Gastro tourists may want to book flights to Singapore for the end of 2016.
Michael Ellis, international director of the hallowed restaurant guide Michelin Guides, has just announced it’ll publish a Singapore edition in the second half of next year.
A Michelin Singapore website, in collaboration with Robert Parker Wine Advocate, which is now headquartered in the city-state, will also be launched.
Michelin: From a tire company to a foodies’ bible
The revered little red book began life in France in 1900 as a hotel and restaurant guide for motorists — hence the link with a tire company.
A century later, chefs vie for one, two or — the pinnacle — three Michelin stars and foodies flock to the restaurants that have them.
Originally focused on Europe, there are now 25 guides across the world in cities including New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
A Michelin star (or three) guarantees an increase in customers for restaurants.
“There are tourists who plan their entire vacations around where they’re going to eat and I think we play a strong role in that,” says Ellis.
A place on Michelin Guide helps draw more visitors
Ellis adds that Michelin is often solicited by governments to launch in their cities, a sure sign of how important the guide its perceived in driving tourism.
“We think it’ll put Singapore’s restaurants on a worldwide platform and help draw more visitors,” says Melissa Ow, deputy chief executive of Singapore Tourism Board.
“A lot of restaurants in Singapore survive for factors other than their food,” says Ivan Brehm, head chef at top Singapore restaurant Bacchanalia and an alumnus of the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck in the UK.
“To have someone objective evaluating things like consistency, taste, creativity, outside of an establishment’s marketing efforts and Wagyu usage seems refreshing.”
Street food or no street food?
With its heritage in classic French cooking, Michelin has been criticized by the foodie community in Hong Kong for not understanding the local cuisine.
In Singapore it faces a diverse mix of Chinese, Malaysian, Peranakan (a mix of Chinese and Malay) and Indonesian food as well as restaurants by internationally famous chefs including the most Michelin-starred chef in the world, Joel Robuchon.
Restaurateur Loh Lik Peng is the backer behind acclaimed chefs Jason Atherton (a Gordon Ramsay protege) and Andre Chang’s restaurants in Singapore.
“I’m not really sure what the reviewers from France will make of our local restaurants and tze char [‘cook and fry’] street food,” Peng says.
Yet in the latest Hong Kong guide, Michelin has included a section on street food.
With hawker stalls being so prevalent in the Lion City, it may well do the same for Singapore.
“We don’t try to second guess our inspectors but with the hawker food scene being so vibrant here I’d be surprised if it didn’t feature strongly in the guide,” says Ellis, who says he’s a fan of local signature dish, Chili Crab.
Street food purists question how hawker fare can be assessed by international inspectors.
Fine dining chef Brehm is also skeptical.
“Michelin should, in my opinion, stay clear from the coffee shop and hawker stall culture,” says Brehm.
“These run deep in the makeup of Singaporean society and any unnecessary polemic could undermine the guide’s overall relevance.”
Previously, it’s been assumed the Michelin Guide hadn’t launched in Singapore because the market wasn’t big enough.
Peng believes it’s still a relatively small pool.
“I think (the Michelin inspectors) will need to ensure the right quality to maintain credibility so the top end restaurants able to command three stars might be a small number.”
We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.