How the launch of the Michelin Guide shook up Singapore's food scene

Launch of Michelin Guide here turned hawkers into stars but not all foodies were thrilled

The 116-year-old Michelin Guide might seem an unlikely disruptor, but the launch of its Singapore edition in July certainly shook up the food and beverage scene here.

It turned hawker Chan Hon Meng, 51, of one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, into the most unlikely overnight celebrity.

Last month, he partnered F&B company Hersing Culinary to open an air-conditioned restaurant called Hawker Chan in Smith Street. There are more branches - here and overseas - to come. He also made international headlines for being part of Tiger Beer's pop-up restaurant Tiger Streats in Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Auckland and New York. It ended on Dec 18.

In Sydney, for example, Mr Chan collaborated with chef Guillaume Galliot from Macau's two-Michelin-starred The Tasting Room, and in New York, he worked with chef Christopher Kostow of three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood in California's Napa Valley, on meals.

The other Michelin-starred hawker stall, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane, however, has not jumped on the publicity bandwagon, although queueing time has gone up to two hours for its signature bak chor mee, instead of about an hour before.

Mr Chan Hon Meng, whose stall was awarded one Michelin star, became an unlikely overnight celebrity both here and abroad. ST FILE PHOTO

All the hawker stalls and zi char eateries listed in the Bib Gourmand category have also experienced the "Michelin effect" - getting swamped with long queues of diners.

However, not everything has been good.

Many hawkers were bewildered, especially those who were clueless about the guide and realised what they had achieved only after being interviewed by The Straits Times.

Diners were equally puzzled when the list was published online - it was riddled with spelling mistakes and inaccurate addresses. It called into question the effort - or lack thereof - put into curating the Bib Gourmand list, which many argued did not truly represent Singapore's diverse food scene.

Other diners, however, went online to express relief that their favourite stalls were not listed.

The industry was also abuzz with talk about chefs receiving calls prior to the ceremony to inform them of the number of stars they had garnered.

Foodies wondered about the bumper crop of stars awarded to restaurants in Michelin host venue and partner Resorts World Sentosa.

Chefs were already on edge late last year when rumours went around that the Michelin inspectors were in town. There will be even more pressure for restaurants to retain or gain stars in the second edition of the guide.

Since then, the ripples have continued. One-Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant Candlenut moved to Como Dempsey last month, and Bib Gourmand-rated zi char restaurant New Ubin Seafood has opened at new premises in Hillview Avenue. One-Michelin-starred French-Japanese restaurant Beni played musical chairs with its starless sister restaurant Hashida Sushi at Mandarin Gallery by swopping premises. Hashida Sushi re-opened in July, and Beni re-opened on Dec 19.

Popular zi char restaurant JB Ah Meng on the Bib Gourmand list closed its alley-way premises two weeks ago and will move to 534, Geylang Road in the new year. One-Michelin-starred Shinji by Kanesaka at the soon-to-be-refurbished Raffles Hotel serves its last meal on Feb 4, and on March 2 opens at its new home at Carlton Hotel, across the street.

Former Fat Duck chefs Ivan Brehm and Mark Ebbels of one-Michelin-starred The Kitchen at Bacchanalia have left the restaurant. So it is up to the new head chef, Australia-born Luke Armstrong, who earned his stripes in Michelin-starred restaurants overseas, to retain the star or gain more.

Restaurants with no stars are also upping the ante with new menus or revamped spaces. Earlier this year, French restaurants Iggy's at The Hilton Singapore and Saint Pierre at One Fullerton hired new chefs with Michelin pedigree.

Chefs were already on edge late last year when rumours went around that the Michelin inspectors were in town. There will be even more pressure for restaurants to retain or gain stars in the second edition of the guide.

Of course, some restaurateurs, such as American celebrity chef Mario Batali of Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands, take it all with a huge pinch of salt. His restaurants in New York and Los Angeles have Michelin stars, but his Singapore one does not.

During a recent visit to Singapore, the outspoken chef, tongue firmly in cheek, said: "If I'm on your list, then it's the most important list. If I'm not, then no one reads the... list. The Michelin Guide is important, but it is also about selling books."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Stars and gripes'. Print Edition | Subscribe