Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008...4:46 pm
Getting What You Deserve
Before I get on with the rest of my holiday’s food-posting, I have something quite pressing I feel the need to talk about. Chubby Hubby has just announced The Miele Guide. I’d already heard about this project a while back, and while I applaud the intentions, there are some issues that I have with the premise in general.
All of us foodlovers who live and eat in Asia surely lament the fact that most restaurants worth their salt in Asia definitely don’t get enough recognition. Singapore, which is known as a “food hub” has but one restaurant in the top 100 list. Hong Kong, another food hub, has three. And where are Japan’s?
That said, it must be noted that there IS a reason why Singapore (and most of Asia) lags behind in this circuit.
The one thing that I found more outstanding (apart from the food) when I was (fine) dining in Europe over the past month was that the service in there just brilliantly outshone this region’s best efforts. I know that service and ambience are not actually part of the critical factors which come into play when a restaurant is being judged for guides like the Michelin one, but I think it’s a crucial part of the entire dining experience. There is only one restaurant in Singapore where I’ve received consistently excellent service – to a standard which is on par with the fine dining establishments in Europe. (For those interested, this particular Japanese restaurant has not made any lists in any food articles or magazines either.) Elsewhere, service is either rude, ignorant, intrusive, or just inept. In Hong Kong, an unspoken rule is that you’re in a “good” eating establishment because the service is so bad that they musn’t feel the need to suck up to patrons. (Obviously this applies more to the lower end of the price range.) Nonetheless, I think this disparity is really the biggest area in which we trail behind our Western counterparts.
And while there are a myriad of reasons which compound our conundrum, I think one of the reasons that may have led to the poorer standards overall has to do with the exceedingly low wages we pay our local staff (both in the kitchen and in the dining room), which, low as the market rate internationally may be, has really taken “cheap labour” to a new level. Job satisfaction (which includes a variety of factors including reimbursement for one’s efforts) is one reason to stay and if the staff stays, the restaurant runs like a well oiled machine. Without knowing that staff will stay on for a reasonable length of time, employers also won’t spend the effort in training their staff adequately.
One other glaring reason is that I find our local restaurants don’t seem to get their hands on produce that is good enough. Which is why we’ll find that the cities which are more recognized for their food (e.g. any Japanese city, Hong Kong, Sydney) all have stellar produce at arm’s reach, whereas we fail to catch up to them. The food we make is only as good as the ingredients we start with, and even a chef with the most magical touch cannot do anything that would save a piece of rotten fish. Of course that statement was slight hyperboly, but you get my point.
Obviously, there are many things that we can point to, and the blame-pushing game is one that could go on forever if we allow it. And don’t get me wrong – I do think it’s a good thing, what the Miele Guide aims to do. But with all this talk of food in the region, what with Singapore getting its Michelin guide (we don’t deserve it yet, as our best restaurants are still the Japanese ones which are nowhere near the standard of the ones in Tokyo), and what not, I just have this sinking feeling that many restaurants which don’t deserve it are going to get too much recognition.
Let me leave you with one thought: when was the last time you spoke of a “famous” restaurant in Singapore, which has been around for at least 5 years, but has never had the phrase “the standards have dropped” or “the food used to be so much better” attached to it? That’s right, hardly ever.
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