It is not a job at all. It is simply affectation in an apron.

The only people interested in a sommelier's services know much about wine already. They are more determined to show off their own knowledge than listen to a wine waiter. Everyone else goes for the second-cheapest on the list, whatever happens.

Wine lists longer than David Copperfield are a damned nuisance, and wines that cost more than €50 ($77) a bottle are irrelevant in almost all cases.

■ Nor does anyone really want to talk about how the mineral fruitiness of the merlot teases out the marrowy nuances of the cote de boeuf. They want to talk about football, sex and shopping. So, sommelier: skedaddle. Your presence is losing vital points.

■ It's losing more yet if you are in the habit of serving the wine, then placing the bottle in a stand or on a nearby table just beyond the reach of the diners.

This means they are dependent on you for refills, which may help you occupy those dead moments between clocking on and knocking off, but drives them witless or causes them to wrench a shoulder.

If people are rich enough to eat in your restaurant, they can handle the wine.

MISCELLANEOUS

■ Many of your customers will prefer beef which has stopped bleeding. They may also dislike tripe, pigs' innards and octopus.

This is not being weedy. It is a matter of upbringing. Sneering loses you valuable points.

And please note: if we were looking for role models for the truly tough, we would probably not start with French waiters.

■ Arrangements of dots of sauce on a plate are culinary masturbation. Lose 10 points.

■ A wrapped wedge of camembert with a sliver of brie does not qualify as a "festival of regional cheeses". Another 10 lost.

■ Mixed lavatories have had their day. Women don't like passing behind a line of peeing men, and men aren't wild about it, either.

There is no point making eau de cologne available in the toilet. No one readily returns to the table smelling of something they have picked up in the bog.

■ Finally, another word to French chefs: resist the temptation to emerge from the kitchen to chat with diners as their meals end.

This is a genuine points loser, especially if you don't share a common language. It is an exercise in ego-massaging for you and an embarrassment for them.

The manager of Waitrose does not patrol the supermarket exit, to discuss the shopping experience with his customers as they leave. He stays in his office.

You stay in your kitchen. If I need to talk, I will phone.

The Telegraph, London

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