At the eve of its annual announcements, will the 4th edition of Michelin Guide Singapore serve to laud more worthy restaurants or confuse with more inexplicable choices in the food-mad Lion City?
Restaurant Zén head chef Tristan Farmer keeping his gaze on his kitchen with a smile.
For 4 years now the annual guide has been awarding restaurants in Singapore, leading to nods and decries by the general populace who take their chows very seriously. To date, one of the restaurant guide's most controversial move was to make the world's first Michelin starred hawkers out of Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Chicken Rice and Noodles and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles in its first Singaporean edition with consecutive listings over the next two guides. Last year, the publication also decided to add a 'Plates' system in addition to its Bib Gourmand listing, generating more confusion, and chagrin (for restaurant hopefuls) to a messy boil.
As the 17 September announcement looms ahead, the excitement is palpable, as is the yawn.
Chan Hon Meng became the first hawker in the world to receive a Michelin star in 2016, resulting in incredible queues at his Chinatown stall but much derision over the relevance of the 101 year old restaurant guide
As all in the entertainment industry knows, nothing keeps one at the edge of the seat like a nail-biting finish, with plenty of surprises and plot twists peppered in. If we cannot depend on Michelin Guide Singapore to deliver reality, we must at least expect an entertaining diversion. Here is our take on who should be in and out and why in the upcoming 4th edition of Michelin Guide Singapore.
Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant - Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel, 320 Orchard Rd, Singapore 238865
Delectable and inventive dim sums at Wan Hao by Chef Brian Wong
For years now we've been expecting Wan Hao to gain an entry into the guide, but somehow the celebrated Cantonese fine dining restaurant has fallen inexplicably out of the secretive inspectors' radar. Its current chef Brian Wong is one of the most inventive and promising Chinese chef to have emerged in this decade. Not only is Wong's classical approach to traditional Cantonese fares - fabulous dim sums, soups and braised dishes, faultless, he is probably the best amongst his peers in updating tastes and presentations to rekindle jaded palates. To be impressed by his baby abalone yam puff is a surety, up that with a bite of his traditional char siew bun - no frills just 'kung fu', and one is clear just how limited self-important guides can be sometimes.
Shang Palace, Shangri-La Singapore, 22 Orange Grove Rd, Singapore 258350
Chef Mok's Crispy Suckling pig at Shang Palace Singapore
Incredulity can quickly turn into exasperation when one considers how Mok Kit Keung, an illustrious 2 star chef from Summer Palace Kowloon, has been denied his rightful place in the local guide since his return to Singapore to helm the award winning restaurant in 2017. Needless to say, Mok is not only a talented Cantonese chef who knows ingredients and technicalities at the back of his hands, he is also a respected master of his field with frequent star-chef turns at other Shangri-La restaurants including the 1-star Summer Palace Paris. His signatures include expertly textured suckling pig and perfectly braised abalones, fish maws and sea cucumbers wonderfully incorporated into luxurious soups and elegant dishes.
Hai Tien Lo, Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard, Marina Square Singapore 039595
Deep fried stuffed sea cucumber by Chef Ben Zeng of Hai Tian Lo
Another old establishment recently revived by young blood, Hai Tien Lo may have moved down from its apex perch at the renovated Pan Pacific Singapore but its cuisine has recently set a new high with the appointment of another talented young chef Ben Zeng, who seems serious about updating the taste and look of old-time Cantonese classics at this award winning restaurant. Zeng brings with him over 25 years of experience honed from famed restaurants like Hakkasan Miami and Cassia at Capella Singapore and has made a name for himself with dishes that are traditional in taste but modern in conception. His crispy sea cucumber stuffed with minced pork served with a preserved vegetable sauce is a stand-out dish amidst some of the best dim sums served within the Marina Bay precincts.
Restaurant Zén, 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089855
A culinary odyssey awaits at the conceptually forward Restaurant Zén
If there is a sure bet on a straight entry in this year's Michelin Guide Singapore, it is this new entrant to the local fine dining scene. The Michelin Guide has an obvious fetish for chef pedigree (think Robuchon) and this Singaporean outpost of 3-star Swedish culinary paramount Restaurant Frantzén has a tick in all the right boxes. And it will be a recognition well deserved, for Restaurant Zén is delivering serious epicurean magic since it opened earlier this year, from its perfectly poised service squadron to its wonderfully conceptualised multiple-course food odyssey. The real question is whether it will be a 2-star or 3-star induction. If it is awarded with just a single star or nil at all, then the upcoming 4th edition will be deemed a 3-star fail.
