Recently when in Hong Kong, I made my way to Tim Ho Wan, touted as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. No matter what time of the day one gets there, one will inevitably be made to wait for a good part of an hour before a table can be allotted. While one waits, one decides what to eat by putting a cross against what they wish to order on a sheet of paper, which has the menu listed and about five numbers before yours is due to be called, they collect this from you and submit it to the kitchen. Sure, you can order to add dishes later, but this is an efficient way to cut down waiting time. Considering the amount most people spend waiting to be seated, I think it is a smart idea. The meal will cost no more than a thousand rupees a head (and yes the famous pork bun is to indeed die for), but is it really worthy of one Michelin star, frankly I don’t know.
I went to a hotel school in France where a Michelin star is brighter than any star in the night sky, and to receive one is greater honour than being born. One can only imagine then what being elevated to two or three stars in the guide can mean. A 3-star Michelin chef is something of a demi-god, as lauded as the soldier who toils hard to protect the country. These were the original celebrities, not the kind one fawns over on that culinary MasterChef crap.
But somewhere, the guide seemed to have gone elitist, and hence distanced itself from the common consumer. People who know the posh places don’t really need the guide and potential buyers were seeming to stay away due to the type of restaurants that were being listed: usually expensive. And so it seems that while approaching Asia (excluding Japan of course) there has been a conscious decision to go affordable, to disregard service and other gastro-accoutrements to simply reward flavour and food. Trouble is, this now sits in stark contrast to how the stars were meted out in France and the rest of Europe.
Obviously this would weaken the Michelin stance and in its wake, many other guides and awards have popped up and found growing relevance: Miele guide, Pellegrino awards—but these too have their own share of taint with dubious awards and inexplicably high rankings.
But I still hold these guides in higher reverence than anything online claiming to be democratic and hence ‘fair ’(Zomato being a good case in point) as the trained opinion of a food critic carries more weight than the ignorant rant of a suburban family man who had one bad experience.
So what is one to do: listen to the guides or to friends (and friends of friends on Facebook)? Who can truly guarantee us a good dining out option? The answer, as with most things philosophical, lies within us. We should go with our instincts and base it on educated analyses and intuitive deductions. And then, we should cross our fingers and hope to have some good ol’ luck.