I was first introduced to the AA restaurant guide as a young commis chef working in my first ‘fine dining’ kitchen. It was a culture shock to the system but I decided that this was the path for me.
I was fortunate to work under a great chef who’d had two Michelin stars previously at The Box Tree. After a few short months on the job he showed me our write up in the 1994 restaurant guide, he wasn’t happy.
We’d been rated at two rosettes and that wasn’t good enough, we needed to be in the top 10% (3 rosettes and above).
Needless to say, we had a stable team and we worked hard on refining what we were doing. In the 1996 guide we were rewarded with our third rosette, we’d arrived.
Still, to this day working in that environment taught me so much, it gave me the ethos our company is built on and the work ethic to take my technical ability as far as it would go.
Fast forward 15 or so years and new owners for the AA meant the guides needed to pull their weight.
The AA guides have now become more about making money than actually performing the service they set to do, ie write a decent restaurant guide. This has now culminated in the shambolic 2018 Best Restaurant guide, and rumour has it that it’s the last paper version.
The AA partially funds its restaurant guides by offering ‘Consultancy’ to entrants to help them achieve higher standards and ergo a higher rating. Almost like taking an exam but being given the answers at the same time from the examiner.
This business model has been so successful with the AA that if you don’t pay for the additional inspections the likelihood of you being inspected on an annual basis for an annual guide are pretty much zero. Inspections for inclusions in the restaurant guide are, according to the chefs & managers I speak to, running at about one every 18months to 2yrs.
In fact, one property doesn’t look like they have been inspected at all in an extended period. Just imagine you were Warner hotels & your entry in the guide didn’t change for three years!!!
Here you go, guide entries for Nidd Hall: 2015, 2016 & 2017:
Expect to find mandarin & chamomile fragrancing the confit duck & foie gras terrine, and then crispy noodles in seafood broth as a medium for main-course sea bass with mussels.
Sadly I can’t tell you what to expect at Nidd Hall because their entry in the 2018 guide looks like this:
So you really have to ask the question, What is the point of the AA Restaurant Guide?
- They don’t inspect annually unless you pay for additional inspections/consultancy, so how do they judge how have you progressed since the previous guide?
- The lack of transparency over the consulting is a real concern.
- There are better guides out there which offer more information, such as Good Food Guide, even for establishment rated 1 out of 10.
- Other guides don’t charge for inclusion. The AA charge for inclusion if you have accommodation, this resulted in Sat Bains’ eponymous restaurant temporally being dropped from the guide some years ago.
- Their app & website are woefully out of date, to the point now where ppl like me use a third party website to check for the weekly updates.
So at this point, I’m not really seeing the case for the AA to continue with this expensive charade, or why they are held in such high esteem within the industry. Michelin & GFG are clearly far more impartial & independent from the industry, with Hardens starting to broaden its wings further than the capital in the past few years.
RIP AA Restaurant guide, it was good while it lasted.