Why The Araki London Lost All Its Michelin Stars

Despite widespread belief to the contrary, Michelin stars are awarded to restaurants, not to individual chefs. We know — that flies in the face of every reference to a Michelin-star chef you've ever seen. It's a common conundrum. In fact, the misconception is so prevalent that the Michelin Guide unequivocally states, "There is no such thing as a Michelin-starred chef." Why then does the timing of a London restaurant's loss of three — count 'em, three — Michelin stars so seamlessly coincide with the departure of the establishment's founder and master chef? Coincidence? Maybe. Still, it's a question that has puzzled Michelin-aware diners and hospitality industry professionals since that fateful day in October 2019 when Michelin announced its 2020 star roster and, in a stunning revelation, The Araki, one of London's premier three-Michelin-star establishments, was not on the list.

The restaurant's fall from Michelin-star grace was especially noteworthy because the long-running guide was particularly generous with stars that year. At the time, restaurant industry watchers settled on a general assumption that The Araki's loss of its star status was somehow tied to the 2019 departure of its founder, Mitsuhiro Araki, who left the restaurant mid-year to open a new venture in Hong Kong. It's a justifiable explanation for losing one star — even though it is in direct contrast to Michelin's own stated policy — but it's more difficult to explain away the instant loss of three stars. So what really happened? Therein lies the rub: No one knows for sure.

Here's the backstory

In 2014, Japanese chef Mitsuhiro Araki established The Araki in London. His U.K. venture followed hot on the heels of another successful self-named restaurant. Located in the Ginza district of Tokyo, the original Araki opened in 2010 and had secured three Michelin stars by 2014 when Chef Araki decided to start all over again in London. Two years after opening, The Araki London was on the charts with two Michelin stars. Two years later, the restaurant achieved three-star status. And then they were gone.

At the time of the 2019 announcement, a number of news outlets, including Eater and Sky News reached out to Michelin for comment. To date, there's no indication that the esteemed organization ever responded, so the "why" remains a mystery. It's worth noting that Chef Araki's decision to leave London in 2019 was by no means spur-of-the-moment. The acclaimed chef announced in January of that year that he planned to depart in March. He also left his namesake London eatery in good hands, having personally tutored his successor, Marty Lau, for four years before handing over the reins. According to a 2019 Sky News report, Lau was blindsided by the Michelin announcement, but he took it in stride, calling it a "character-building" experience.

To date, The Araki London has not rejoined the ranks of Michelin-star establishments, but Great British Chefs predicts that may change with the next guide. As for Chef Araki, his namesake restaurant in Hong Kong currently holds one Michelin star.