Hong Kong shouts: where's my %&# Michelin stars?

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Within days of the Michelin guide to eating in HK and Macau being published, it has copped a lot of flak.

But I like how they mention that some places featured in the list serve dishes that are less than 100 HK$.

HONG KONG (AFP) - A new guide to fine dining in Hong Kong and Macau by culinary bible Michelin faced a barrage of criticism Wednesday, as local gourmets insisted the book failed to understand their city's cuisine.

Critics said the guide, which featured 251 restaurants and hotels in the two cities, focused only on high-end eateries and cared little about an authentic Chinese dining experience.

"Michelin claimed that they only looked at the quality of the food. But I doubt it. The restaurants on the list tend to have classy interior decors and serve food in modern Western style," food expert Walter Kei told AFP.

He also questioned whether the 12 Michelin inspectors, of which only two are Chinese, had enough exposure to local cuisine to make judgements.

Michelin inspectors awarded three stars -- its top recognition meaning "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey" -- to Lung King Heen, a Cantonese restaurant in the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong and French chef Joel Robuchon's Robuchon a Galera in casino resort Grand Lisboa in Macau.

Eight restaurants received two stars, and 18 were awarded one. The starred restaurants included several with Chinese menus, some relatively cheap.

Lum Chun-yip, who runs Lan Fong Yuen, one of the most famous Chinese teahouses in the city, said: "I think they should have made an effort to understand what locals like to eat here and why."

"If a foreigner comes to Hong Kong and asks you where to go for great food and you say Four Seasons Hotel or other five-star hotels, I bet he wouldn't be too pleased," said Lum, who serves at least 3,000 Cantonese milk teas a day.

Local newspapers were full of similar criticism the day after the launch of the guide.

Michelin had already moved to deflect criticism, saying it featured restaurants from across the price spectrum, including some where a dish costs fewer than 100 Hong Kong dollars (13 US).

"You do not have to be French to understand French cuisine, you do not have to be Chinese to understand Chinese cuisine," Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin guides told reporters Tuesday.

Naret also insisted that in other cities it had expanded its team of local inspectors following the first edition.


Also see this for Japan vs Hong Kong:

Michelin rates Hong Kong, but with which yardstick?
By Joyce Hor-Chung Lau

Tuesday, December 2, 2008
HONG KONG: Until Tuesday, the scorecard for top-ranked restaurants between two Asian culinary capitals looked something like this: Tokyo 227, Hong Kong 0 - at least in terms of prized Michelin stars.

In fact, Tokyo has edged ahead of even Paris, where the storied system for awarding culinary excellence was first developed in the 1930s.

Now, with the announcement of the first "Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau," it looks more like 227 to 40, if you include both places on the southern Chinese coast.

The guide for 2009 gave a top ranking of three stars to two area restaurants: Robuchon a Galera in Macao and Lung King Heen in Hong Kong.

The former, as part of the international empire of the great French chef JoŽl Robuchon, was not a great surprise. Francky Semblat, who had been the executive chef there for years, was expected to do well at his luxurious perch at the Hotel Lisboa, where the restaurant is located.

Lung King Heen, however, was not so obvious.

Speaking at a news conference here, Jean-Luc Naret, the Michelin Guide's director, said that his inspectors had begun following the chef, Chan Yan-tak, about four years ago, before he moved to the Four Seasons Hotel.

Critics - going as anonymous, paying diners, as is tradition - ate at Lung King Heen 12 times this year before making their final decision.

"This is the first time a Chinese chef has been given three stars," Naret said.

Having three stars means being among the top 72 restaurants in the world.

In total, 251 Hong Kong and Macao restaurants were listed, but only 28 were starred.

One criticism - heard from the United States to Japan - is that the guide's European judges favor French cuisine over more local offerings that are just as good. Naret seemed to be aware of this, as he rattled off various percentages of Chinese or Asian restaurants that were recognized.

Michelin's expansion out of Europe has been relatively recent. New York got its first guide in 2005, and Tokyo in 2007. "Hong Kong Macau" is the first to be bilingual, and the first to be in China.

Naret mentioned that inspectors had been to Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei, but did not say when, or if, more guides would be popping up in the region. When pressed on where the inspectors came from, Naret said that 10 of the Hong Kong-based inspectors were European, and two were Chinese - "to help us understand the cuisine."

The journalists peppered Naret with questions on how foreigners could possibly understand Hong Kong food.

He responded that it would take "years" to build up a team of local inspectors who were both food experts but not well known in the industry. He added that "you can be any nationality and understand French, or Chinese, or any food. Good cuisine is good cuisine."

Lau Kin-wai, a restaurateur, columnist and long-time figure on the Hong Kong culinary scene, was nonplussed.

"Many of the starred restaurants are in hotels, and maybe local people eat differently than visitors," he said.

"Hotel restaurants are very good, very safe, very consistent, but you'll never get a surprise for dinner," said Lau, who is known for whipping up ad hoc Cantonese meals.

True enough, big-name hotels and chefs dominated the two-star tier. There were Amber, Caprice and L'Atelier de JoŽl Robuchon for Western cuisine, and Shang Palace, Summer Palace, T'ang Court and Tim's Kitchen, in Macao, for Chinese cuisine.

But there was also Bo Innovation, a small eatery known for its experimental twist on Cantonese food.

Single stars also went to local stand-bys like Yung Kee, which started as a humble roast-goose stand in the 1940s.

Naret warned Hong Kongers against hubris.

"The good news is that we've come, the bad news is that we're going to stay a long time," he said. "It's difficult to get stars, but it's even more difficult to retain them."

One thing about the Michelin Guide is that they will take stars away from underperformers, a constant source of anxiety for European chefs."The stars are not engraved in marble; they are made of crystal."

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