How Mandarin Oriental Won 18 Michelin Stars: Luxury Defined
When Michelin announced its stars for 2017, Mandarin Oriental claimed more than any other hotel group in the world—so what’s the recipe for its success?
Top British chef Heston Blumenthal isn’t known for leaving things to chance. Every recipe on the menu at double-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, at Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, is incubated at his development HQ in leafy Berkshire, England, before being hatched at the restaurant. But there’s still room for fortuitous errors.
It’s a delicious reminder that, in addition to rigorous planning, success thrives on a bit of wiggle room. Having repeatedly garnered more Michelin stars globally than any other hotel group, Mandarin Oriental knows all about culinary success. Ask the brand’s employees why, and one word that’s repeated is “experience.”
Mandarin Oriental meals aren’t designed to be one dimensional, as Nicolas Dubort, director of food and beverage at Mandarin Oriental, New York, says: “Each guest has different expectations, but our goal is to delight and wow them. We want to exceed their expectations and create lasting memories.”
This approach requires flexibility on the part of staff. That shaman-like ability to gauge the type of experience a customer desires is honed in training, perfected on the job, as Michael Groll, director of food and beverage at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, explains: “You value your return customers by recognizing their preferences, by building up that relationship that goes beyond the regular service and food offering: that personal relationship, where people feel connected.”
For Groll, the two pillars to the brand’s success are simple: service and food. Mandarin Oriental is very proud of its service, which is rooted in its Asian heritage. The word “humble” crops up a lot. It’s the tenet that unites the brand’s countless global restaurants and bars—from fine-dining establishments to cafés and cake shops.
According to Groll, service unites each of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s 10 establishments: “Our restaurants and concepts all offer a warm, hospitable approach that’s in line with the guiding principles of our company. It’s attentive, humble, engaging, but not overbearing service that really captures the customer.”
When it comes to the food, quality is key. Dubort says this is what wows guests at the group’s newest bar at the New York property, The Aviary NYC, which serves inventive cocktails and small plates, and speakeasy-style bar, The Office NYC: “Guests are impressed with our use of ingredients—we use only the best.” Groll agrees: “We would not compromise on ingredients, whether it’s for a burger or our most highly refined fine-dining dish.”
This perfectionism extends beyond the food. Stefan Neumann is head sommelier at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and he was recently named a Master Sommelier, a title held by just 236 people in the world. In discussing Dinner’s success, Neumannechoes his colleagues: “Quality is the one thing I would never compromise on.” To make it onto the menu, a wine must complement Heston’s multilayered, complex cuisine; more poetically, it must also “tell a good story.”
In selecting partner chefs, Mandarin Oriental doesn’t lose sight of its principles; there’s no room for ego or kitchen tantrums here. The group has a rough 50/50 split between big-name chef collaborations and internal talent. Partner chefs include Heston Blumenthal (London), Daniel Boulud (London and Boston), Carme Ruscalleda (Barcelona), Grant Achatz (New York), and Pierre Gagnaire (Hong Kong and Las Vegas). Ruscalleda is the first female chef to win seven Michelin stars; she’s now responsible for all of Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona’s food and drink.
The ingredients in Mandarin Oriental’s recipe for success are becoming clear. Take a generous dose of heritage; add a dash of innovation; a sprinkling of celebrity chefs; a splash of home-grown talent; a squeeze of humble hero service—and uncompromised quality throughout. To best understand Mandarin Oriental’s culinary success, though, eat at one of its restaurants. The proof is in the (meat) pudding…