How my best-of restaurant lists came off second best

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:47pm


A couple of months ago I received an e-mail from an editor at The Guardian in London, asking me to write two pieces for its website about where to eat in Hong Kong - one on the top 10 high-end restaurants, the other focusing on cheaper places. It's not easy to come up with lists like these. For both pieces, I wrote down all the places I wanted to include, and, after much thought, narrowed it down to 10.

After sending the pieces to the editor, he replied, asking for changes to the feature on high-end restaurants. He didn't want to include Robuchon au Dome, which is fair enough as it's in Macau, although I argued that as it deservedly has three Michelin stars, a one-hour ferry ride isn't an arduous trip to make for such delicious food.

But also nixed were Caprice at the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Grill at the Mandarin Oriental. I was told that they were too high-end and glitzy for Guardian readers.

I explained that people in Hong Kong eat in hotels because that's where some of the best high-end dining is. The editor said he understood, but wanted other restaurants anyway. I sent a list of possible substitutions, asking him to choose, so I wouldn't write up the pieces only to have them vetoed. While Cepage in Wan Chai was dismissed as being too far away from the more established restaurant areas, Fook Lam Moon - also in Wan Chai and even farther from Central - was accepted.

I'm giving all this detail to help explain why 'best of' lists aren't always really the best of. They are, in fact, the top choices according to a set of predefined parameters, not all of which the reader is aware of.

All of the restaurants that ended up in the feature were in my top 20, but not necessarily in my original 10 best. (Apart from Fook Lam Moon, the substitutes are secret.)

With restaurants such as these, there's a fine line between what makes No10 and No11.

The inexpensive restaurant list proved less controversial. That was probably because these places receive less publicity from overseas readers. I admit to including a couple of places that are not cheap (ABC Kitchen in Sheung Wan and Under Bridge Spicy Crab, each of which would run to HK$300 and more for a full dinner).

I put them in the feature because they're great 'unique experiences'. Where else but Hong Kong would you go into a brightly lit cooked food centre for quality Western food, as with ABC Kitchen? As for Under Bridge, typhoon shelter crabs were created here. All the restaurants in that category provide good experiences, although not necessarily because of the food, but they're places that every tourist should try for a taste of local culture.