Publication is expected to help Taiwan’s outstanding restaurants achieve a higher profile internationally and boost tourism.
Epicureans with an affinity for Chinese food have long appreciated Taipei’s culinary offerings. The Taiwanese capital has a rich variety of Chinese eateries, from no-frills street stalls specializing in scallion pancake to elegant Cantonese hotel restaurants.
Compared to neighboring high-profile cities like Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore, Taipei has flown under the radar as a foodie destination. That hopefully will change with the publication of the Taipei Michelin Guide – in both Chinese and English – in the spring of 2018.
For Taiwan’s talented chefs, the guide will offer a “valuable opportunity” to show their “professional capability to the rest of the world,” said Michelin spokesman Bruno de Feraudy at a November press conference.
Taipei will be the 30th market covered by the storied French guide to fine dining, which has been published by the French tire company for over a century, but only recently began devoting attention to Asia. In 2007, Michelin entered Asia with a guide to Tokyo. In 2009, it released a Hong Kong guide, and in 2016 expanded to Seoul, Singapore, and Shanghai.
Michelin inspectors are currently busy exploring Taipei eateries in preparation for publication of the guide. The inspectors visit restaurants anonymously and pay for their own meals – on the company’s dime, of course. But Michelin inspectors never reveal their identities to eateries ahead of dining; staying anonymous allows them to be objective and is one of the reasons gourmets take the guides seriously.
Restaurants are evaluated based on ingredient quality and food preparation, mastery of flavor and culinary techniques, the chef’s “personality” as seen in his cooking, the consistency of the food and service, and value for money.
The objective for restaurants is not just to be listed but – as has been the case since 1936 –to also earn a star ranking. According to the published criteria, a restaurant receiving one star is “a very good restaurant in its category” and two stars denotes “excellent cooking, worth a detour.” The maximum three-star rating means that the restaurant features “exceptional cuisine” and is “worth a special journey.”
Achieving a three-star ranking is extremely difficult. In Shanghai, for instance, just two establishments have that distinction: the fine-dining Cantonese restaurant T’ang Court in the Peninsula Hotel and Ultraviolet, an avant-garde private dining “experience” created by French chef Paul Pairet.
The criteria for two stars are slightly less demanding. Still, few restaurants in Asia outside of Japan – whose dining establishments especially impress Michelin – have been accorded that ranking. There are 14 two-starred Michelin restaurants in Hong Kong and four in Macau.
Restaurants that receive two or three stars tend to be outstanding in all respects, notes Achim von Hake, general manager of the Sherwood Taipei and a veteran of the Asia hospitality industry. “It’s possible to be a simple restaurant with excellent food and receive one star,” he observes. “To earn two or three stars, though, the cooking and presentation should be more innovative and refined.”
That said, the rating system is rather subjective. For instance, von Hake visited a no-frills noodle shop in Hong Kong that has one Michelin star to see what the fuss was all about. He said the noodle soup was good, but not what he expected from a restaurant with a Michelin star. “The Michelin inspectors must have had a better experience,” he says.
Nevertheless, for Taiwan, the Michelin Guide will be a useful promotional tool, he says. “It will be a way for travelers to benchmark Taipei with other markets in the region.”
At the November press conference, Eric Lin, director of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s International Affairs Division, said that the arrival of the Michelin Guide in Taipei shows that the city’s food is on par with other culinary destinations across the United States, Europe, and Asia. “It should help to attract more foodies and increase interest in Taiwan,” he said. “We expect it will give a boost to the overall tourism industry.”