Are there really just 5 world-class restaurants in Asia?

Posted on April 22, 2008 by Aun

For the past few years, I have considered it a mixed honour to be one of the (few) jury members that help Restaurant magazine determine its annual list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. I have honestly felt a great sense of pride to have been asked for my votes each year, as well as a great sense of responsibility. But every year, when the results are announced, I feel somewhat let down. I won’t bore readers with my detailed analysis of why Restaurant magazine’s jury system is flawed and biased to favour restaurants in the Western hemisphere (for that, you can read a previous post, archived here). I just want to express my continued dismay at the results of this very important and respected survey.

The 2008 results have just been announced. If you want to see the list, please click over here. In addition to profiling the world’s top 50, Restaurant magazine also lists the next 50 (i.e. those ranked between 51 – 100). This year, only 5 restaurants in Asia made the top 100; all are ranked in the bottom half of the list. Bukhara, in India, at #55, continues to hold its place as Asia’s top-ranked restaurant. Iggy’s, in Singapore, is in second place, at #77. The next three Asian restaurants are all situated in Hong Kong. Pierre Gagnaire, Robuchon a Galera (technically in Macau), and Zuma are ranked at #88, #98, and #99 respectively.

Each year, when these results are announced, I have the same reaction. While it is always cool to scan the top 10 or 20 restaurants and pat myself on the back for having visited several of them, the thing that irks me is the question, “Surely, Asia has more than just 5 world-class restaurants?” Glaringly missing (as usual) are restaurants in Japan.

I am actually in Fukuoka right now. Over the past few years, S and I have been coming to Japan almost every year just to eat. Over the past week while travelling across this country, I have been indulging in great food. At super-high-end ryokans, small zen-like kappo spaces and swish restaurants, I have eaten meals that are undoubtedly as good if not better than the meals I have had in Paris’ or New York’s best eating establishments. The Michelin Guide to Tokyo, despite all its flaws, did a great thing when it awarded more stars to restaurants in Tokyo than in both London and Paris combined. This move loudly declared what all foodies already knew — that the food and the restaurants in Asia are as good as any in the West. The only problem is that not enough Westerners have eaten at these places (or have even heard of them) … and the media in the Eastern hemisphere just isn’t as good at promoting these establishments as their counterparts in the West.

For several years, S and I have grappled with this problem. Yes, things like how Asia’s restaurant industry is perceived really does keep the two of us awake at night. And of course, I’ve complained about what I have believed to be an imbalance to anyone and everyone who would listen. But over the past year, we decided that it was time to either put up or shut up — to quite literally put my money where my mouth was. So, we started working on what we could do to correct this imbalance.

The result, which you all will probably hear quite a bit about over the next year (and hopefully for a long time to come) is The Miele Guide. The Miele Guide, which we are publishing with the huge (and long-term) support of the ultra-high end kitchen and domestic appliance manufacturer Miele, will be the first truly independent and (hopefully) authoritative restaurant guide to Asia.

To put this guide together, we will be going through 4 rounds of evaluation. In our first round, an invited panel of 90 of Asia’s most influential restaurant critics have helped us create a shortlist of what they believe are Asia’s best restaurants. It was very important for us to work with respected local food writers and critics in each country. That means people like Susan Jung, food editor of The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong; Wong Ah Yoke, the main food reviewer for The Straits Times in Singapore; Rashmi Uday Singh, one of India’s most famous food journalists; and well-known food writers Yuya Tomosato and Jun Yokokawa in Japan.

In Mid-May, our second round begins. At that time, we want you, the public to cast your votes online. You will also have the option of nominating restaurants that you feel are missing from our shortlist. Concurrently, a selected jury of respected foodies and food and wine professionals across Asia will be invited to place their own votes.

In our final round, The Miele Guide’s editorial team, joined by contributing editors stationed across Asia, will dine anonymously at the top ranked restaurants to verify the combined results of Rounds 2 and 3. One of the things that we felt was very important was to commit to never accepting any free meals from any restaurants that are under evaluation. We have also commited to never accepting any kind of advertising or sponsorship from the industry.

From these four rounds, we will then decide and announce the top 20 restaurants in Asia, plus the best restaurants in each respective country. Please note that while Miele is our naming sponsor, they will not exert any influence over the selection and judging process that determines which restaurants appear in The Miele Guide.

