Thursday, November 05, 2015

Michelin Hong Kong is failing us

Michelin Hong Kong and Macau is letting our cities down
Yes, this is a rant. Consider yourself warned.

It's been 8 years of the Michelin Hong Kong and Macau, and every year, people who are truly interested in food are disappointed by the overall results. Sure, there are amazing restaurants listed in the Guide - the hard work of these restaurateurs must not be ignored - but systematically missing restaurants that everyone in HK's food scene appreciates? I don't get it.

Not that there can ever be any objectivity in restaurant reviewing, and especially in the case of guides and lists, but any guide or list will have a clear set of criteria and rationales for their various rankings and awards - but Michelin has strangely flouted all their own guidelines for HK, and that's my gripe.

I said there is no objectivity in restaurant reviewing, but there are some things you can actually verify as facts, and see with your own eyes - quality of ingredients, service staff training, atmosphere. For some strange reason, Michelin in HK seems blind to these. Example: Can anyone tell me why, aside from foul play, all of Peninsula Hong Kong's outlets are omitted, wholesale, from the starred lists, year after year? Surely even judging by things we can see, physically, the quality of Spring Moon can not be less than that of Lei Garden Kwun Tong.

The new street food category in the guide this year is a bit of a joke - why are there only a couple dozen street food eateries in the whole of HK that made the list? And where is the delineation between the street food list and Bib Gourmands, and hell, even one-starred restaurants? Why Tim Ho Wan is not under BG has baffled me since the beginning. Thing is, I get the distinct sense that it's all just ammunition for buzzy marketing. "Cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world!", "First ever street food list in a Michelin guide!" - great headlines and soundbites that will spread far and wide, don't you think?

Visitors who appreciate food will read these soundbites (unhelpfully regurgitated by lazy news outlets as headlines), try these lists, and then turn around and say, "Whatever, it wasn't that great". Expectations matter - expectations probably matter the most in experiences like eating. And when such a well-known brand like Michelin says something, people listen, and a lot of the time, if it doesn't deliver on the expectations that the Michelin has set, the bad feelings end up being directed at the restaurant, which is incredibly unfair, because most of the time, it's not the restaurant that went all out and shouted, "we're the best, like EVER!". And when the Michelin, often inexplicably, takes away a star, or removes it from the guide, it's the restaurant that suffers too.

When the guide was first introduced in HK, a lot of people in the industry were excited, because it kind of put us on the map - it felt like we were on the global foodie circuit now; the big leagues. But 8 years on, the gimmicks and the inexplicable ups and downs (where else has a restaurant gone jumped from 1* to 3* in a year?#) have made the Michelin here a joke more than anything, and its usefulness to international travellers in search of a good meal is in rapid decline.

As a business, Michelin Guides are not doing well, and haven't done so in a long time. It gives them every reason to make noise and create buzz, but after 8 years, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's at the expense of our city's restaurateurs and our reputation as a whole.

One of the reasons I started writing about food in Hong Kong is because there used to be so much drivel out there - visiting friends would tell me they had read some list in a magazine that had been written by someone who had dropped in for a couple of days and knew very little about the context of the food. Fortunately, the scene has changed dramatically - voices of people who know their stuff have increasingly been heard, and research has become so much easier and faster, but these voices are forever living under this cloud that is Michelin HK. I'm incredibly proud of the food we have in Hong Kong, and I want people to go to the right places for the right reasons (armed with good information and well managed expectations) and have great meals here, and if you ask me, Michelin HK is not helping.

# Edit: Indeed, EMP in New York did too, and since the post went up, it's funny how many people have told me that these sentiments apply to the U.S. guides too. 


  1. Those restaurants are not in the guide because they don't want to be or because they don't know that they need to register with the guide to be part of the review process. it is as simple as this. The reviewevers are humans, they are nit machines and can't go visit every single restaurants in HK every year. For what i know, the Peninsula do not want to participate because they don't need to be in the guide to be worthy to be visited. Some restaurants don't want to be part of this competition in gaining or losing a star as it is HK and we all know that HK Michelin guide is a joke !

    1. Restaurants don't "register" and hey don't have any power over what Michelin does and doesn't do - read this article about chefs who don't want to be in the guide and have tried to "give back" stars (in vain - it's an "urban myth") Michelin goes where it wants to go and does what it wants to do.