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Some thoughts on the first Singapore Michelin Guide

Michelin announced the first selection of the MICHELIN guide Singapore 2016-2

The Michelin Star winners in Singapore

[UPDATE: The Michelin Guide Singapore will be announced on June 29th 2017 at The Fullerton Hotel. The event will include a five course dinner with dishes created by the chefs Seita Nakahara of Terra, Singapore (one Michelin star), Jason Tan of Corner House, Singapore (one star), Tam Kwok Fung of Jade Dragon (two stars), Macau and Curtis Duffy of three Michelin starred Grace in Chicago.]

Before the inaugural Michelin Guide Singapore was launched on July 21st I was sure of two things: that at least one hawker stall would gain a star and that Joel Robuchon would be awarded three. The former because I could see the headlines about “the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant” pinging around the world (and so could Michelin, I’ll wager) and the latter because Robuchon tends to collect three Michelin stars around the globe as naturally as breathing.

And so, as you’ve probably heard, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle became the proud recipients of a Michelin star apiece while Joel Robuchon clocked up another three stars for his fine dining establishment in Singapore (read on for the full list). All announced, in a world first for Michelin, to much fanfare: a songstress in glitter crooning When You Wish Upon a Star and dancers in chefs uniforms waving giant forks and spoons. Even the three star reveal had some drama: director Michael Ellis teased us at first that not every location was worthy of three Michelin stars before announcing he did indeed have a red envelope and that it was not empty.

The departure of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants had left a restaurant awards ceremony shaped hole in Singapore. Asia’s 50 Best, an industry only event, debuted in Singapore three years ago and left for Bangkok this year amid rumours that the Singapore Tourism Board was cutting its funding. Enter the Michelin Guide Singapore and its Gala Dinner Awards Ceremony – a new approach for the tyre company come publisher who usually simply announce the list at a press conference.

The event was part sponsored by the Singapore Tourism Board, who flew in media from around the world, and open to anyone who could pay SG$400 for a ticket. Much has been made of the price but Singapore is a city that flourishes on expensive “exclusive” events and the price is equal to what you’d expect to pay for dinner at many of the Michelin starred restaurants. Naturally there was no San Pellegrino or Acqua Panna in sight, the “official water partners” being Evian and Badoit.

Three stars for the Joël Robuchon restaurant in Singapore-2 Joel Robuchon – the only three Michelin stars in Singapore

The food at the dinner was flagged up as by Joel Robuchon, owner of two restaurants at RW Sentosa, the “title partner” in whose convention space the Michelin awards were held. Robuchon, it was announced later that evening, was the recipient of two Michelin stars for L’atelier de Joel Robuchon and the coveted three for Joel Robuchon Restaurant – the only three star Michelin winner in Singapore.Two of the other restaurants openly given credit for catering the event – Forest and Osia – are also tenants of RW Sentosa. They both received one Michelin star.

I can only imagine how Marina Bay Sands, the rival casino and celebrity restaurant joint across town, are spitting (roulette) chips. They clocked up just two stars (as opposed to RW Sentosa’s total of seven) for Wolfgang Puck’s Cut and Waku Ghin by Tetsuya Wakuda – two highly acclaimed restaurants.On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that whatever the talents of a hawker stall chef they could be on a par with these two establishments and many others on the one star list including Shinji by Kanesaka, Jaan and The Kitchen at Bacchanalia. And there were many on the bulging one star list that were equal to two. There were also some puzzling omissions. Where was the Tippling Club? Wild Rocket? Gunther’s? Saint Pierre? I could go on.

Six other establishments obtain two stars in this 2016 edition of the MICHELIN Singapore guide.jpg

I have eaten at Joel Robuchon in Singapore and while the food was undoubtedly excellent there were a few snags. Two of the dishes that were brought to the table were not the ones I ordered and our waiter had no idea that there were wine pairings available – as written clearly on the menu. It’s not what I would describe as a three star experience however Michelin states: “The service levels have no bearing on the award.” That surprises me as I would have thought it’s a vital component of a restaurant “worth a special journey”. If anyone has an old copy of a European based Michelin Guide I’d love to know if includes the same criteria.

Here’s the list:

*** Three Stars

Joel Robuchon

** Two Stars

Andre

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Les Amis

Odette

Shisen Hanten

Shoukouwa

*One Star

Alma

The Kitchen at Bacchanalia

Beni

Candlenut

Corner House

Crystal Jade Golden Palace

Cut

Forest

Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle

Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle

Jaan

Lei Garden

Osia

Putien (Kitchener Road)

Rhubarb

Shinji (Raffles hotel)

Shinji (St Regis)

Summer Pavillion

Sushi Ichi

Terra

The Song of India

Waku Ghin

 

[This article was originally posted in 2016]

Star Chefs on the Rise in Hong Kong

[UPDATE: Pierre Gagnaire will visit Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong from 6 to 11 June 2017 to Hong Kong to launch a five course wine tasting menu. Jean-Georges Vongerichten will make an appearance at Mercato in Hong Kong from 20-21 May, unveiling anniversary menus for those two days only and Nobu Matsuhisa returns to Nobu InterContinental Hong Kong on May 17th and 18th for two gala dinners.]

