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Michelin Stars vs AA Rosettes vs Good Food Guide

How do Michelin Stars, AA Rosettes and Good Food Guide scores really compare to each other? What's the difference between them? Having seen a significant amount of misinformation online regarding this (often including stats from this very site without giving us any credit; pretty poor form), we decided to put together a more complete guide.

Guide Overview

When comparing the Michelin Guide and the AA Guide, probably the most common misconception we see online is that Michelin focus only on the food but the AA guide includes service and other factors when awarding rosettes.Whilst there may be an element of historical truth in that, nowadays this is categorically not the case.

The AA are very clear about their criteria for awarding rosettes and literally state "It's all about the food" on their website and explain clearly that whilst service and other factors should compliment a good restaurant, they can't affect the rosette award given. Michelin famously say you can serve the food on paper plates and still win a star, and the Good Food Guide are also focused on the food served when awarding a score. So from the outside at least, all three major UK food guides have adopted the same approach and base their key awards solely on the food.

Guide Scoring

Below is a breakdown of how the three main UK restaurant guides (Michelin Guide, AA Guide and Good Food Guide) officially score and rate the leading restaurants included in their guides.

Michelin Guide

Award Critera
Michelin StarMichelin StarMichelin Star Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.
Michelin StarMichelin Star Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
Michelin Star Very good cooking in its category.
Michelin Bib Gourmand Good cooking at moderate prices.
Michelin Plate Fresh ingredients, capably prepared: simply a good meal.

AA Guide

Award Critera
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette The pinnacle, where cooking compares with the best in the world. These restaurants have highly individual voices, exhibit breathtaking culinary skills, and set standards to which others aspire to, yet few achieve.
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette Among the top restaurants in the UK, where the cooking demands national recognition. These restaurants exhibit intense ambition, a passion for excellence, superb technical skills, and remarkable consistency. They will combine appreciation of culinary traditions with a passionate desire for further exploration and improvement.
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette Outstanding restaurants that achieve standards that demand recognition well beyond their local area. The cooking is underpinned by the selection and sympathetic treatment of the highest quality ingredients. Timing, seasoning and the judgment of flavour combinations will consistently be excellent. These virtues tend to be supported by other elements, such as intuitive service and a well-chosen wine list.
AA RosetteAA Rosette Excellent restaurants that aim for and achieve higher standards and better consistency. A greater precision is apparent in the cooking, and there will be obvious attention to the selection of quality ingredients.
AA Rosette These restaurants achieve standards that stand out in their local area. They serve food prepared with care, understanding and skill, using good quality ingredients. The same expectations apply to hotel restaurants, where guests can eat in with confidence and a sense of anticipation.

Good Food Guide

Award Critera
10 Just perfect dishes, showing faultless technique at every service; extremely rare, and the highest accolade the Guide can give.
9 Cooking that has reached a pinnacle of achievement, making it a hugely memorable experience for the diner.
8 A kitchen cooking close to or at the top of its game - highly individual with impressive artistry. There is little room for disappointment here.
7 High level of ambition and individuality, attention to the smallest detail, accurate and vibrant dishes.
6 Exemplary cooking skills, innovative ideas, impeccable ingredients and an element of excitement.
5 Exact cooking techniques and a degree of ambition; showing balance and depth of flavour in dishes.
4 Dedicated, focused approach to cooking; good classical skills and high-quality ingredients.
3 Good cooking, showing sound technical skills and using quality ingredients.
2 Decent cooking, displaying good basic technical skills and interesting combinations and flavours. Occasional inconsistencies.
1 Capable cooking, with simple food combinations and clear flavours, but some inconsistencies.

Scoring Comparison

Although it's very difficult to equate the scoring of one guide to another, using our experience of restaurants at all levels in the various guides (and factoring in the number of restaurants in each guide holding key awards), we've produced the following chart indicating how the ratings in each of the major food guides (Michelin Guide, AA Guide, Good Food Guide) roughly compare to each other. Obviously there are plenty of restaurants that don't fit this criteria, but most restaurants recognised with higher awards in all three major guides do correspond to this.

Michelin Stars vs AA Rosettes vs Good Food Guide

Guide Politics

Although every guide outwardly claims to judge restaurants only on food, it's safe to say there's often a little bit more going on behind the scenes in the decision making process.

