The Michelin Guide is a series of guidebooks that have been published annually by the French tyre company Michelin for over a century. First released as a guide to help French motorists find lodging on the road, they are now exclusively devoted to fine dining.
Considered by many to be the hallmark of quality cuisine, Michelin’s annual Red Guide awards up to three Michelin stars for excellence to a few select establishments. Michelin reviewers, referred to as “inspectors”, are anonymous and will dine at the establishments at the expense of Michelin, never by the restaurant being reviewed.
The process of attaining a Michelin Star remains highly secretive (and probably political), but certain factors are known to be key: the quality of the products; a chef’s mastery of flavour and cooking techniques; the chef’s ability to imbue the cuisine with his or her culinary “personality”; and consistency between visits, not just when it comes to food but also encompassing the overall dining experience.
Interestingly, there are zero Michelin Star restaurants in Canada, as the Michelin inspectors apparently never make their way up to the Great White North, in spite of the fact that we have a plethora of incredible foodie experiences up here. But no matter, I’ve had the chance to eat at quite a few star restaurants around the world, so here’s a summary of all the places I’ve been.
Les Cols, Olat, Spain
Les Cols was the first Michelin Star restaurant I ever visited, when we stopped there for lunch en route to Costa Brava, Spain. Located in Olot within the province of Girona, Les Cols boasts two Michelin stars, each granted in 2005 and 2010. It occupies a Catalan farmhouse with a modern interior, including a central dining area and three smaller private rooms. For our lunch tasting menu, we had the choice between two options. At the time I visited, I selected ‘Summer & Nature’ which featured seasonal produce from the countryside of La Garrotxa. With 20 some odd plates, the meal was long; I think we spent nearly four hours there! I recall not particularly enjoying the protein dishes but found the lighter portions interesting, such as the frozen cottage cheese with basil and anchovy.
Marea, New York City, USA
Marea was one of our first stops on a food-intensive winter trip to New York City. This one Michelin star restaurant is situated just south of Central Park, and is known for its fine Italian fare. The house-made pastas are their specialty, along with fish and shellfish focused dishes. I actually can’t recall what I ordered, but I have a vague memory of the Fusilli with red wine braised octopus, as pictured above, so maybe that’s what I ate? I do remember the pasta being perfectly cooked.
Eleven Madison Park, New York City, USA
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
There are only 137 restaurants in the world with three Michelin stars, and Eleven Madison Park is one of them. To top this off, the restaurant was also ranked first on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017. This fancy place is set in the Metropolitan Life North Building facing Madison Square, serving a multi-course tasting menu inspired by the agricultural bounty of New York State. At a hefty $315 USD per person, this is by far the most expensive meal I will probably ever eat in my life. The dining experience was definitely very refined and the attention to detail here is meticulous, but I think that we’ve since enjoyed several other very good tasting menus that would rival our time at Eleven Madison Park and were only a fraction of the cost.
Momofuku Ko, New York City, USA
After our highest end meal at Eleven Madison Park, we opted for a slightly more down to earth option with Momofuku. This restaurant chain helmed by chef David Chang has locations in NYC, Sydney, Toronto, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. Momofuku Ko in the Bowery district of NYC has been awarded two Michelin stars, and features an ‘Asian-infused’ tasting menu of about 10 courses. I recall enjoying just about everything we had here, the highlight of which was the dessert containing frozen Concord grapes. We’ve had the chance to check out Momofuku outposts in Toronto and Las Vegas as well, and they have always been a hit with us. We even own a copy of the Momofuku cookbook.
Le Bernadin, New York City, USA
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
One of our final fancy meals in NYC was enjoyed at three star Le Bernadin, where we had lunch. Found in midtown Manhattan, Le Bernadin is a French, (mostly) seafood restaurant currently run by famed chef Eric Ripert. Signature dishes here include their Pacific bluefin tuna and wagyu beef, the latter of which stirred up some controversy in 2016 when an investigative report revealed that they had been falsely marketing it as Kobe beef. Again, I can’t recall exactly what I ate here but the white fish pictured above looks familiar, so I probably had something like that. 😐
Alinea, Chicago, USA
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Following a series of traditional meals in the Big Apple, we had the chance to head to the Midwest and visit Chicago to experience our first ‘theatrical’ dining experience, on my birthday. Alinea is one of only 14 restaurants in the United States that maintain three Michelin stars. We originally learned about this place from an episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table, which told the story of chef Grant Achatz and his innovative contributions to molecular gastronomy. The tasting menu at Alinea is truly an epic experience, featuring about 22 courses of artful creations that integrate taste, scent, and visual tricks. Part of the meal involved a tour of the kitchen, but the most memorable part for me was tasting their signature helium-filled green apple balloons.