Takayama, Downtown Gallery #01-09/106A Shenton Way, Singapore 068815
Matsutake mushroom with abalone, a lavish dish at Takayama
In a restaurant guide where nondescript sushi joints can be awarded 2 stars, it would be criminal if the uncommon talent of Chef Taro Takayama is left unrecognised. Adopting the 'Kappo-style' culinary refinements of Japan, the produce-rich Wakayama-born Takayama understands and works with the best seasonal ingredients in his menus and dishes out some of the island's best rendered Japanese cuisine, be it exquisitely prepared urchin or a perfectly simmered abalone. There is a studied precision in the melding of such simple yet exacting forms and flavours that grandly elevates this restaurant.
On Shaky Ground
Summer Palace, Regent Singapore, 1 Cuscaden Rd, Singapore 249715
Neither visually appetising nor tasty are many of the dishes at Summer Palace
It is a shame that Summer Palace, a 1 star Chinese restaurant since 2016, has been slipping in performance for quite some time now. Making news in 2018 after being penalised for a severe case of food poisoning involving 43 victims, a series of visits have also left us unimpressed. While presentation may not be the most important aspect of Cantonese cuisine, it does reflect the finesse and pride of the chef and establishment and the vibes at Summer Palace is nonchalance at best, with lacklustre plating conveying dishes more attuned to hearty than haute. At the very least, taste should be the consistent factor for a restaurant of such standing but alas, dishes like its glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf, along with other signature dishes, were alarmingly bland over our last visit. Chef Liu Ching Hai is an old-hand in the fine dining Chinese scene and this level of flips and flops really shouldn't warrant more recognition.
Ma Cuisine, 38 Craig Rd, Singapore 089676
Food is good at Ma Cuisine, yes, and even better with the wine, but is it fair to place a gastro-wine bar in the same league with some of Singapore's best restaurants?
Frenchmen Anthony Charmetant and Mathieu Escoffier made news last year when their gastro-wine bar was awarded 1 star in the 3rd edition of Michelin Guide Singapore. It was boasted that Ma Cuisine is the only gastro-wine bar in the Asia Pacific region with that honour and a sampling of their modern-classical French cuisine designed to complement their prized bottles did impress the palate. Within the context of food it was an honour rightfully bestowed but still, the novelty factor was just a tad jarring. A year after that distinction was conferred and we note how wine still takes precedence over food in the tiny gastro-pub, as steadfastly enthused by co-owner Charmetant. It would be interesting to watch if they can retain their star in this edition after their sparkling entry last year.
Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Chicken Rice & Noodles, 335 #02-126, Smith St, Complex Market & Food Centre, 050335
Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles, 466 Crawford Ln, #01-12, Singapore 190466
The food at Liao Fan is good but definitely not the best in Singapore's hawker scene. How then can one compare it to restaurants, and the country's top restaurants too?
If anyone ever doubted that these 2 hawkers were the marketing pitch at the launch of Michelin Guide Singapore in 2016, note that Singapore Tourism Board was then and is now still a 'Supporting Principal' of the restaurant guide. The honours for both stalls have been monumental, resulting in queues that snake unbelievably every day and a franchise deal said to be worth millions. If a hawker stall selling a dish can compete on the same platform with restaurants that proffer extensive menus of unparalleled complications, then the validity of this 'restaurant guide' is quite simply lost. Perhaps it's now a good time to bid adieu, because really, it is not just the superlative restaurants they don't match up to, but also the many other fabulous hawkers that are equally or more deserving of the honour that are unfairly kept at the gate. Just as apples are not oranges, hawker stalls should not be masquerading as restaurants.
Shisen Hanten, Mandarin Orchard Hotel, 333 Orchard Rd, Singapore 238867
The roast duck at Shisen Hanten tastes ordinary at best, as are most of the other dishes in its menu
Owner/ chef Chen Kentaro was flabbergasted that Shisen Hantan, his beautiful chandelier lit Szechuan restaurant, was awarded 2 star in the 1st Michelin Guide Singapore, and that surprise is easily surpassed by ours that it had retained that rating ever since. Essentially what is it about Shisen Hanten that no other Chinese restaurants in Singapore can match? Absolutely nothing we surmised, after many visits to the 2-star honouree. In fact, we think it is insulting that Michelin Guide Singapore would grade Shisen Hanten higher than all the other Chinese restaurants on the island, implying that its unstudied versions of Chinese classics like roast duck and braised abalone (which was tough as rubber tyres when we last visited) are better rendered than all others in Singapore, which is patently untrue. It is increasingly this sort of inexplicable choices across the region that beggars belief on the longevity and relevance of the Michelin Guide.