Last month, I was once again a judge for Restaurant magazine's annual list of the world's 50 best restaurants. The organisers have been refining the voting system since they opened it to international panellists, in 2006. They've also realised that voters in different parts of the world have varying perceptions of what makes a place the "best". It's generally agreed that we in Asia are primarily concerned with the food, while in Europe and America dining out is seen as an "experience", where the service and ambience are just as important as what's on the plate.
As with past years, we were given strict voting parameters. We were allowed to nominate seven restaurants, only four of which could be within our own region (which, in my case, covers Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan). It was also a requirement that you must have visited the nominated restaurants within the past 18 months - so, much depends on the judges' recent travels.
As per usual, though, I had a dilemma about how to vote. The restaurants I voted for outside the region had all been nominated by other panellists. I know this because when I started typing in their names on the voting website, the system auto-filled in the details - not just the name of the restaurant but also the country and region fields.
Hong Kong restaurants were less known, though. With one place I nominated, I had to complete the details myself - which made me realise that I was the first person (and would be, therefore, quite possibly the only person) to vote for that restaurant. I was in a quandary - is it a waste of a vote if I'm the only one choosing that particular restaurant? Should I try to guess what restaurants other voters in this region might be nominating and also pick them, in the hope that more places here make it onto the final list? (We're forbidden from colluding with other voters but, even if we weren't, I wouldn't consult with anyone.)
I'm well aware that this isn't a life-or-death decision and that whatever restaurants make it onto the 2014 list are of interest to only a very select few. But that didn't stop me from vacillating, wondering if I should give my vote to a more popular restaurant.
In the end, I stuck to my own nomination, knowing that it's an excellent establishment and hoping that others will - eventually - realise this, too.