Yesterday the long-awaited Michelin Hong Kong & Macau 2012 guide came out as expected with a few surprises and disappointments.
It has been around in Hong Kong and Macau for the last few years; after being away from Hong Kong for many years, I flipped through last year's guide and was surprised by how some restaurants were lavishly praised with three stars, and others stingily given one star.
I soon found out that none of the reviewers were Chinese and so they probably did not understand the nuances in the various cuisines in China from the ingredients to the skill involved in cooking.
Nevertheless, as one hotel public relations person told me, "It's a GM [general manager's] dream, a PR's nightmare", as the former was anxious to boast about their restaurants while the latter has to issue press releases heralding or defending their stars.
But back to this year's list... and I can only mention those restaurants I have eaten at.
For three stars, Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong deservedly retains its status, while it's wonderful to see 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo move up to three stars. Chef Umberto Bombana has had many achievements this year including the Miele Guide's Chef of Chefs award last month and now this praise. He will be opening another restaurant in Shanghai at the end of this year.
Meanwhile Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental is excellent, slightly inconsistent but perhaps Chef Richard Ekkebus is now more focused on what he wants to do with the menu.
Shang Palace at the Kowloon Shangri-La gained a star and should do so, as their relatively new chef is doing some innovative Cantonese dishes there, substituting ingredients or creating variations of classics.
Another praiseworthy restaurant is Spoon by Alain Ducasse at the InterContinental Hong Kong. It's becoming more consistent and presents traditional but lighter dishes that better suit Asian palates and climate.
Finally Ah Yat Harbour View has one Michelin star, and I wonder if it was the stilted atmosphere that may have led to the lone star rating as it's a technically excellent restaurant with a fantastic view of Victoria Harbour, but when I went there were only three tables occupied and so it was very quiet...
Another place with an uncomfortable atmosphere is Cepage as it's dead quiet in the small space. As a friend said, it's not a place a man can bring his mistress. The food is beautifully presented and tastes divine, but speaking beyond a whisper is considered too loud.
Also pleased to see Cuisine Cuisine at IFC on the one-star list and it has the potential to grow by leaps and bounds with its innovative presentation, while stalwart Fook Lam Moon retains its one-star status.
Meanwhile one of my favourite restaurants Tim's Kitchen lost one star from two, and from my recent dining experience I can see why, as not all the dishes are consistent.
However it's curious to see Yue at City Garden Hotel get a star as I thought the chef made an admirable effort to be creative, but the execution fell through. It's a good standard Cantonese restaurant, but the new dishes needed tweaking.
This year it seems the Michelin guide is getting more in line with what most locals would consider an excellent restaurant. While the producers of the guide want to create more conversation around food, it's really a marketing ploy for restaurants to boast about their stars and in some cases charge higher prices.
Nevertheless we're proud to have Michelin-starred restaurants in our city, proving what we knew already -- Hong Kong is a city of amazing restaurants, many of them world class.