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Bruce Poole on Restaurant Guides
interview with Andy Lynes

Andy Lynes is a Glenfiddich Award nominated freelance writer specialising in food, drink and travel. He writes the Food of the Week column and travel articles for the Independent on Sunday Compact Traveller supplement and is a regular contributor to Restaurant magazine. If you would like to know more about Andy take a look at his web site - www.andylynes.com

Bruce PooleQ: Chez Bruce has received numerous positive write ups in various restaurant guides. Has that been good for business?

A: We're busier now than we used to be but I'd like to think that's because we're good at what we do. We work hard at making it better, looking after our guests and giving them what they want. Saying it's down to the guides is putting the cart before the horse.

They do make a difference but it's very difficult to say how much, I don't think the research has been done.

We were busy from the start, before we were included in any guides. We got reviewed by the papers very early on - Emily Green was the first and she gave us a blinding half page review in the Independent - and that helped. But I'm confident we would have been busy anyway. There was a strong market for a good neighbourhood restaurant in the area. The guides just speed things up a bit.

Q: Would you say that you're ambivalent about restaurant guides?

A: I'm slightly ambivalent about the guides, but not nonchalant. Circumspect and cautious would be more accurate. Never for a moment do I think that just because a guide gives us an award that we've arrived.

I've always been very happy for myself and the team when we receive an award because we see it as a reward for our hard work - being named most popular restaurant in London by the Harden's guide is a big and prestigious thing and I'm delighted to have it. But it's a double edge sword because it cranks up the pressure. It increases customer expectation and we have to deliver.

I wouldn't want to give the impression that I don't care how we do in the guides. If we started to slip in all the guides then I would know something was wrong. I take each guide entry as it comes but pay more attention to their collective message.

Q: Do you think there's a danger of some chefs paying too much attention to the guides?

A: Getting good write ups in the guides is a good thing for up and coming chefs to aim for because it's something tangible, but only as long as you are aiming to please your customers at the same time.

Q: Can the guides have a negative influence?

A: They can at the rarefied, highest levels. The difference between 2 and 3 stars and 1 and 2 stars in the Michelin guide is not always reflected well in the food from the customer's point of view in my opinion. The award of a second star doesn't always mean that the food will deliver more pleasure. From the customer's point of view, a chef at one star level may cook better food than at the two star level.

Q: Is there a danger of becoming a headless chicken trying to please all the guides?

A: Each guide is generally looking for the same things but they go about it in a different way. With experience, you discover over time what they are looking for, but it's not something you can learn overnight. You're unlikely to be able to please Michelin and Time Out at the same time for example. Just because we get an award from one guide doesn't mean we'll get it from another. I'd rather rely on my own judgement and that of my senior staff as to where we're going.

Q: Do you have a favourite guide that you personally rely on?

A: I don't have a favourite guide at the moment. There's a gap in the market for a slightly more highbrow restaurant guide; they all seem to have come down to the lowest common denominator with stars and marks out of five and that sort of thing.

Bruce Poole is chef / proprietor of Chez Bruce
2 Bellevue Road, Wandsworth Common, London
020 8672 0114 - www.chezbruce.co.uk

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