Nobu IC HK

Nobu Matsuhisa

 

Hong Kong is set for another influx of Western celebrity chefs as Yannick Alleno’s long awaited bistro, Terroir Parisien, is slated to open in Central this summer, Bjorn Frantzen has opened Frantzen’s Kitchen and Jean-Geroges Vongerichten has returned to the city with Mercato. David Thompson and Wolfgang Puck are also thought to be searching for sites here. But Asian expansion doesn’t mean guaranteed success: Mario Batali’s Carnenvino has closed in Hong Kong, Gordon Ramsay shut his restaurant in Tokyo and both Guy Savoy and Jason Atherton shipped out of Singapore. So what makes some international restaurants thrive in foreign markets while others falter?

“The fact that each of my restaurants is unique although the core philosophy of my cuisine are a part of each,” says Alain Ducasse who is the longest standing celebrity chef in Hong Kong having had a restaurant at the Intercontinental since 2003. “I have a different vision for each restaurant and the input and inspiration from co workers. Each restaurant is a celebration of local tastes and ingredients,” says Ducasse.

Alain Ducasse

Alain Ducasse at Rech, the Intercontinental Hong Kong

The Mandarin Oriental paved the way for international celebrity chefs in Hong Kong with the opening of Jean-George Vongerichten’s Vong Thai French fusion restaurant in 1997. Vongerichten had once worked in the Mandarin’s French restaurant, Pierrot, as well as The Oriental hotel in Bangkok. Six years later Spoon by Alain Ducasse opened at the Intercontinental hotel [recently replaced by Rech by Alain Ducasse]. In 2006 along came Nobu (also at the Intercontinental), Joel Robuchon and Pierre Gagniere; when Vong’s around the world closed and the Mandarin reopened after a refurbishment with the contemporary French restaurant Pierre in place.

Chef Jean Georges2

Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Pierre’s set up in a luxury hotel with a 25th view of Victoria Harbour is typical of Gagniere’s ventures in Asia. The world renowned chef also has restaurants in Tokyo and Seoul in upscale hotels with great views that leave you with no doubt which city you’re dining in and he places the upmost importance on the partnership when looking at international outposts.

“Pierre Gagniere is behind every one of his dishes. He designs menus every time he visits and regularly liaises with the team so that his ideas are executed,” says a spokeswoman for the Mandarin Oriental. The chef visits three times a year, cooking in the kitchen alongside his Hong Kong team for 10 day stints.

Not that it’s all been plane sailing. Gagniere says Hong Kongers did not welcome him with open arms though he won over a loyal clientele; and the restaurant dropped a Michelin star in 2013. Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras was brought in from Gagniere’s London restaurant, Sketch, last year and over the summer Gagniere came out to work with his protégé on devising new dishes; Pierre regained its second star in the 2014 Michelin Guide [the head chef is now Jacky Tauvy.]

MOHKG_Pierre Gagnaire.jpg

Pierre Gagniere at Pierre, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong

Alain Ducasse and Nobu Matsuhisa also visit Hong Kong regularly. Matsuhisa can’t seem to put a foot wrong, opening the thirtieth outlet for his worldwide restaurant empire in Kuala Lumpur this month. Nobu has the luxury of a clientele made up of both well-heeled locals and international devotees who like to dine at Nobu restaurants wherever they travel.

Some 90 per cent of the menu is found on all Nobu menus worldwide with the addition of a Osume menu showcasing local ingredients. “These dishes give guest a unique taste from each destination alongside their favourite Nobu dishes which are available globally,” says Matsuhisa.

“The Nobu concept is the same throughout the world: good food, good service, good ambience,” he continues. “While the décor of my restaurants vary in each city, the consistency of the food and service is what is most important.”

Jason Atherton, the first British chef to open in Hong Kong, seems to be challenging his former mentor Gordon Ramsay in the empire building stakes. Although he has parted company with his Singapore ventures, on top of his string of London restaurants the chef now has eateries in Hong Kong and Singapore, Shanghai and The Philippines and is considering Bangkok. “We do put a lot of effort into all of our places and Asia is like a second home to me,” says Atherton whose wife is Philippina. “I come out every couple of months. I have huge respect for the people and culture.”

Jason Atherton and his wife Ihra

Jason Atherton and his wife Irha

While the old guard flourish in the ultra high end market, the newer arrivals are aiming for a more casual approach. “I think our sharing concept and accessible pricing has also helped our success,” says Atherton.

David Thompson is opening a Thai street food eatery rather than an outpost of his fine dining establishment Nahm. Long Chim, opening in Singapore at the end of this year, moves into the former Guy Savoy haute cuisine site in Marina Bay Sands that closed suddenly this year.