Omakase, San Francisco, USA
Our last visit to the United States, before it became the global epicentre of a certain virus, was to San Francisco. On this trip, I made it my personal mission to eat as much sushi as possible, and my favourite was found at Omakase. Located in the SoMa district, Omakase has one Michelin star and specializes in Edomae sushi with fish sourced from Japan. The restaurant is tiny, with only 14 seats along the chef’s table, where we were served a fixed course menu of delectable nigiri. The highlight for us was their wagyu beef topped with edible gold flakes…and MSG powder. Very interesting and very delicious.
Gion Nanba, Kyoto, Japan
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, something I highly recommend trying if you ever find yourself in Japan. We had the opportunity to experience this during our trip to Kyoto at Gion Nanba, a one Michelin star restaurant run by chef Osamu Nanba. This cozy eatery offers three options for seating: the bar counter, a private tatami room, or a Western style dining room. We went with the bar-style counter in order to watch the chefs at work, and selected the mid-tier 13,000 yen menu which included 12 courses. The language barrier made it challenging for our server to provide us with detailed explanations of the plates, so we simply ate whatever was placed in front of us, and were not disappointed. This was one of my favourite meals throughout our trip to Japan.
Tsuta, Tokyo, Japan
( ⭐️ )
We added Tsuta to our Tokyo bucket list when we learned about it from our food tour guide. Headed by chef Yuki Onishi, Tsuta became the first ramen restaurant to ever be awarded a Michelin star when it received the coveted accolade in December 2015. The signature dish here is the shoyu soba, a soy sauce ramen containing chicken and seafood stock base with stone-milled noodles, topped with sliced pork and black truffle oil. We enjoyed the meal for the novelty of saying that we had eaten a Michelin star bowl of ramen, but we admittedly had much better ramen in Kyoto and elsewhere. When we visited, Tsuta’s reservation process involved a ticketing system whereby we had to line up early in the morning to request a seating, and then return at our allotted time. In researching this post, I learned that the restaurant has since moved from the old-school district of Sugamo to the trendier locale Yoyogi-Uehara, and the ticketing system has been eliminated. It also subsequently lost its Michelin star in early 2020, so perhaps this place should technically no longer be included in my list.
Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand
Our dinner at Gaggan was the highlight of our time in Bangkok. This was another restaurant that we discovered while watching Netflix series; it has been featured on Chef’s Table and Somebody Feed Phil. Run by chef Gaggan Anand, Gaggan received several accolades until it closed in August 2019, including first rank on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for four consecutive years, and two Michelin stars. Like Alinea, the dining experience here was crazy and theatrical, with a 25 course tasting menu of molecular gastronomy creations reflecting a fusion of Indian, Japanese, and French cuisines. It was a particular delight to sit at The Lab table, where we could interact with the chefs as they prepared and served the cutting edge dishes on a background of light shows and rock music. Fun!
Central, Lima, Peru*
* I was totally under the impression that Central Restaurante had a Michelin star, but it turns out that I have been living under false pretense! I’m still going to leave this here, because it could be considered a Michelin quality restaurant by association, given that its owner and chef was awarded a star for sister restaurant LIMA in London, UK. 🤷🏻♀️
After a rough week in the Amazon jungle, we ended our trip to Peru in Lima and spent our final 24 hours living in luxury. This included a lunch at Central, which is actually the flagship of chef Virgilio Martinez Veliz, located in Lima’s Barranco district. Central was named the top restaurant in Latin America for three consecutive years, eventually making it to number six on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The menu here was a 16 course selection of plates inspired by the varying ecosystems of Peru, ranging from altitudes of 20 metres below sea level to 4100 metres above it. A unique feature that I appreciated was the juice pairing, which was a nice non-alcoholic accompaniment. Central remains my favourite of all the tasting menus I’ve had. Give this place a star!