We hope to launch The Miele Guide through most major bookstores internationally at the end of October this year. Of course, any survey will run into criticism. One restaurateur-friend, when I explained what we were doing, whistled loudly and then said, “Wow, you’re going to create some enemies. Especially with that top 20 ranking.”

And while we understand that the final results might stir up some controversy, we’re ready for it. Most importantly, if it gets the world talking about the restaurants in this part of the world, if it gets people passionately debating the merits of Asia’s top ranked restaurants to the point where their names become as recognizable as El Bulli, Fat Duck and French Laundry, then we have done our job. After all, our goal is not to antagonize specific restaurateurs or put others down. Our goal is to create a standard of evaluation and a standard of recognition that can really help promote Asia’s best restaurants to the world.

P.S. (updated 24-04-08) My web development chief has just informed me she has created banners for The Miele Guide. They are available in 3 sizes. We’d appreciate all the help we can get in spreading the word, so if you would like to host a banner for The Miele Guide, we’d be thrilled and very grateful. Please find them here at mieleguide.com/spread=the-word. The password is “thenewstandard”. Thanks!

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. TingXiang April 22, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Hi CH and S, I want to applause both of you for your unwaivering dedication to the F&B industry, passion and courage to showcase the best food in Asia. I agree with you that votes for The World’s 50 Best Restaurant were imbalanced and am glad to see you taking actions to remove Asia’s Restaurants from the shadow of its Western counterparts. BTW, are you aware that the pioneer chef at Hakkasan (London) was formerly the chef helming The Pavallion at Ritz Carlton Singapore? When I 1st dined at Hakkasan, I was surprised by the similarity of food presentation and asked to see the chef. Only then did I realised that he was the chef from Ritz Carlton. Same chef, same food but yet, he was never given the recognition when he was in Singapore.

  2. Franco April 22, 2008 at 9:53 am

    An amazing idea, CH. It is frustrating when one realizes how little acclaim great Asian chefs get for their work in European and American publications. I guess in the end, we have to toot our own horns. Good Luck!!!

  3. Gemma April 22, 2008 at 10:20 am

    hey CH.. what a splendid idea you’ve got there! I personally think that the guide is biased and will definitely be purchasing the “MIELE Guide” myself! Btw, is that S in enjoying soup at Iggy’s?!

  4. Susan April 22, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Aun,

    I just ranted about this Best 50 list to a friend. She replied (as a joke) that Zuma and Nobu are on the list – so doesn’t that take care of Japan?
    You’re right in that the major problem is that Europeans and Americans don’t travel much to Asia – and when they do come here, they eat at places like Felix. And worse, THEY THINK IT’S GOOD!

  5. Chubby Hubby April 22, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    TingXiang: Thanks so much for your comments. And no, I had no idea that the Hakkasan chef used to helm Summer Pavilion. Not surprised. Very typical.

    Franco: Thanks. We’ve been trying to decide if doing this makes economic sense for the longest time. We just decided to say, “what the heck” and took the plunge.

    Gemma: Hiya, thanks! And nope, the young lady is a dear friend who kindly agreed to have her pictures taken while wolfing down a lunch at Iggy’s a couple of years back.

    Susan: Hah… I’d like to know what our Japanese panelists think of Nobu and Zuma. ;p Seriously though, thank you for all of your help on The Guide.

  6. w. April 22, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Hi CH, I was going to write my comments on this, but it ended up getting far too long, so if you’re so inclined, please read my thoughts on the issue which I’ve posted on my own blog.

    That said, I do applaud you and everyone else who has invested energy in this project. It always takes someone with initiative who fights against the nay-sayers before any change can take place. :)

  7. sandra April 22, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    great! i’ll absolutely buy the guide

  8. Pete April 22, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Even the Asian choices are strange. How did Iggy’s get placed 2nd in Asia? I thought all the HK/Macau entries were much better. Speaking of HK, what about L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Amber and Caprice. All are better than Iggy’s (which is also different now that Dorin Schuster had left).

  9. Dominique April 22, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Hi Chubby Hubby, I’m a Singaporean who moved to London a few months ago. When I read the list, I immediately thought, “Surely Chubby Hubby will blog about this!” And I was right! :)

    Your guide’s a good idea and it’s about time someone did one specifically for Asia. A number of colleagues here have been asking me for good restaurants in HK and Singapore, and while my recommendations may defer from yours (mainly on account of budget constraints), it’s still a good idea nonetheless.

    On another note, I live astoundingly near St. John’s (#16) and, yet, I’ve never tried it. Oh well, maybe when summer comes!

