Sunday, December 3

Star Wars

In search of a restaurant to satisfy his sophisticated palate the Witloof discovers that Revenge is a Dish Best Served Froid.

The day before the official publication of the 2007 Michelin Guide, every news bulletin in Belgium was dominated by a single headline: the expected net loss of Michelin stars enjoyed by Belgian restaurants.

In a country short on things to boast about - eddy merckx, being overrun by Germans in record time, and having highways visible from space, being the things most commonly cited as obviously Belgian - the fact that they have more Michelin stars per capita than any other country is an important pillar of national self-confidence.

The reliance on a French company for this boast has always made the Belgians uncomfortable. The suspicion has always been that sooner or later the (perfidious) French would tilt their heads slightly (further) backwards, peer down their (considerable) noses at their small, vulnerable, Northern neighbours, and with a cold (Garlicy) Gallic snigger, order the pillar demolished, the stars removed.

And so it came to pass in late November. In the culling of stars that rocked the nation, there was no more controversial case than that of Comme Chez Soi. The VRT's 'But two 3-star restaurants left in Belgium' headline was pale in comparison with the leads in other publications: 'Michelin seeks attention', and 'Michelin creates other Belgian victims' were two from normally stoic De Standaard, which also sarcastically topped another piece with 'Michelin calls loss of star for Comme Chez Soi an encouragement'.

In truth the trouble has been brewing for quite a while. In January 2005, the new edition of the Michelin Benelux was unveiled and included in it a favourable review - and the award of a 'Bib Gourmand' - of a restaurant called The Ostend Queen. The trouble was that the restaurant in question was not yet open for business. Michelin was forced to recall up to 50,000 unsold Guides as a result.

It is this incident that the Belgians believe turned Michelin against them and made November's humiliation inevitable. Michelin was unavailable for comment (admittedly I didn't try).

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