Black Pearl - China's own 'Michelin guide'

SHANGHAI • Two years after Michelin debuted its famed restaurant guide on the Chinese mainland, China's online-to-offline service platform Meituan-Dianping has launched its own restaurant guide.

Dubbed the Black Pearl, the list recommends 330 restaurants from 27 cities known as culinary destinations. Five of the cities are overseas including New York, Paris and Tokyo.

Twenty-eight of the restaurants, each awarded three diamonds, were described by the guide as "must try once in a lifetime".

Of the rest, 85 restaurants received two diamonds (must try on an occasion) and 217 were given one diamond (must try for a casual gathering).

The restaurants, on average, charge 677 yuan (S$139) per head.

"Black Pearl is not trying to be the Chinese version of the Michelin guide, but aims to be a world-class list compiled by Chinese and for Chinese palates," said Mr Zhang Chuan, vice-president of Meituan-Dianping, headquartered in Shanghai.

"The differences between Chinese and Western cuisines not only lie between forks and chopsticks, long tables and lazy Susans, but deep in the roots of culinary culture," Mr Zhang added.

The platform started in 2003 as a restaurant review website, from which it takes its name meaning "public review".

For the guide, each nominated restaurant was reviewed by at least three judges. About 200 anonymous judges, one-third of whom are chefs, signed up for the selection process.

The meals were paid for either by the website or the judges themselves. None of the judges were paid for the reviews.

"It takes passion, cash and patience to create a guide like this. And we are not planning to make money from it," said Meituan-Dianping chief executive Wang Xing.

With more than 250 million active users and listings of seven million restaurants and shops in 2,800 Chinese cities, the platform generated transactions worth 360 billion yuan last year.

Among the 28 three-diamond restaurants, five are located in Shanghai, where Michelin launched its inaugural guide in 2016. Three restaurants in the Meituan-Dianping guide overlap with the 2017 Michelin guide.

A report released by the China Cuisine Association this week showed that the country's 1.37 billion population spent more than 3.9 trillion yuan eating out at restaurants last year, up 10.7 per cent year on year. The amount is larger than the gross domestic product of developed countries such as Sweden and Belgium, according to World Bank figures in 2016.

The report also said that Chinese cuisine still dominates the plates of Chinese people when they dine out, accounting for 57 per cent of the money spent.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Black Pearl - China's own 'Michelin guide''. Print Edition | Subscribe