Worth the wok

Michelin launches Guangzhou restaurant guide


Where Cantonese food was born

What’s the next best city for dining out in China after Shanghai? According to vaunted French dining guide, the Michelin Guide, it’s Guangzhou, known to many as the capital of southern Chinese cooking.

To make their point, the guide launched its inaugural Guangzhou edition on June 28, which recognised 63 restaurants in the city as being worthy of your palate.

The Guangzhou guide is only the second edition for mainland China after the Shanghai guide, which was launched in September 2016. Michelin also publishes guides to Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei – having launched an ambitious Asian expansion plan two years ago.

Of the 63 Guangzhou restaurants, eight received a one-star rating, meant to denote “a very good restaurant in its category”. No restaurants were awarded two or three-stars, the latter the highest distinction given out by the guide.

Among the one star recipients are regional chains whose Hong Kong outlets already have Michelin stars, such as Lai Heen and Lei Garden, known for their doubled-boiled soups, crispy roasted pork belly and other Cantonese delicacies.

Others include crowd-favourites such as Jade River, located in the White Swan Hotel and known for its steamed sunflower seed-fed chicken, and the Mandarin Oriental’s Jiang, where steamed abalone with aged orange peel and roasted chickens from Hainan are served with delicate Chinese tea pairings in luxurious surroundings.

The guide also features 20 establishments in its ‘Bib Gourmand’ category, which recognises restaurants which serve high-quality food at affordable prices – that’s a meal of no more than Rmb200 ($30) in Guangzhou. Entries in this category include Tong Ji, a three decade-old, two-storey restaurant known for its steamed chicken, and contemporary Sichuan restaurant Ease in the city’s Tianhe business district.

Two special prizes were given out for the first time globally: Ze 8 received the Revitalised Cuisine Award for updating traditional Guangdong claypot rice with modern presentations, and Jian Ji received an award for its noodles (made in-house using the same recipe for more than half a century).

But as with every Michelin Guide launch, the Guangzhou edition is not without controversy.

Guangzhou-based restaurant critics were quick to point out that Michelin appeared to be “playing it safe” by awarding restaurants that already have stars in other cities, and that four out of the eight one-starred restaurants are in luxury hotels – and are expensive.

The Shanghai guide, too, was criticised at the time for only recognising high-end restaurants while showing little understanding of the local food culture. The guide’s only venue to receive three stars – an accolade only given to 100 restaurants around the world – was Tang Court, a restaurant known for Cantonese cuisine rather than Shanghainese food.

One critic, who runs the Restaurant Hunter food blog, said that the essence of Cantonese cuisine actually lies in its street food. “Good food [here] doesn’t mean sophistication. For Michelin, the stars are a very different standard for judging good food in Guangzhou,” she said.

“A dinner of Rmb3,000 or private kitchens can never match a drive for pork offal porridge in Panyu district, fish fresh from the ponds in Shunde city, or river food in the countryside,” said another food writer, Jiu Hang. “You might say food in Guangdong hasn’t caught up with international trends but why should we? Guangdong locals are just fine with the old-fashioned ways. Every Guangdong local has their own list.”

Still, industry players said that Michelin’s ratings – whether one agrees or disagrees with them – will help the city gain recognition beyond China as a global culinary destination on a par with New York, Paris and neighbouring Hong Kong.

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