TOMORROW, the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2020 will be published, and Glasgow will find out whether it has, at last, a restaurant that can boast a coveted Michelin star.

For a major city with a thriving and diverse restaurant scene, it comes as a mystery to some observers that there are no Michelin-starred restaurants here.

Last year’s guide saw stars being awarded to a number of leading Scottish restaurants, four of them in Edinburgh (Restaurant Martin Wishart, The Kitchin, Number One (at the Balmoral), and 21212). The only two-star restaurant north of the border is Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles.

There’s no doubt that Michelin stars can help a restaurant greatly and represent the pinnacle of a chef’s career. A measure of their importance can be gleaned from the reaction of one Scottish chef in 1992, upon learning that his restaurant had lost its coveted star. “There's no point in denying that Michelin is the most highly-thought-of guide within the industry,” he said. “I cannot hide from the hurt. I cannot think of why this should have happened. I simply have to get my head down and get on with it.’'

One Devonshire Gardens, one of the city’s most stylish restaurants, knows what it is like to have a Michelin star, achieving (and retaining) it while the late Andrew Fairlie was head chef there. Later, Gordon Ramsay’s Amaryllis restaurant, also located there, won a star. Amaryllis closed down in 2004. Glasgow has not had a Michelin-starred restaurant since.

Do Michelin stars matter? Ken McCulloch, the entrepreneur who established One Devonshire in 1986, was frank about the subject when interviewed three years ago. He and his team at his new venture, Dakota Deluxe, were “not driven” by Michelin stars, he said. “We won’t commit hari kari if we don’t get one. People find you if you’re doing it right. Good quality does the talking for you.”

The chef Marco Pierre White has forcefully argued that Glasgow doesn’t need a Michelin star. Speaking to The Herald five years ago, he said: "The future of eating out is casual dining, good food at affordable prices. Most Michelin-starred restaurants are the most boring places on earth. They're trying too hard to be posh, and they are so precious they end up being only for special occasions”.

One head chef who emphatically believes that Glasgow is ready for a Michelin star is Gary Townsend, the head chef at One Devonshire. He has previously worked as sous chef at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Martin Wishart in Loch Lomond, playing a key role in the venue being awarded a Michelin star in 2011.

“If you’re passionate about your work and the food that you’re serving to guests, I think you’d be pretty ill advised to turn down a Michelin star if you were lucky enough to be awarded one”, he says.

“Since I started cooking, acquiring a star is the one thing that drives me throughout every day. I always ask myself, is that good enough? What can be better? Why have I not got a star here when I’ve served something similar to this in a Michelin restaurant? Why have I had meals in Michelin restaurants which have not been as good as some of the places we have in the city? And yet Glasgow has nothing.

“I think if you’re not careful you can get sucked in to this vicious circle – it consumes you, whether it’s Michelin or AA Rosettes or any accolade”.

Ten years ago, in Glasgow, Townsend says, there was no demand for a high-class eating establishment, but it’s a different story now

“In that time many restaurants have progressed. The food scene is bigger in Glasgow than it ever has been. But you have to remember that Edinburgh is the capital, and home to the Scottish Parliament: tourism there is much greater, the need for food is greater, therefore the competition is greater and only the strongest prevail.

“Whereas in Glasgow – not that I want to make sweeping generalisations – I think many people just want to go out for a drink and have something to eat. Nothing fancy, no fuss. A lot of people still associate Michelin with starched tablecloths, silver cloches, foie gras and truffles. This, perhaps, can put people off. The rigid stereotype may have been the case 30 years ago but as time has moved on, trends and styles of cooking have changed and so has the guide.

“Today, there are pubs, and restaurants in hotels, and sushi restaurants with Michelin stars. In Tokyo there’s even a small ramen noodle bar that has a Michelin star”.

Townsend believes there are “one or two” Glasgow restaurants that might be worthy of a star, but points out that unless you’re actually a Michelin inspector, you will never know why the required level has not been reached. “Personally”, he adds, “I’m fairly new on the scene in Glasgow. A Michelin star is the ultimate goal but I’m not expecting one anytime soon. I have a fantastic team here at One Devonshire Gardens; the company is fully behind me to reach this goal but keeping to our aim of meet our guests’ needs always comes first”.