  10. Judith Klinger April 22, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Bravo! Bravi! The Italians all complain that they get ‘dissed, but you guys REALLY get ‘dissed. Some of the best restaurant meals I’ve ever eaten have been in Asia. There is true passion for food in Asia and you certainly have my full support.

  11. METRODAD April 23, 2008 at 12:40 am

    As a New Yorker who spends much of the year traveling in Europe and Asia, I was surprised to see so many great Asian restaurants missing from that list. Where was Jade on 36? What about Jumbo? Or Hamadaya? So many great ones missing.

    And how did Tantris and Nobu London make the list? That’s surprising, isn’t it?

    Can’t wait for the Miele Guide. Sign me up!

  12. Peech April 23, 2008 at 5:27 am

    I am disgusted by the so-called Asian selection on the list. Zuma HK?!!!!! Do these guys even have a clue?! And sorry, I know that they are a bit extreme, but my opinion on Hakkasan are anything but complimentary.

    I’m glad that you are coming out with an alternative perspective. Someone needs to tell it like it is!

  13. gogetter April 23, 2008 at 5:40 am

    Looking forward to whatever you guys are making. For the rest you can sign up for The Miele Guide’s mailing list at http://mieleguide.com/

  14. AppetiteforChina April 23, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Bravo for the endeavor! I, too, am tired of diners, even the widely traveled ones, who immediately brush off the entire continent of Asia as being less worthy a food destination than, say, the city of Paris. Hopefully this guide with generate serious conversation and interest in dining in Asia.

  15. AppetiteforChina April 23, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Bravo for starting the project! I, too, am tired of diners, even widely traveled ones, who think the entire continent of Asia is less worthy a dining destination than, say, the city of Paris. Hopefully this with spark a lot of conversation and interest in high-end dining in the East.

  16. niki thongborisute April 23, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Yes chubby can you sign me up too as I really would like to be a part of the Miele Guide and get a copy of the Guide when it comes out! Thanks for being on top of the Foodie Network here in SE Asia !

  17. Joel Ang April 24, 2008 at 1:40 am

    I simply cannot believe that Nobu London made the list. It certainly wouldn’t be my favorite Japanese restaurant. And I’m sure you know already, but Macaron is now closed. I was very depressed when I found out.

  18. Denise W April 24, 2008 at 4:38 am

    Can’t wait to see the guide! Many people don’t take the time and address issues they see with “systems” personally. Kudos. I’m sure it will be a beautifuly written and designed publication. Thanks for doing this!

  19. mef April 24, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Dear CH, I’m looking forward to the guide. What a stunning and fresh approach to the concept. It’s certainly time for an Asian guide-list. I hope there’s an opportunity to include Australia and NZ great restaurants as well. Congrats in advance, wish you and S every success. Perhaps a visit to kiwiland in future??

  20. keiko April 24, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Hi Aun, I saw the result of ‘the best 50′ the other day and felt exactly the same way (we can surely fill the 50 only with the places in Asia :)) Looking forward to the Miele guide, it sounds great. Hope you’re enjoying the trip – I’m not sure if I wanted to come along after knowing the crazy schedule ;) Take care!

  21. Wenaili April 25, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Why stop at 20? Asia has such diversified cuisines… surely 30 or even 50 restaurants shouldn’t be an issue?

  22. Chubby Hubby April 25, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Wenali: The Guide will list more than just 20 restaurants. But the top ranked 20 will be pulled out, ranked for all to see and each will be profiled in depth. The other restaurants will be categorized by country, city and cuisine. Their rankings will not be revealed but every restaurant has to receive a minimum number of votes in order to make it into the published book.

  23. Mark April 27, 2008 at 2:05 am

    It just doesn’t seem right to me that Europeans should be ranking Asian food and Asians ranking European food.

  24. Phil Pham April 27, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I agree with you whole heartedly about Asia being under represented as a whole. I will definitely be purchasing the guide when it comes out. Along with telling all my friends in Singapore.

  25. Mei April 27, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    This is a great idea & I would definitely like to see Asian restaurants & chefs get the recognition they deserved. Look forward to seeing what the guide has to offer.

  26. ladyironchef April 30, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    i saw the newspaper report on Miele guide. Well done : )

  27. Matthew May 2, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    I look forward to your new endevour and hope it is a great success.

    Restaurant magazine’s list always seems to include some very strange restaurants and the results always are skewed to a euro centric view point. But at least there is a asian perspective now and that can only grow I feel.

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