If you live in Shanghai, or have visited often, there is no doubt you have heard of Willy and his popular Spanish tapas restaurant El Willy. Formerly located in the French Concession in an old villa, but now on the glamorous Bund waterfront strand, El Willy is a warm and welcoming place (just like Willy). It’s also very well recognised, having won numerous accolades in local Shanghai media and is also listed in the top 100 Restaurants in the Miele Guide.
Just a few weeks ago, the 2013 edition of The Miele Guide to Asia’s Finest Restaurants was launched. With that came the annual announcement of the year’s list of the 20 most highly ranked restaurants in the region–as determined by a popular and a juried vote. The highest-ranking debut on the 2013 list was Waku Ghin in Singapore, which debuted on the list in second place. For many of his fans, that Chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s restaurant would attain such a high rank so quickly, was perfectly understandable. Many people I’ve met have claimed that their meals at Waku Ghin have been their best in Asia.
When I took my beautiful wife S to Tokyo to celebrate her birthday in March, because we only had three days in town, we had to very carefully curate our dining choices. While we did visit an old favourite, most of the restaurants we visited were new to us, including two sushi joints that we’d been meaning to try for years. One was a much-ballyhooed three Michelin-starred place in Ginza that is regularly discussed on forums like Chowhound and which many punters like to claim is the best sushi restaurant in Tokyo. The other is a much more modest (and much livelier) place in Yotsuya that has no Michelin stars and is rarely mentioned in Western or English-language media. Amazingly–although some Japanese friends tell me I shouldn’t have been surprised–we left the three Michelin-starred restaurant feeling very ripped off and extremely underwhelmed. But, the meal we had at Sushi Sho (also sometimes spelled Sushishou), the cultish little joint just east of Shinjuku, delivered what I can honestly say was the single greatest sushi meal of both my life and my wife’s. S has since been describing the experience to friends as “life-changing sushi.”
Okay, so I’m updating the blog a lot sooner than I thought I’d be. But that’s only because today’s message is SUPER IMPORTANT. Which is that voting for the 2012/2013 edition of The Miele Guide is now open! Over the past 5 years, my business partners, colleagues and I (not at Chubby Hubby but at Ate) have produced 4 annual editions of what is still the only independent and regional restaurant guide to Asia. The guide has grown from strength to strength each year, gaining more and more credibility within the industry–and we very much owe that to you guys. We’re very grateful for your participation. Almost 20,000 of you took part in the public vote last year. And with thousands of restaurants across 18 countries vying for just 500 spots in our guide (not to mention the Asia’s Top 20 rankings), every vote counts.
On my recent trip to Hong Kong, my lovely wife S and I had what was easily one of my best meals this year. We had both heard a lot about Chef Alvin Leung from Bo Innovation over the years. Some good, some not so good. Some outstanding. Which is often the case with chefs trying to push the envelope, i.e. trying to do new and very different things to familiar and classic foods. They’ll win over some very loyal fans who are totally blown away by the chef’s new ideas and his or her abilities to turn these concepts into delicious food. But this kind of chef will alienate just as many customers. And, of course, a good share of other diners will be impressed without really understanding what they’re eating. Alvin Leung is most definitely this kind of chef. And I very much belong in the first camp; that is, I am total fan.
Chef Malcolm Lee in his new kitchen
It’s always great to discover a new, fabulous little restaurant. Even better still when the chef-owner is a bright, earnest, young guy that you’ve watched grow from strength to strength.
One of the most rewarding things about producing The Miele Guide (Asia’s only truly regional and independent restaurant guide) each year is that, thanks to several partners, we’re able to give out scholarships to young Asians looking to fulfill their dreams of attending a world class culinary school and kickstarting potentially great careers. Since we started this tradition, we’ve awarded scholarships to two students a year to attend professional classes at the At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy. One student each year has been a Singaporean while the other student has come from another country in Asia. The very first Singaporean recipient of the scholarship was a young man named Malcolm Lee.
