Dismay over eateries that were not represented

Winners at the Michelin awards ceremony at Resorts World Sentosa on Thursday.
Winners at the Michelin awards ceremony at Resorts World Sentosa on Thursday. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The first Michelin Guide for Singapore was launched on Thursday night at Resorts World Sentosa with much pomp and flair, but the reactions from industry players have been measured at best.

At the gala dinner, most attendees described the winners as "expected" but lamented the lack of representation of young Singaporean talent such as Bjorn Shen of Artichoke in Middle Road and Petrina Loh of Morsels in Mayo Street.

Also missing from the list, to the dismay of many guests in attendance, were well-known restaurants Iggy's at the Hilton Singapore, National Kitchen at the National Gallery and Wild Rocket at Mount Emily.

For industry insiders, the relatively few restaurants awarded one star - 22 in total - seemed to raise the question: How do the Michelin inspectors know where to go and are they given a shortlist beforehand?

Mr Andrew Tjioe, 57, executive chairman of the Tung Lok Group of restaurants and president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, said he was surprised by the eventual number of one-star establishments.

I feel that the selection is rather small, especially when you consider how many restaurants Singapore has and the diversity of our food scene here.

MR ANDREW TJIOE, executive chairman of the Tung Lok Group of restaurants

"I feel that the selection is rather small, especially when you consider how many restaurants Singapore has and the diversity of our food scene here," he said. "To be honest, I was expecting double the number of one-star awards."

Co-founder of the Ate Group, Mr Aun Koh, 43, also talked about the need for Michelin inspectors to visit a wide range of restaurants in a country as gastronomically expansive as Singapore.

"Given the history of the Michelin Guide and the number of readers it attracts, it's important for them to really inspect very widely," he said.

"I for one was surprised by the inclusion of hawker stalls in the list. While the food might be very good, the dining experience is very different from that of a restaurant."

Food and beverage consultant Mr Francis Poulose, 48, also seemed surprised by the categorisation of the restaurants, noting that there was barely any representation of Italian food on the list and that the overall guide "hardly served as a barometer of the diversity of the food scene that Singapore has to offer."

For chefs such as Loh, 33, and Shen, 34, the results led to questions about whether they had even been inspected in the first place.

Loh said: "I don't think the inspectors came to visit us but secondary to that, I definitely think there are a lot of excellent casual, mid-range restaurants in Singapore and they were not represented on the list."

Shen also said he did not think he had been inspected but added that he was very proud of fellow chefs such as Julien Royer of French restaurant Odette and Malcolm Lee of Peranakan restaurant Candlenut for making it onto the list.

"I think I am most proud of the fact that people thought we should have been on the list," he said.

"Because to be honest, I wasn't harbouring hopes or yearning to be selected - just making my customers happy is all the validation I need."

Still, he was more measured when asked about the long-term impact of the Michelin Guide on Singapore's culinary scene.

He said of the guide: "I feel that in Asian countries, where paper qualifications and glamour are rather prized, the intention of the list - which is to be taken as an objective guide - may be lost.

"I fear that in the long run, culinary school graduates may push to join Michelin restaurants regardless of whether they really want to work there or whether the cuisine or ethos of the restaurant speaks to them."

Others, such as chef Low of Wild Rocket, agreed with the sentiment, saying he hoped chefs here would not end up pandering to what they think is necessary to make it onto the list.

"Personally, I'm going to continue to do what I've been doing for 11 years, which is to provide the best experiences for my guests," he said.

"It's more than just working towards a star because recognition should always just be a bonus - just a pat on the back."

Also raised was the concern that landlords may raise rents on unsuspecting new Michelin awardees. But to that end, Mr Tjioe was more optimistic.

He said: "I don't anticipate rent increases as it would only be sensible for landlords to try and keep these tenants instead of driving them away.

"I actually hope that the reverse happens - that tenants ask their landlords for a lower rent, now that they've won a Michelin star!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2016, with the headline 'Dismay over eateries that were not represented'. Print Edition | Subscribe