December 3, 2010

Third time, but still no charm

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Rubberman released the third edition of its dining guide for Hong Kong and Macau yesterday.  For the third year in a row, foodies around town collectively uttered a series of "WTF..." following the guide's publication.  It looks like these guys still have a long way to go before getting it right, in my not-so-humble opinion.

When the second edition came out last year, I already noted that the pendulum had swung the other way, from not enough "local" places to being a little too "local".  In fact Michelin was going a little too down-market, by awarding stars to places like Din Tai Feng (鼎泰豐) and Tim Ho Wan (添好運).  The resulting world-wide brouhaha about "the cheapest Michelin star" just became a little ridiculous...

Things got worse this year.  Both establishments mentioned above have one additional outlet each with a star, and now places like Ho Hung Kee (何洪記) and even a curry joint called Hin Ho Curry (恆河咖喱屋) received stars.  Now don't get me wrong... I looove Din Tai Feng, as my recent posts would attest.  I'm also a big fan of Ho Hung Kee and its cousins Tasty Congee as my neighborhood restaurants.  But these are casual restaurants where one goes for a quick meal, not what people would associate with Michelin stars.  Frankly, if I were Frédéric from Petrus, Uwe from Mandarin Grill or Chef Law from Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), I'd be a little upset that I got ranked in the same category as these guys...  I feel that the rubberman has "cheapened" the value of a star with this move.

I know that the official definition from rubberman of a one-star restaurant is "a very good restaurant in its category", so if a place is the best damn congee shop in town, then technically it qualifies for a star.  But think about it... do boulangeries like Eric Kayser, crêperies like La Crêperie de Josselin, or hot dog joints like Gray's Papaya have stars?  They are all "very good" in their respective categories, but I don't see no stars for them in the Paris and New York guides...

My other gripe concerns the issue of originals and branches.  Last year I bitched about Morton's in Hong Kong getting a star while its US siblings - where you would think the steaks are fresher and of better quality - did not.  Thankfully Morton's disappeared from the list this year, but now we've got Mist.  While I enjoyed my bowl of ramen (ラーメン) at the branch in Hong Kong, I immediately questioned the rationale behind Hong Kong getting a star while the original in Tokyo's posh Omotesando Hills (表参道ヒルズ) - with the presence of founder Yasuji Morizumi (森住康二) - was not deemed worthy.  Are they saying that the Hong Kong chef does ramen better than his Tokyo counterpart?  As anyone who knows anything about the Japanese obsession with quality will tell you, this is a highly unlikely scenario.

Anyway... enough ranting.  Here's the article from today's South China Morning Post where I offered my opinion on the 2011 guide...  Unfortunately the news desk has chosen to edit out a good portion of Susan's original copy, so I didn't really get my point across in the article.  And I sound arrogant by opining on a restaurant's quality based on a single visit, and snobbish by pooh-poohing noodle shops and curry places.  Oh well...

Full article can be found here.  Requires subscription.

Guide's picks panned as 'random'

Susan Jung
Dec 03, 2010

The Michelin guide scores European restaurants pretty accurately, some outspoken Hong Kong foodies say - but its assessments of Asian restaurants?


Some places got undeserved stars from the latest Hong Kong and Macau edition, local food lovers grouse. Meanwhile it excluded other fine eateries, not even deeming them worthy of the Bib Gourmand category (good food at good value, with a three-course meal priced at HK$300 or less).

"I've said this, for three years in a row, that I agree with the European and Western choices more, but I continue to disagree with the Asian selection," said Peter Chang, who writes the well-regarded Diary of a Growing Boy blog.

"[One-star] places like Tim Ho Wan, Ho Hung Kee and Din Tai Fung I would never expect to be on Michelin's list - maybe on Bib Gourmand, but I don't think they deserve stars. I think they've gone overboard - the pendulum has swung the other way."

When the city's first Michelin guide appeared, he recalled, food enthusiasts complained traditional Hong Kong restaurants got too little exposure.

"But now they're giving places like Tim Ho Wan and Din Tai Fung stars, and even worse, a noodle and congee shop [Ho Hung Kee] and a curry place [Hin Ho Curry]," Chang said.

He does like one of the restaurants that topped the list - the newly anointed three-star Sun Tung Lok - where he has eaten dim sum.

"If that one little sampling of dim sum was any indication," he said, "it beats Lung King Heen", which has had three stars since the first guide in 2008.

However, Josh Tse, better known as the food blogger Chaxiubao, called Sun Tung Lok "decent, but I don't think it deserves three stars. On a scale of one to 10, I'd give the food seven.

"For just food, it's safe to say many Chinese restaurants are better, like Fook Lam Moon [whose two branches received one star each] and Yung Kee [one star]. And for service and setting, Sun Tung Lok is not three-star, especially when compared with [its peers] Caprice or Lung King Heen."

Tse thinks it's "scandalous" that Spring Moon, a Chinese restaurant, and the French restaurant Gaddi's — both at the Peninsula hotel — have been excluded in each year's guide.

"There are a lot of us who want to know why. There must be some secret that only Michelin and the Peninsula know. It's anyone's guess," he said. "I've given up trying to understand what to make of the list. It's so random."


Eric said...

Wow, agree completely.

Well, their job is to sell books and listing more local restaurants, in a city where its citizens pride themselves on neighborhhod cuisine, is probably good 'business' sense. Spring Moon is fantastic, but not a place most locals go. Not many Parisians dine at Le Cinq regularly either but they recognize the difference between truly fine cuisine and something that's simply the 'best' in its category.

Unfortunately, all this means is that prices at these places will go up...

TomEats said...

Having only been here 5 months I have been shocked at some places which have been awarded Michelin stars. For instance Yung Kee (presuming they didn't award it to the 4th or 6th floor) is a two dish place - century egg and roast goose. And they haven't even been good the three times I have been. And moreover than that the decor is terrible, the service bordering on the nonchalant or abusive and the atmosphere canteeny.

An equivalent 1* in London would at least guarantee courteous service.

Perhaps Michelin should do a Michelin guidebook which solely focuses on dishes as that would be more appropriate perhaps to Hong Kong. Some of the dishes/ or meals (putting to one side HK service) have been beyond good and far beyond what one could get (food wise) in London.

That said, on the European food, I think they are not miles off.

Better stop typing now!

Unknown said...

The food in London has been improving, I must say I have now been converted! Even the coffee is better :D

A lot of the Chinese Michelin restaurants are just an international embarrassment - Yung Kee on my first visit back to HK was amazingly bad. About a year later (still haven't blogged it) I re-tried dinner and lunch, the quality was much better this time but it had better be good, it costs a fortune to dine there. I got 6 measly prawns for $300+, they weren't even executed that good despite the Award Winning recipe promising the world. Their Salted Fish and Red Bean dessert soup was very good though!

For Cantonese, I like Lau's Kitchen. Budget eat, half the price of a lot of Starred restaurants I'd tried or say the hyped up The Chairman costing an arm and a leg. Eg. $15X for a quarter of a chicken - the last time I ordered poultry by the quarter was at a fast food joint Nando's Chicken. :(


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