Malcolm was an impressive candidate. While attending the Singapore Management University, he took over one of the university’s cafes and literally turned it around. He revamped the eatery’s menu, transforming what I’ve been told was a very so-so place into a campus favourite. Through what was meant to be an extra-curriculur activity, Malcolm found himself and found his calling. Then, while attending At-Sunrice, his teachers reported to us that he was scoring ridiculously high marks. No one, my colleagues and I were told, scores all As. But Malcolm was, even winning a few A+s along the way. This guy, we all said, was going to go really, really far. Months before he graduated, we started to speculate which great chef would bring Malcolm under his or her wing.
truffled foie gras potato tempura at Antonio’s
Ever since S put together Inside the Southeast Asian Kitchen, arguably the best book on our region’s cuisine (and at the very least the only one in which all contributors were actually from Southeast Asia), she and I have been obsessed with visiting what we realized is probably the region’s most underrated but amazing food destination, the Philippines. Yes, the Philippines. Which, when you actually think about it, makes sense. This is a country whose culture has been very heavily influenced by foreign influences, especially the Spanish, Chinese, Malays and Americans. It’s only natural that elements of these different cuisines have been absorbed into the local food culture to create new (or not so new anymore) and exceedingly delicious dishes.
In addition, over the past few years, the restaurant scene in and around Manila has become increasingly exciting and sophisticated. When we published The Miele Guide‘s first edition last year, we were honestly surprised by the number of amazing restaurants from the Philippines that made it into the top end of our survey–and thrilled that one restaurant, Antonio’s, actually came out as Asia’s tenth best restaurant.
I might actually be among the last foodies, and food bloggers, in town to try Tippling Club. While I’ve known about this ultra-modern gastrobar since it opened a year ago, my darling wife S and I had not, until recently, been inspired to visit this somewhat controversial restaurant. I say “controversial” because any time that it came up in conversation among foodie friends, spirited debates would inevitably ensue. Some friends argued that the food was self-indulgent, far too expensive for what it was, and that the structure in which the restaurant is housed is little more than an air conditioned lean-to. Other friends said that Chef Ryan Clift, formerly of Melbourne’s Vue du Monde, was one of the most talented chefs working in Singapore today. They held fast that while the food had its highs and lows, the highs were higher than those of any other chef in town.
The one thing that all of my friends did agree on was that the combined food and cocktail menu was a little too expensive and not really necessary. Yes, we all appreciate the hard work and skill put in by award-winning mixologist Matthew Bax, the other luminary sharing centre stage with Chef Ryan. And I, especially, love a fabulously well-made cocktail as an apertif or digestif, i.e. before or after my meal. But we all agreed that we’d like to eat our food paired with nothing more than a nice bottle of wine or two — and not with a different cocktail paired with each and every course.
Hi y’all. I’ll get back to regular blogging in a bit (and for once I have quite a few posts lined up). But first I wanted to tell you that voting for the 2009/2010 edition of The Miele Guide, Asia’s first independent restaurant guide, has just opened. We need your votes.
The Miele Guide was created in 2008 in order to better recognise and celebrate Asia’s best chefs and restaurants. It was our attempt to create, for the very first time, a standard of recognizing our best restaurants that was on par with established non-Asian guides. Our 2008/2009 edition ranked Asia’s top 20 restaurants and profiled an additional 300 great places in Asia in which to dine.
Restaurants will be selected after four rounds of judging. The first round of judging consisted of creating a shortlist of great restaurants as determined by the region’s top full-time restaurant critics. The second and third rounds of judging are being conducted simultaneously via online polls. You, the public, in addition to a jury of food professionals and prominent food lovers are invited to cast your votes. These votes–your votes–determine which restaurants make it into the final, published guide. Voting ends 24 May 2009. Finally, our in-house team, with help from contributing editors across Asia, will be dining anonymously at the most highly rated restaurants to confirm our annual ranking of Asia’s Top 20.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a project that S and I — with loads of help from a fantastic and hard-working team — have been working on for several months. I’ll be […]