Rafters, in Nether Green, is one of five Sheffield restaurants included in the 2021 Michelin Guide. Inspectors praised the ‘longstanding institution’, which opened in its current guise in 1993, for ‘refined’ meals that involve ‘well-judged flavour combinations presented in an attractive manner’.
Alistair Myers, who runs the Oakbrook Road venue with Tom Lawson, said the entry was a ‘super thing’.
“It's a hallmark of quality,” he said. “For a restaurant, to get a listing is outstanding. It proves we're trying our very best. If it doesn't matter to you, you wouldn't be caring enough.”
The Michelin Guide is one of several publications dedicated to highlighting the best kitchens – Rafters also has two AA rosettes and is mentioned in the Waitrose Good Food Guide.
Harden’s is another respected guide, while Alistair treats TripAdvisor as a highly influential directory too.
“They're all important to maintain and improve on,” he said.
An air of mystery surrounds Michelin’s process, although the company’s website admits the life of a restaurant inspector can be ‘very solitary’, saying they normally eat ‘300 meals a year on the road away from home’.
“The AA usually tell you when they’ve been or leave a calling card,” said Alistair. “The Michelin Guide don't usually tell you, but every few years an inspector will present themselves to have a chat with you.”
He said gaining a place is ‘not about the fanciest technique or doing the weirdest thing’. “It's about getting the best ingredients, cooking them well with a balanced palate and also getting the balance of the menu. Not everyone in the Michelin Guide is Heston Blumenthal.”
Rafters and the other four listed Sheffield venues – Brocco Kitchen, Juke & Loe, The Old Vicarage and Jöro – have been awarded the Michelin Plate, defined as establishments serving very good food. Additionally there is the Bib Gourmand, which rewards ‘quality cuisine at affordable prices’.
The Old Vicarage – at Ridgeway just over the border with Derbyshire – was Sheffield’s last place to have a Michelin star, which it lost in 2015. Restaurants can have up to three; Michelin says a triple-starred meal must deliver an ‘emotional experience that is engraved in one's memory’.
Alistair said that, to gain a star, Sheffield’s food sector needs to ‘carry on trying to be the best it can’.
“Having a star isn't about being the best restaurant in Sheffield, a star indicates you're one of the best in the country. The Michelin Guide don't feel they have to hand a star to every city. Hopefully one day Sheffield will get one, but at the moment I'm pretty indifferent about it.”
He said Rafters ‘can’t strive for a star’.
“We want to cook for our audience, our regular clientele. All we can strive to be is the best restaurant we can be every single day, be creative and have fun. The rest is out of our control.”
Rafters is running a popular ‘at home’ takeaway service during lockdown, including a series of Valentine’s menus which are now sold out.