For the Michelin Guide, the claim that they only judge on food seems reasonably well enacted at one star level. However in our experience achieving two and certainly three stars in the UK guide without a supremely high level of service and comfort is very unlikely, but then why would anyone serve food at that level in a less than stunning environment. There's no doubt also that politics plays a part in certain restaurants (in certain areas) continually being overlooked for a star and other longstanding and favoured restaurants perhaps retaining stars longer than they otherwise might. One major advantage the Michelin Guide has over other UK guides is the ability to call on expert inspectors from other countries for specialist restaurants due to the international reach of the guide; an example of putting this reach to good use would be for The Araki in London, which both the AA Guide and Good Food Guide have (perhaps wisely) not committed to rating.

Although at star level, Michelin are reasonably consistent and competent in their inspections, for restaurants not holding a star, the standard of inspection seems far, far lower. There are some very poor restaurants that hold a Michelin Plate award (and consequently don't feature in any other guide) and indeed many restaurants holding a plate award in the 2019 guide closed months before the guide was published, showing a real lack of attention to detail. We would guess some restaurants holding a plate award have not been inspected in the last two years (if not longer) by Michelin. That said, the plate award is also awarded to restaurants just below star level (some of which really should have a star) meaning it's a very wide ranging and ambiguous award.

The principle point of difference for the AA Guide is that unlike the Michelin Guide and Good Food Guide, it's constantly updated throughout the year (although three to five rosette awards are only awarded at set times). However, the AA Guide also has a considerable number of quirks readers may not be aware of. The principle reason we see quality restaurants not in the AA guide is because those restaurants have rooms (e.g. hotel/B&B). Whilst being featured in the AA guide is free for a standalone restaurant, if a restaurant has rooms, it's only eligible to be awarded rosettes if it also participates in the AA hotel classification scheme; the AA's literature states "You will only be eligible for special AA Awards, (e.g. AA Hotel of the Year, Rosettes for food etc.) if you have full AA recognition through annual AA inspection". This is a real shame and means there's consequently several very good restaurants that don't appear in the AA Guide.

The AA do also look more favourably on hotel restaurants in general than other guides, with certain hotel chain restaurants in particular from chains such as Malmaison, Best Western and MacDonald often receiving rosettes whilst being completely ignored by other food guides. The AA is also not immune to a certain amount of politics and this can be seen when groups of restaurants lose rosettes; in May 2018 several restaurants previously run by the Ribble Valley group in the North of England, all with long standing rosette awards, had their rosettes removed simultaneously when the group was sold.

It's often said that AA inspectors are not 'as good' as Michelin inspectors and at the higher levels, that is perhaps true although we've never had a bad meal at a five rosette restaurant. However, the AA guide is more thorough in our experience at those lower one and two rosette levels than other guides, even if their restaurant inspections only take place once every eighteen months in some cases. Having said that, perhaps the biggest problem currently with the AA guide is the lack of difference between one and two rosette awards. In the past couple of years, the AA has allowed a situation to develop where there are now significantly more two rosette restaurants in the guide than one rosette restaurants; it doesn't make any logical sense. They should have shifted the judging criteria accordingly to prevent this, but they haven't. It's fair to say some inspectors have been a bit too eager to give out two rosette plates and consequently, many of the two rosette restaurants we visit aren't worthy of the award in our view. An opposite quirk of the AA guide is that many outstanding pub restaurants (often holding Michelin Stars) are deemed only worthy of two rosettes seemingly because of the environment (even though the AA state rosettes are based only on the food), despite the food really being worthy of three (or more) rosettes.

Whilst not immune to some unusual decisions, The Good Food Guide generally doesn't suffer some the same level of non-food-related outside influence in our experience. The biggest problem with The Good Food Guide is probably coverage; they miss quite a few good restaurants at the lower level (e.g. restaurants that should really be awarded a 3 or 4 score) but at the higher level, we generally find their restaurant assessments to be reasonable.

Guide Comparison Stats

Below is a comparison of the average number of Michelin Stars versus AA Rosettes for restaurants that hold both and also, a comparison of these awards against the average Good Food Guide score awarded for restaurants that hold these awards and are also present in the Good Food Guide Top 50.

Average AA Rosettes per Michelin Star

Michelin Stars Average AA Rosettes
Michelin StarMichelin StarMichelin Star 4.25
Michelin StarMichelin Star 4.39
Michelin Star 3.08

Average Michelin Stars per AA Rosette

AA Rosettes Average Michelin Stars
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette 1.65
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette 1.34
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette 1.03

Average Good Food Guide score (Top 50 only) per Michelin Star

Michelin Stars Average Good Food Guide Score
Michelin StarMichelin StarMichelin Star 8.50
Michelin StarMichelin Star 8.67
Michelin Star 7.48

Average Good Food Guide score (Top 50 only) per AA Rosette

AA Rosettes Average Good Food Guide Score
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette 8.64
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette 7.55
AA RosetteAA RosetteAA Rosette 7.10
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