Last week, the results of the 2021 Michelin guide to restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau were released. Included were the usual suspects – Amber (still at two stars), Caprice and Lung King Heen (both at the Four Seasons Hong Kong hotel) with three, and Tim Ho Wan with one. There were some nice upgrades (Tate and L’Envol going from one to two stars), some places Michelin missed out on (most notably Mono), and also a few newcomers, including Ando, The Araki, and my favourite Chinese restaurant, The Chairman, which was inexplicably excluded from the starred portion of the guide for the past few years. With the results came the criticism: how could Michelin even think about giving stars in times like these, when restaurants in Hong Kong are dealing with evening closures and fewer people dining out? This will probably happen everywhere Michelin is releasing its 2021 guides (they are bypassing places that are especially hard hit). I also expect to hear the same criticism when the 2021 list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants is released in March. This is one of those situations that has no chance of pleasing everyone. I can understand those who say that it’s not a good time for any publication to be reviewing restaurants – at least the extremely critical, no-holds barred reviews. (None of mine were like that – if I really disliked a place, I didn’t write about it, but in any case, I stopped the review columns for the South China Morning Post ’s Lifestyle pages last April). Critics say that because Michelin gives most of its stars to high-end places, it is catering only to the millionaires and billionaires of the world, when it is the cheaper establishments that are suffering. Unfortunately, the suffering is across the board – starred restaurants are closing, too. It’s true that most of the one-, two- and three-star establishments are expensive (although Michelin always makes a big deal of it when it gives a star to a cheaper place). But that doesn’t mean Michelin shouldn’t write about them. As with every other business that is still open, these places are keeping staff employed – and isn’t that a good thing? Business brisk as Hong Kong dine-in ban lifted, but restaurants still feeling pinch Critics say that Michelin’s and other lists should be helping out these smaller restaurants. But how? Donate their review budget to the needy? That would be nice, but honestly, how far will that go? It’s not like Michelin has such deep pockets that it can afford to subsidise every establishment – and if you can’t do it for everyone, how do you decide which one benefits? Isn’t that the job of respective governments, to provide debt relief and alleviate unemployment? I’ve criticised Michelin many times in the past, and I am still puzzled by how seemingly arbitrary they are when they award their stars. But this year, they didn’t have a huge, celebrity-filled event where they invited every other food writer and blogger to feast on rare foods and expensive wines, and chefs waited with bated breath to see how many stars they would receive. It wasn’t a fun-filled celebration: it was simply an announcement: these restaurants are in the guide. For those not directly involved (ie, not a chef or restaurateur) it’s not as exciting as when it’s a live, in-person countdown, but the subdued nature seems right for these times.