A year ago, the 16-seater Malaysian restaurant, Julie’s Kopitiam, in Shawlands, was delighted to have been included in the 2019 Michelin Guide. The Guide said: “Good value street food dishes are vibrant and flavoursome and service is sweet and cheerful.”

More recently, Julie's Kopitiam, under head chef and owner Julie Lin, has became the latest residency in the Acid Bar space at the multi-disciplinary arts venue, SWG3.

Lin, whose mother is Malaysian, entered TV’s Masterchef in 2014, and reached the quarter-final.Two years ago, she realised her ambition and opened Julie’s Kopitiam, which despite its modest size has become a considerable success.

“It was a quite a big plunge, actually”, she says, “because I wasn’t one of these funded start-ups. It was all done on our own on quite a small budget, but we’ve managed to turn it into something quite nice, which is good. It’s brilliant: it’s full every night. I cook the sort of good that I want to eat every night. To get the Michelin Guide recommendation in our first year was amazing for us.

“It’s quite important to recognise Glasgow as almost being like a different dining scene. People want to go out for something to eat that is quite accessible and which they can have all the time, like the food we serve.

“Our Michelin recommendation probably pushed us up in terms of our food offering; we are, in a way, following in the footsteps of [Glasgow restaurants] Ox and Finch and Cail Bruich and others.

“That is really interesting, because what I do is home-cooking. It’s completely different, but you’re still talking about different flavours, about the love of food.

“We’ve been trying to push this message of, we want everyone to come in. There doesn’t need to be a label for the food: you can have whatever you want. I think it’s nice that Michelin is keeping up to date by pushing small businesses like ours.”

Diners in Glasgow, she continues, “don’t necessarily want to be in formal, structural settings. They want to be themselves, to be relaxed". She emphasises that she is not saying that there is no space for Michelin-starred places in Glasgow; but the success of Julie’s Kopitiam and the Acid Bar residency suggests to her that, in Glasgow at least, an informal setting, coupled with very good food, is what diners want.

“I quite like the idea of celebrating Michelin recommendations, actually. I think that’s a really nice way to go for Glasgow, because it means that it recognises that people like to feel comfortable here, and the city’s rough edge and the charming edge come through in the food too”.

“I think it’s nonsense to say Glasgow doesn’t have the market for a Michelin restaurant”, insists Ron McKenna, The Herald magazine’s restaurant critic. “There’s one on the far side of Skye [West Loch], and another that has been trading very successfully with one Michelin Star for many years in tiny Dairy [Braidwoods].

“Fife has an embarrassment of Michelins given its size – The Cellar is one of the best in the country – while The Newport, not far from considerably-smaller-than-Glasgow Dundee, is probably Scotland’s most likely restaurant to be given a Michelin sometime soon.

“There was even a Michelin-starred restaurant in Nairn until very recently, and The Black Swan, not far across the border at Oldstead, has for years had a Michelin Star despite being a pub.”

Glasgow, he believes, would benefit hugely from a Michelin star. “There’s a considerable tourism spin-off especially now that the Michelin scene is becoming bigger and more mainstream. Single-star Michelin restaurants are undoubtedly destinations in themselves – even though according to the guide they are not supposed to be.

“That’s before we mention the spin-offs in the constant stream of chefs and front-of-house staff that pass through a Michelin restaurant doing stages.

“The Michelin Guide has many flaws but it remains something that is completely independent from the restaurant trade; nobody pays to enter an award ceremony. It’s completely free of the enormous lucrative and not-very-reliable-at-all-awards industry; it is still refreshingly independent, pretty reliable and still seen as honest.”

There is, McKenna adds, an outmoded idea of what a Michelin-starred restaurant should have: a million pounds’ worth of wine in the cellar, a maitre d’ and sommelier, tables a certain width apart, food prepared at some point using classical French techniques.

“That’s certainly no longer true. But if you ask me, it does help if the chef has learned his trade at a Michelin establishment even if, after that, he or she can pretty much do what he wants.

“Unlike in Edinburgh, Glasgow has been hugely dominated by the middle market for many years. In simple terms that means spending a small fortune of the decor, bringing in the restaurant designers, spending another fortune on the marketing, but spending peanuts on the chefs and the kitchen.

