Friday, 6 November 2015

The Annual Michelin Rant

Michelin: Read 'em and weep
There was a lot of talk today about the Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau 2016, about the winners and losers, as well as the new section that is not rated, but introduces 23 places to go for street food in Hong Kong.

Many were surprised that T'ang Court in the Langham Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui was the only new restaurant to received the coveted third star. One food writer upon hearing the news, wondered if the prestigious award was gotten unscrupulously....

A friend and I ate at T'ang Court about a year ago -- the restaurant knew we were coming -- but overall the experience was not very impressive. The only memorable dish was the classic baked stuffed crab shell (釀焗鮮蟹蓋). We loved the presentation of the dish in a silver-shaped crab, and the dish was choc full of juicy crab meat, stirfried with onions and baked in the shell.
I vaguely remember the dim sum that was forgettable, partly because the steamed dumplings had been sitting there for a while before we ate them.
Did the restaurant suddenly improve significantly in a year?
What about Spring Moon in The Peninsula Hong Kong? Surely it deserves some recognition, as well as its sister restaurants, Felix, Gaddi's, and Chesa.

And then to hear Amber in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental had been denied three stars yet again was frustrating. Culinary director Richard Ekkebus is so talented, full of ideas, and a wonderful showman, but he was not a happy camper yesterday, and neither were his fans.
However, Ta Vie, a fine-dining French restaurant that uses Japanese ingredients and headed by ex-Ryugin chef Hideaki Sato was well deserved of the one star. He has made great waves in forging ahead in creating new and interesting ingredient combinations that seem to work flawlessly together. He's definitely one to watch.
Serge et le phoque is an interesting entry into the world of Michelin, a quirky French restaurant that uses many local ingredients and the dishes give diners an intriguing sensory experience. That dark chocolate tart is to die for! If Pierre Gagnaire has given this restaurant his blessing, it's surely on the right track.
But there were other curious entries into the one-star Michelin category. Sichuan restaurant Qi was one... and Philippe Orrico's Upper Modern Bistro lost a star, yet his latest place On got one. He joked later that his face had a half smile and half frown.
If that wasn't enough, the street food list got everyone riled up.
Many Hong Kong people didn't even recognize the places on the list, and if they did, they didn't find the places very good. The vast majority of the street food joints sold dishes that were in the HK$20-HK$60 range, but the sore thumb sticking out was Butchers Club.
The famous hamburger place in Wan Chai, where a number of expatriates come to get their fix, sells gourmet burgers in brioche buns that start from HK$100. How is something priced that high considered street food?
The international director of the Michelin guide Michael Ellis says the guide is meant give people recommendations to get the best food, but he also adds that he doesn't want people to not stop talking about the guide either, which is probably why these controversial picks are included to fuel debate.
But instead Hong Kong diners, who are some of the most sophisticated in the world, very particular about their food, and in some cases willing to go to great lengths to eat the best -- feel the Michelin guide is a sad reflection of critics who don't know the city well enough, nor its food to judge it fairly.
With each passing year, the results of the guide are more and more baffling, and people give less credence to it. Tim Ho Wan is one-star dining? Really? It's value for money dim sum, but definitely not quality dim sum worthy of a Michelin star.
So the uproar of this year's list has come and gone, and restaurants that made the cut are already heavily promoting themselves, while their landlords are rubbing their hands with glee with the plan to raise rents because hey -- their tenants are going to make more money, right?
It's a vicious cycle that has to stop. Why promote restaurants that are sub par? There are many others that are more deserving.
But the curious mystery behind how restaurants are inspected and graded continues, and food writers and editors continue shaking their heads in disbelief.
It's a powerful machine, the Michelin guide in Hong Kong and Macau, and it won't be stopping anytime soon...





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