Destination India could be next for Michelin guides (Eating Out With IANS)

December 12th, 2010 - 11:20 am ICT by IANS  

By Suvendu Banerjee
Hong Kong, Dec 12 (IANS) When a French tyre company last week announced a $1-billion factory in Chennai it evoked a lot of interest among food enthusiasts and writers in India. What’s the link between a French tyre company and food, one may ask! The answer is in the company’s name — the $20-billion Michelin.This group is equally famous for its “Red Guide” that rates chefs and eateries, capable of giving those who run them nightmares or sweet dreams, depending on how they’ve been evaluated. So far, India — though not Indian cuisine, per se — has been outside the company’s rating radar. But the tyre factory raises hope.

Not that Michelin hasn’t rated Indian restaurants! Last week gave a perfect opportunity on this subject during a visit to Hong Kong for the launch of the third edition of the city’s Michelin Guide of Restaurants and Hotels at the trendy East Hotel.

Apart from an opportunity to savour the best of cuisines, including some great Indian fare, at some dozen-odd Michelin-rated restaurants, it also helped bust some myths behind the stars. One also got to see intense reactions to winning the stars, getting promoted, or, to the absolute horror for some, losing the ratings.

An interesting feature certainly was the rating of Indian restaurants. Many Michelin-star restaurants serving Indian food around the globe have been unable to retain their stars even if they managed to get one in the first place after some tough and discreet inspections.

Hin Ho Curry was the first Indian restaurant to receive a Michelin star in Hong Kong. Chef Laxman Subedi, who has been on the staff for over 15 years, works hard to keep the traditional tastes of Indian curries alive, and also adapts them deftly to cater to the local palette.

Bombay Dreams is another true Indian restaurant and a part of Dining Concepts, which has several eateries under its roof including BLT, a traditional American diner — named, perhaps, after the famous “bacon, lettuce, and tomato” sandwich. Chef Ahmed Qureshi cooks up many Indian delicacies from Kurkure Khumb, button mushrooms filled with crispy cottage cheese, to Murg Tikka Methi Malai, creamy fenugreek leaf-flavoured chicken kebabs, and outstanding desserts.

This is also the place to eat if one has Indian curry cravings. It has just been listed under the “Bib Gourmand” category of the Michelin Guide — a rating that promises good food at moderate prices. Sandip Gupta, chief operating officer, says he is very focused on maintaining the high standards of cuisine.

A bit about Bib Gourmand. Since 1955, Michelin has been awarding this rating - taken from Bibendum, the nickname for Michelin Man, the group’s corporate logo for over a century. Such restaurants must offer items priced below a ceiling, determined by local economic standards.

Tandoor is another authentic Indian restaurant with a wide variety for buffet — from crisp dosas to succulent kebabs and outstanding luchha parathas. Restaurant manager V.K. Sasi takes pride in its 20-year legacy. It was the only Indian restaurant listed in the Bib Gourmand category last year.

The visit also gave an opportunity to dig into some great dim sums at a crowded one-star restaurant at Mongkok in Kowloon Peninsula, as also enjoy the food at Tim Ho Wan — easily the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants, spending all of Rs.175 on a two-course meal with the therapeutic oolong tea flowing.

Also on this foodie’s gourmet circuit was a classy two-star French restaurant Petrus at the Island Shangri-La Hotel and the exquisite three-star Lung King Heen Cantonese restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel where the wait for a table can stretch to eight weeks!

The common factor among all of them was they were chosen by Michelin guide for consistently serving good food time and again and of course the quality of cuisine.

There were some other interesting experiences. The Four Seasons property in Hong Kong is the only hotel in the world with two three-star Michelin restaurants — Lung King Heen and Caprice. Also Sun Tung Lok, a Cantonese restaurant famous for its shark fin soup, broke into the monopoly to bag the first three-star rating to a non-hotel restaurant. The sea cucumber and oxtail with skin are highly recommended.

There is also a major advantage of staying at the two Shangri-La Hotels in Hong Kong, since you get to dine at several Michelin-starred restaurants. The Island Shangri-La also has the largest Chinese silk painting in the world “The Great Motherland of China” placed in the Atrium between the 41st and 56th floors.

Breakfast at the Michelin-starred Petrus — named after a wine, hence the well-appointed cellar — is a good way to begin. The fluffy omelette with zucchini compost and the shirred egg with goose liver and truffle sauce are not to be missed.

Over lunch at Shang Palace in Kowloon Shangri-La that first opened in Singapore in 1974, one must dig into the house speciality, the dim-sum platter and pickled ginger and marinated beef shank for appetisers. The brazed fillet of coral trout with diced ginger and water chestnut and brazed pea sprouts with hairy crabmeat and roe are the other seasonal delicacies.

The Shangri-La hotels also are an international ambassador for Chinese cuisine at its very best, and they already have a property in mid-town Delhi. This trip revealed that they have plans for another in Mumbai next year.

The chat with Jean-Luc Naret, director of Michelin Guides, raised another hope. “It is important to remember Michelin Guide is an integral part of our Michelin Group. A guide on a new region is necessarily aligned with our group’s overall expansion.”

Naret would say no further. Yet, reading between the lines, one could get that feeling that destination India could be next for Michelin Guides. The $1-billion Chennai factory holds that hope.

(Suvendu Banerjee is president and chief executive of Business Images, a public relations and image management consultancy. He can be reached at suvendu@businessimages.info)

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