“Because of the huge investment traditionally needed to open a restaurant in Glasgow, and that’s partially in my view been down to high rates and strict council controls, new restaurants can’t afford to take a risk. They have to play safe, consistently targetting the low-risk middle market on the basis that if it looks good it will do good. And usually it has.

“Edinburgh’s success has been lifted by the fact that the quality of restaurants has been much higher from the very bottom up and when that happens restaurants all the way to the top end have to raise their game to survive, and justify their prices”

He does detect hope in Glasgow, though, in what seems to him to be a loosening of “planning and building-control grip”, as evidenced by the growth in pop-ups, which allow people to take risks without going bankrupt, and the spread of tiny restaurants outwith the city centre.

This spread can be detected not just in Finnieston but in Victoria Road and Dennistoun. Standards are rising dramatically as chef try things out; some of them will make their way up the chain, and one day someone may open that Michelin-starred restaurant that Glasgow needs.

“Failing that?”, McKenna asks. “On paper the recipe isn’t that hard to fathom out. If you aren’t one yourself then invest a lot of money in a very good chef with a clear Michelin pedigree – the inspectors will definitely come sniffing. Source interesting Scottish produce and make sure it runs through the meal. Ensure that the food is to the same high standard on every single plate. Oh, and be interesting.”

McKenna believes that Michelin inspectors want to be able to tell almost exactly where they are in the world simply by tasting what’s on their plate. They sleep better at night if they believe the chef has learned how to put it all together at another Michelin establishment.

“Therefore there’s undoubtedly a certain Michelin style and that means a certain attitude to preparation of food and, just as importantly, to sourcing of food.

“It's hard to see exactly when Glasgow will get a Michelin Star unless there is far more emphasis on Scottish produce – and that doesn’t mean the usual suspects of salmon, haggis, scallops. There are restaurants in Glasgow where they can – though not always consistently – cook to a Michelin standard but can’t always source to that same standard”.

Ryan James, chairman of the Glasgow Restaurant Association and owner of Two Fat Ladies, said he recognises the view that the city might never receive another Michelin star.

“In Glasgow, restaurants that have been awarded a Michelin star appear to being given the kiss of death. That’s not good for Michelin, the traditionaI, solid and respected arbiter of taste world wide. They need consistency, pedigree and expected longevity.

“Restaurant chefs in Glasgow tend to be employers, owned and controlled by business people, not restaurateurs or chefs. Glasgow restaurants are commercial products. They are very gutsy and glamorous, but they’re not particularly places where you go to get your food boundaries stretched. They’re more of a social place.

“Food is probably about 75 per cent of it. The other 25 per cent is the ‘theatre’ of the setting and the fact that you’re sharing the space with other diners who share your values.

“That’s why there are all these distinct markets in Glasgow, ranging from the pizza/pasta Italian restaurants, on one level, to the ‘fine-dining’ restaurants, such as Brian Maule, The Buttery, The Rogano, and One Devonshire Gardens, all of which I see as ‘special occasion’ restaurants.

“Glaswegians celebrate special occasions but I don’t really know if they’re wanting that kind of service that you get in a Michelin-starred restaurant.”

James cites the case of chef Geoffrey Smeddle, who now runs the Michelin-starred Peat Inn, near St Andrews. “He was the same chef as he was when he was cooking at Etain, in Glasgow’s Princes Square. That was a spectacular restaurant and Geoffrey did some fantastic cooking. Michelin overlooked it, in my view, because Etain was owned by Sir Terence Conran. Had Conran created an eponymous restaurant with Smeddle in its name it would undoubtedly have earned a star, or else proved that Glasgow is a city that Michelin has no interest in for its product, as the life-cycle is too short.

James concluded: “It’s obvious that Glaswegians either avoid Michelin-starred restaurants or don't return for a second visit. It's not inverted snobbery: it’s an understanding of what lies at the heart of a successful Glasgow restaurant. A complete circle of design, people, fashion, wine, beer, premium-spirit collection and, last and definitely not least, good food.”

All eyes are now on the publication of the 2020 Michelin Guide tomorrow. Are there any Glasgow restaurants that will get stars?

“Maybe,” says Ron McKenna. “Bib Gourmands are a level below an actual star, though generally as good as eating in a full-starred restaurant, and Greater Glasgow has two. The new Michelin Plates are a weird level below that in theory, but at least they are on the radar”.