The Good Food Guide top 50 is out, and we have questions…

L'Enclume interior 2Today (26 August) saw the unveiling of the Waitrose Good Food Guide’s top 50 UK restaurants with Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume in Cartmel taking pole position for the second year. So far, so good. We wouldn’t begrudge Mr Rogan the top spot, he was within a hair’s breadth of topping our survey last year and – without letting the cat out of the bag – doesn’t do so badly this year either.

Last year the GFG’s editors finally struck The Fat Duck from the top of their list. This year it’s missing all together, presumably due to the restaurant’s recent 6-month closure, and impending re-launch. The GFG has had quite a long love affair with Heston (remember that listing for Heston’s ‘Little Chef’), and of course the GFG’s publisher nowadays Waitrose loves Heston too (buy that Xmas pud early), so it will be interesting on a number of levels to see where the Duck (plummeting in most rankings of late) fares next year in its relaunched state.

Moving on pop-pickers, and we reach Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, at number two. Really? We’ll admit that it saw something of a resurgence last year, nudging into our top 100 for the first time in a while at number 87 in UK Top 100. Clare Smyth’s cuisine can be a “class act”, and perhaps the forthcoming Harden’s London Restaurants 2016 will further laud her ongoing efforts. But the GFG seems to be siding with Michelin’s timidity in tackling the clear shortcomings at recent years at the sweary one’s HQ.

Then we come to number three on GFG’s top 50 and find Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social. Now we don’t want to accuse the guide of being out-of-step or behind the times… but we’re going to anyway. Award Atherton’s Mayfair venue such high billing seems 1) a fairly clear case of celebrity-itis as ambitious though it is, it’s never been in the absolute top tier, and 2) it’s performance of late has been… well wait for the 2016 guide.

One of the two new entries in the Good Food Guide’s top 10 this year is Fraîche in Oxton. Mark Wilkinson’s “brilliant, one of a kind” Wirral dining room topped our 2015 survey to become the UK’s number one restaurant in the UK Top 100 published annually by The Sunday Times and powered by Harden’s. Perhaps we can take some small credit for helping boost it up from 17 in the GFG’s 2014 rankings and really putting this little gem on the GFG’s radar!

Moving on down, the next entry to catch our eye is Marcus, The Berkeley, at 15. Marcus Wareing is a lovely man and at the personal level one of our favourite chefs, so it pains us to observe that his Berkeley flagship has not been firing on all cylinders for some time now. Why the GFG have moved him up to 15 this year from 20 last, rather than way down into the relegation zone is a mystery.

Zooming to the foot of the list, there are a few places that seem perhaps hard done by. Raby Hunt at 47 could probably be higher, as should Gidleigh Park and possibly Northcote (40 and 50 respectively). It’s good to see a namecheck for Northern Ireland with Belfast’s Ox sneaking in at 46, but cross the Irish Sea to Scotland and we think they’ve got the order wrong again with Edinburgh’s The Kitchin above Restaurant Martin Wishart. Tom and Michaela Kitchin’s Leith operation does have the “wow factor”, but our reporters say Wishart’s Edinburgh dining room is “the best restaurant in Scotland” for a reason.

[ Edited version, published 27 August 2015 ]

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