Manchester was a confusing choice given the city's lack of success

In 1946 the first consignment of bananas reached Britain after World War Two. The new Labour government decided each child should have the treat of tasting a banana. Three arrived at the household of renowned novelist Evelyn Waugh, one each for his children. Waugh placed the bananas on a plate, summoned his children and ate all three as they watched.

The Michelin Guide ceremony for Great Britain and Ireland was akin to that. Among the 500 plus guests at the Midland Hotel on Monday 5 February there was a large contingent of Manchester media including, the MEN and a number of other usual suspects. We watched as the Michelin Man ate all the bananas with a smile on his face.

We’d been tickled with Michelin’s presence in Manchester and then we’d been left as deflated as a collapsed souffle

The MC for the ceremony, in the Alexandra Suite of the Midland, was Amanda Stretton. She was clearly an obvious choice for the doling out of Michelin stars to restaurants as she’s a former racing driver, the motoring editor for and the patron of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Welfare Trust. Odd; this was a food ceremony not one for Michelin tyres but maybe at some point Stretton had eaten a car or a Rhodesian Ridgeback. She at least managed to look confused through much of the event. She wasn’t alone. 

Amanda wasn’t one for jokes or spontaneous wit but pretty good at reading from a tablet with a script so wooden it must have been AI generated. Host city Manchester was briefly mentioned in a cascade of cliches ‘vibrant food scene’ and something or other that was ‘iconic’, a word which needs to be rested in the UK for a year or ten. Reference was made to the ‘two football clubs’ but it was unclear whether Amanda could name either if pushed. 

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Amanda Stretton, Michel Roux and AI Grendel Image: Confidentials

Every now and then during proceedings Amanda was joined on stage by an elegant and extremely posh Frenchman who was seemingly called Grendel and was also possibly AI generated. We never encountered Grendel’s mother but it was amusing of the AI programme writers to give Grendel a voice straight out of ‘Allo, ‘Allo. The aitches were particularly good: ‘I ‘ope the winners ‘ave ‘appy futures’. It was unclear whether Grendel could name either of the Manchester football clubs either. 

Life was injected into the event by the delightful Michel Roux who recently and gracefully closed the 57-year-old Le Gavroche restaurant so he could spend more time with his family. He spoke elegantly and with wit about the hospitality business and even mentioned one of those Manchester football clubs.

Then Roux was given the pointless Envelope of the Year to name the Young Chef of the Year. The envelope was pointless because before he’d opened it the name of Jake Jones from Forge in Middleton Tyas in North Yorkshire had flashed on the screen. 

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The Midland Hotel all expectant Image: Confidentials

Other pointless envelopes would make appearances but at last we were into the serious business. Throughout the awarding of the fabled Michelin stars there were moving moments. Jake had started warming up the event as he’d received his accolade. The inclusion of Simon Rogan of L’Enclume as a brief co-presenter was welcome as he injected enthusiasm and vigour.  

The sheer joy and pride on Aktar Islam's face was wonderful to behold as his restaurant Opheem in Birmingham received a second star. He told the audience how he’d left school with no qualifications but the industry had offered him the opportunity to rise as it had so many others. That was more like it. 

With Michelin stars Birmingham is the outlier among other large UK cities outside London with five starred restaurants. Mention should be made of the young man who was wrung out with emotion as the Ledbury in London received a third Michelin star. That felt real.

Perhaps when Robbie Ashby of Exeter's Stage restaurant received the award for standout hospitality he missed a trick. He should have told Amanda and AI Grendel that he needed the Alexandra Suite back in half an hour.

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A human moment: a chef from the Ledbury breaks down (extreme right) as head chef Brett Graham recieves a third star Image: Confidentials

As for North West winners the delightfully whiskered Valentin Mouillard won Sommelier of the Year, meanwhile congratulations go to two Cumbrian restaurants for gaining a star. These are the Cedar Tree by Hrishikesh Desai at Brampton, a few miles east of Carlisle, and Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside in the Lakes.

It was a very London awards with morsels for Scotland and for both the Republic and Northern Ireland. For Wales it was a green award which included a video of a coastline in pissing down rain and some folk attacking seaweed, then putting tiny bits of annoyed seaweed on blameless pebbles. It looked a lot of bother.  

Males dominated the awards and then some.  Only two women appeared on stage aside from the MC, Adejoke Bakare from London’s Chishuru restaurant and also from London, three-star chef Clare Smyth of Core. #justustwo. 

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Valentin Mouillard won two awards, best sommelier and best moustache Image: Confidentials

For Manchester and for Liverpool nowt.

Everybody had put two and two together and logically come up with four, Michelin gave us five. Their awards were being held in the Midland Hotel, ergo Adam Reid at The French would get a star, right? Weird if he didn’t.

Or if, inexplicably, not Adam, then maybe Sam Buckley at Stockport’s Where the Light Gets In or Andrew Sheridan of Liverpool’s Restaurant 8. Or what about a second star for Lisa Goodwin-Allen at Northcote Manor or a third for Mark Birchall at Moor Hall both in Lancashire.

This isn’t a Northern whinge it’s just the awards being in Manchester probably led us to think something in Manchester and Liverpool might happen. 

However in the end it was nul points.

No bananas.

We’d been tickled with Michelin’s presence in Manchester and then we’d been left as deflated as a collapsed souffle. 

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You rubbery con, you Image: Confidentials

After the awards the party got going in the Midland bars with the starred and the unstarred. The Michelin Man gave us a thumbs up. Michel Roux left by 7.20pm.

The event had started early and the tiny canapes weren’t doing it, so the team escaped and stoked up royally in Only Yu in Chinatown. That stir fried prawn meat with fresh lily bulbs and celery was something else. A couple of pints followed in The Seven Oaks and The Waterhouse pubs.

Michelin, its stars and fine dining seemed a lot further away than two hundred and fifty metres.  

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Escape to Only Yu restaurant Image: Confidentials

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Neil Sowerby on Manchester and its Michelin history

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