May 6, 2010

The SCMP survey on "world's best restaurants"

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Last week I wrote about my take on the 2010 edition of the San Pelligrino "World's 50 Best Restaurants".  There has of course been lots of discussions around the world, including among my friends.  My friend Susan decided to do a survey locally, and the result was published in the South China Morning Post today.  I was privileged to be included in the polling group.  I have reposted the first part of it here, including my "top 5".  Original article is available here (requires subscription to

HK food experts name their favourite restaurants

We invited local food experts to name their best restaurants. Some of the choices were surprising

Every year around this time, food lovers get into heated, but ultimately futile, discussions following the release of the annual San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list, published by Restaurant Magazine. This year, Francophiles were upset that the top restaurant in France, Le Chateaubriand, came in at number 11. Four of the top 10 spots were restaurants in Spain, but the famed El Bulli was toppled from first place - which it had held for the past four years - by Noma, a small restaurant in Denmark (foodies in that country were ecstatic).
To get an idea of what the results would have been if the panellists consisted only of Hong Kong voters, we took a poll of local food lovers - seasoned restaurateurs, food bloggers and gourmands who travel the world in search of good restaurants - to pick the places they consider "best", using the same parameters as the San Pellegrino guide (see The rules of voting below).
Actually I've been doing my own "global top 10" for the last couple of years, and updated it about a year ago. With the additional rules Susan imposed, it was easy to take out the ones which didn't qualify and instantly come up with my "top 5".

My list and comments are certain to draw criticism from many corners. But it is my strong belief that despite all the passion Hong Kong has for food, there are way too many great restaurants in this great wide world of ours. Had I traveled more extensively in the last 12 months, there may not even have been any Hong Kong restaurants on my list. Any trip to Tokyo or New York and it's sayonara Hong Kong! But that's good news for us living in Hong Kong, because it means there's always room for improvement!

Much to my surprise, I found there was little consensus. It was obvious from the choices which countries the voters had travelled to recently - one of the rules is they had to have visited the restaurant in the past 18 months.

But even with the pick of local restaurants, where I expected quite a lot of overlap, there was just one repeat nominee - Fook Lam Moon, the upmarket Chinese restaurant known as the "tycoon's canteen" - and both voters chose the Wan Chai branch (which is considered to have the better food). And while voters could choose up to three restaurants in Hong Kong, only one did so.

Food blogger Peter Chang says: "I just don't think [local] restaurants are as good as those I found elsewhere. It's not the service, it's the food - some of them can be hit and miss. Fook Lam Moon is consistent - whether or not you're a regular. If you're not a regular there, you won't know about the special, off-menu items but it's still good.

"For me, being the best has to do with creativity - the food has to be good, but what impresses me is when they have new dishes and new ways of doing things. All my top picks are creative - they experiment; they serve the tried and true, but they also serve dishes with the 'wow' factor. A lot of Chinese restaurants don't have that."

One of the rules is that panellists could vote for no more than three in our "region" of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan - but Judy Yu was the only panellist to pick the maximum number.

Food stylist Vivian Herijanto, who has a diploma in culinary arts from the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, says she picked only one local place - Robuchon a Galera, the Michelin three-star restaurant by multi-starred French chef Joel Robuchon, at the Hotel Lisboa in Macau. "Chinese restaurants don't give you the `experience' or ambience and aren't as accommodating. The really expensive places have good service but if you go anywhere else, the service isn't great and they're too noisy."

Two Chinese restaurants Herijanto likes for food and service are One Harbour Road at the Grand Hyatt, and the Four Season's Lung King Heen, which controversially was awarded three stars in the Hong Kong Michelin guide (many local gourmands say the food is not on par with the ambience).

"Lung King Heen isn't like other Michelin three-star places I've been to," she says. "The view is great and the ambience is really nice for a Chinese restaurant. But you can't compare it to the Alain Ducasse Plaza Athenee, which is gorgeous. But that's in Paris and this is Hong Kong - and it's hard to compare non-Western with Western."

I've been one of the "official" panellists for the San Pellegrino guide since 2006, when Restaurant Magazine expanded the voting pool to include people from outside Europe. As for my picks: I didn't travel as much in the past year - only to Istanbul and France, bypassing my usual favourite restaurants in Paris and going straight to the southwest, where I cooked at a friend's house or ate only at inexpensive places. Of the five top places based on where I've eaten over the past 18 months, three of them are also on the lists of our panel here - Robuchon a Galera in Macau, The Chairman in Central and Fook Lam Moon. But I have two of my own, both in Turkey - Seasons restaurant at the Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet ( tel: +90 212 402 30 00) and Muzedechanga (tel: +90 212 323 09 01).

Peter Chang, food blogger (
  • Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville, 1 Rue d'Yverdon, Crissier, Switzerland, tel: +41 21 634 05 05
    "My four-hour lunch at Philippe Rochat's restaurant was simply mind-blowing. Everything was so nicely done, with lots of Asian elements which worked really well."

  • Michael Mina, 335 Powell Street, San Francisco, United States +1 415 397 9222
    "My solo dining experience here was absolutely perfect, with a great wine-pairing to boot. Every dish was superbly executed, and the service - from knowledgeable staff - was incredibly refreshing.

  • Pierre Gagnaire, 6 rue Balzac, Paris, France, tel: +33 1 58 36 12 50
    "I've always loved Pierre Gagnaire's ability to blend Asian elements into his cuisine and make things work. Dessert at Pierre Gagnaire is truly an affair, and the wine list has plenty of real bargains."

  • Caprice, Four Seasons, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong,tel: 3196 8888
    "Hands down, the best French restaurant in Hong Kong. The creativity is apparent, although the cuisine is more traditional, and the cheese selection is second to none."

  • Fook Lam Moon, 35-45 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, tel: 2866 0663
    "Food here is consistently good, from made-to-order dim sum items to one of the best roast suckling pigs, as well as many off-menu items known to the regulars."

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