A New Culinary Standard for Asia

By Sascha Koh
For The Bali Times

SINGAPORE ~ What are Asia’s best restaurants? This is the question currently being posed by the team behind Asia’s newest restaurant guide.

The Miele Guide, sponsored by high-end German cooking and domestic appliance manufacturer Miele and published by Singapore-based media firm Ate Media, is being heralded as the first independent restaurant guide covering this region.

“By independent, we mean that at no point in putting together this book will any person associated with it accept any free meals,” explains one of the guide’s founders, Ms Tan Su-Lyn.

Tan, a well-known food writer was most recently the managing editor of the ASEAN-commissioned cookbook Inside the Southeast Asian Kitchen. Between 2002-2004, she was the editor in charge of Singaporean food magazine Wine & Dine. Tan also says, “We have made a commitment that The Miele Guide will not accept any advertising or sponsorship from any restaurant in Asia. We have done this in order to maintain the integrity of the guide and its rankings and results.”

The inaugural edition of The Miele Guide, which is being launched on November 1 this year, will evaluate restaurants in 16 countries in Asia: Brunei, Cambodia, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Evaluation, though, explains Tan, does not mean inclusion. “We have set up a four-stage evaluation process to determine which restaurants make it into the finished book. At the end of the day, only those restaurants that get a set minimum number of votes will appear in the finished book. This means that if no restaurants in a specific country are able to get the required minimum, then we will have to drop that country from this year’s edition.”

The Miele Guide’s process may seem a tad confusing when you first hear it, but Ms Pauline Ooi, the guide’s associate publisher, contends, “When you think about it, it make perfect sense. The first round gathers input from 84 of Asia’s most influential and respected restaurant critics. In this round, we have asked each journalist to nominate what he or she believes are the best 20 restaurants in his or her own country. This forms a shortlist of possible best restaurants in Asia.

“The second round is a public vote. This vote runs from May 15 to the end of July 2008, via our website, www.mieleguide.com. Voters will be asked to cast their votes for a specific number of restaurants from their own countries and a larger number of restaurants from outside their own countries. If a voter wants to nominate a restaurant that does not appear on the shortlist, he or she may do so. In addition, a selected jury of respected foodies and food and wine professionals across Asia will be invited to place their votes for the third round of judging. The final evaluation will be made by The Miele Guide’s in-house editorial team and contributing editors who will visit all of the top-ranked restaurants anonymously in order to verify the voting results.”

The 2008/2009 edition of The Miele Guide will list approximately 300 restaurants in the region. These will be categorized by country, city and cuisine. Each listing will contain important information on the restaurants plus short descriptions of the food, service and space. In addition to these country lists, the guide will be rather controversially publishing a ranked list of Asia’s Top 20 Restaurants. Each of these restaurants will be profiled in great detail.

While putting together The Miele Guide seems like a huge challenge for Tan and her team, it was something she felt was a necessity for our region. She explains, “The rationale behind The Miele Guide is quite simple actually. We are putting this guide together because our region still does not have a comprehensive Asian standard across which our restaurants can be judged and through which our very best restaurants can get the recognition that they richly deserve. Sadly, while we have many restaurants that many of my peers and I believe are as good as any of those in the West, the avenues through which these restaurants can be publicized are still very limited. The reality is that even our very best restaurants are often ignored by the rest of the world.

“What we are hoping to do, through The Miele Guide, is raise the profile of Asia’s top restaurants and to make them as well known as their counterparts overseas. In simple terms, we’re endeavoring to draw attention to the culinary richness of Asia as a region. A present, there is no credible Asia-wide restaurant guide which Asian food lovers consider a benchmark reflective of our region’s taste, culture and collective culinary standards. Our hope and goal is that The Miele Guide can set that standard.”

So will any of Bali’s restaurants make their way into the 2008/2009 edition of The Miele Guide? It appears that the answer very much depends on you, on whether you go to www.mieleguide.com and vote for those restaurants you think are truly deserving. And if enough of us do, maybe come November, some of our dining establishments will be on everybody’s lips. And when someone asks if you know what Asia’s best restaurants are, you’ll be able to answer confidently, “Of course, because I helped vote for them.”

 Sascha Koh is an Australian writer based in Singapore.

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