Thompson has plans for more Long Chim branches: “Hong Kong is certainly on the cards,” he says. Nahm originally opened in London in 2001 expanding into Bangkok, and another Christina Ong owned hotel, in 2010. Nahm London lost its Michelin star a year later and closed in 2012. Thompson has no plans to open another. “Nahm is unique and can only really be done in Bangkok,” he says. “Even though I have run similar restaurants in London and Australia, opening Nahm in Bangkok made me realise that it’s the only place where I can operate a restaurant of this nature.”

David Thompson

David Thompson at Long Chim

Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen is based on his informal restaurant of the same name in London. “I was looking at something more accessible,” says Sandeep Sekhri managing director of Dining Concepts who approached Ramsay. “It’s very hard to replicate a fine dining restaurant outside of where the chef is cooking or where they have their key people.”

Sekhri has just closed Carnevino a pricey US steakhouse in partnership with Mario Batali. “The price point was way to high for that size,” he says. “If it had been only 60 seats we would have been packed very night. But at $1700 HK a head the size of the market is limited. It was an error of judgement on our part.” Meanwhile Batali and Dining Concepts’ Lupa, a mid priced Italian restaurant, continues to thrive.

The concept has proved a mixed bag for Jamie Oliver in Singapore, the first Jamie’s Italian in Asia. “We haven’t met everybody’s expectations along the way as there is a stigma that associates celebrity chefs with fine dining while Jamie is all about rustic, affordable Italian food and a relaxed, unpretentious style of service,” says executive chef Gary Clarke. Nonetheless the restaurant has built up a regular clientele who are prepared to queue for a table. Clarke also admits customers expect to see Oliver  – a familiar refrain for celebrity chef with multiple venues around the world: “But most realise that however much Jamie wants to be cooking in all his restaurant there’s only one of him.”

Gordon Ramsay (Credit to Gordon Ramsay Group).jpg

Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay will attend the Hong Kong launch of his Bread Street Kitchen next month  [2014] – a wise move given the disappointment of the Jamie Oliver no show in Singapore and Hong Kong) and visit the restaurant “once or twice a year”. Sekhri believes there’s only room for one Bread Street Kitchen in Hong Kong although he doesn’t rule out further Ramsay collaborations. [London House has since opened in TST as well as a Bread Street Kitchen in Singapore.]

Jason Atherton has opened several different concepts rather than rolling out the same formula. “I am sure it is definitely part of the appeal,” says Atherton. “I get bored rather easily and assume our guests would feel the same so I am always trying to come up with new ideas for them to enjoy.” Sometimes the chef’s gut instinct is the best.

A version of this piece was posted in 2014.

Alain Ducasse revitalises Hong Kong presence with Rech restaurant

Rech by Alain Ducasee Interconti HK.jpg

Legendary chef Alain Ducasse’s first foray into food was not a runaway success. As a child growing up in France he would watch his grandmother cooking and aged about 11 he decided to make a chocolate roulade himself. “My grandmother let me attempt this, although I was not up to the task,” Ducasse recalls. “Chocolate ended up everywhere and in the end the cake did not resemble a roulade at all!”

Luckily for the culinary world Ducasse was not put off by his early endeavour. Last month saw the opening of his 25th restaurant worldwide. He has chosen Asia for the first international outpost of Rech Alain Ducasse, a French seafood restaurant replacing his Spoon concept at the Intercontinental hotel in Hong Kong.

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Is there a need for Best Female Chef awards?

Lanshu Chen at the pass

Asia’s Best Female Chef 2014 Lanshu Chen at Le Mout, Taiwan

[UPDATE: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 have been announced amid the usual controversy. Not least because of the lack of female chefs at the helm of restaurants on the list. Highlighted by the fact that the restaurant run by The World’s Best Female Chef 2017, Ana Ros, doesn’t even make it onto the World’s 50 Best restaurants list. (Hisa Franko in Slovenia is number 69 on the “long list”).

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards are no better. Lanshu Chen of Le Mout in Taiwan remains the only recipient of the Asia’s Best Female Chef accolade to be (sole) head chef of a restaurant that’s also recognised as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. While Bo.Lan in Bangkok which consistently makes the top 50 is helmed by another previous winner, Bo Songvisava, she does so with her husband Dylan Jones (the “Lan” in Bo.Lan).

This year’s Asia’s Best Female Chef May Chow’s eatery, Little Bao in Hong Kong, doesn’t feature in the top 50, neither did any of the restaurants overseen by last years’ winner Margarita Fores of the Philippines or the Tate Dining Room in Hong Kong run by Vicky Lau, Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015.

Which begs the question, is there any point in naming a Best Female Chef if their restaurants are not deemed good enough to be voted one of the Best 50 Restaurants? Or is it further proof that more spotlight on and awareness about female chefs is needed?]

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Is this the best restaurant in Hong Kong?

Amber.jpg

[UPDATE: Amber is now number 24 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2017 and remains the only restaurant in Hong Kong to be recognised on the list.]

This month the iconic 50 Best Restaurants in the World awards roll around again. Last year, a Dutch born, French trained chef working in Hong Kong achieved something no one else in China has managed for six years – an entry on the coveted list.

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