A Gourmet Odyssey through Michelin Star Restaurants in Southeast Asia
Come with us on a starry gourmet odyssey as we dine at some of the leading restaurants by celebrity chefs around the region.
The Shining Stars in Japan
Asia might have previously flown under the radars of the Western-centric judges behind the Michelin Guide, but their ‘inspectors’ have certainly been making up for lost time.
Japan is way out in front leading the charge, with Tokyo now holding the record for the most Michelin-starred joints in the world. While its culinary star might shine the brightest, many people actually see Osaka as Japan’s real cuisine capital. Known by many as the nation’s kitchen, the sheer choice of dishes served up in this city stagger the mind (and the stomach). A good place to start is with one of the four three-star venues that call Osaka home.
Michelin-Star Restaurants in Osaka
What better way to begin than with a visit to the luxury ryotei restaurant Kashiwaya, situated on the outskirts of the city. Decked out in the style of a traditional teahouse, head chef and owner Hideaki Matsuo treats lucky diners to a seasonal multi-course kaiseki-style meal, which blends traditional techniques with fresh local ingredients and contemporary flavours.
For something less traditional (and a little more humble), head for the delicate offerings at seafood restaurant Koryu. Its menu often features an inventive twist by its creative chef, Shintaro Matsuo – the sashimi is the standout.
Another option is Taian, which specialises in char-grilled dishes. Everything is good here, but chef Hitoshi Takahata’s spare ribs, which he marinates in red wine, honey and spices, are heavenly.
To finish your tour of Osaka’s three-star treats, try the flamboyant and innovative dishes at family-run Fujiya 1935. Chef Tetsuya Fujiwara studied in Europe, bringing those influences to bear on his modern menu. He showcases the very best of seasonal Japanese produce, from a single radish to a delicately cooked pine mushroom. Fujiya 1935 is particularly famous for its unique melt-in-your-mouth sponge bread, though its other inventive desserts are pretty special as well.
Hong Kong’s Hot Tables
If you can tear yourself away from the delights of Osaka, the next must-visit culinary hotspot for the starry-eyed foodie has to be Hong Kong, with its five three Michelin star restaurants.
Of course, Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the Landmark is one of them – it seems like the French chef collects stars for fun, after all! The restaurant is certainly entertaining, with its vibrant setting giving diners an up close and personal view of an army of chefs hard at work creating modern French dishes. This branch of Robuchon restaurants is based on the original concept first launched in Tokyo.
Similarly, the eight-seater Sushi Shikon at The Mercer Hotel mimics its sister restaurant in Tokyo, right down to importing the same type of coal, water and gas from Japan. Executive chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma keeps things simple, serving up incredibly fresh, high-quality produce for a truly authentic Ginza sushi experience.
Traditional is certainly not a term that could be directed at Alvin Leung Jr of Bo Innovation. The notorious ‘Demon Chef’ is best known for his attempts to revolutionise Chinese food with his ‘X-treme’ approach to Cantonese classics. This translates to cha siu bao (barbecue pork buns) and mui choi (pork belly with mustard greens), served with caramel ice cream and green apple. Just be warned, the funky space can be a little tricky to find! It makes comparisons with Hong Kong’s three-star Chinese restaurant, Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hotel, rather meaningless. With its spectacular harbor views, this opulent hotel venue is all about shimmering opulence and intricate seafood dishes.
For a little slice of Italy in the heart of Hong Kong, make a beeline for chef Umberto Bombana’s 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana at the Landmark Alexandra, which is the first Italian restaurant outside of Italy to be awarded three Michelin stars. Presenting the best of trattoria style, the atmosphere is unfussy, allowing you to focus on the contemporary Italian dishes – the veal Milanese (and its crispy batter) is our pick from the impressive menu.
Singapore is working its way up to catching the steely gaze of Michelin inspectors too, with recent hawkers making the list. But Singapore food certainly boasts enough star appeal on its own, thanks to a slew of big-name chefs who have outposts in the Lion city.
One bonus is many of them have chosen to call the glittering glass edifice of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands home. This is where you’ll discover refined American steakhouse Cut by Wolfgang Puck, the relaxed but decidedly chic French brasserie db Bistro Moderne by Daniel Boulud and Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, both by American chef and TV personality, Mario Batali.
One of the newer arrivals is former Michelin star holder and champion of Thai cuisine, David Thompson. His restaurant, Long Chim, specialises in Thai street classics such as phat thai goong and baa mii ped (duck with egg noodles). David Myers, who made his name with famous Los Angeles joints, such as Comme Ça and Hinoki & the Bird, is the latest celebrity chef arrival, opening Adrift in February.
This funky space in Marina Bay Sands’ lobby dishes up sharing plates of modern Asian food and cocktails created by Sam Ross, who was the inventor of the famed drink, Penicillin. There’s more to come, though, with fiery Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay due to launch Bread Street Kitchen later this year. Still, if we had to choose one place to dine at MBS, it would have to be Waku Ghin by Tetsuya Wakuda, for its personal service and delightful Japanese creations. Expensive, yes, but worth every cent.
Of course, MBS isn’t the only spot in Singapore with restaurants helmed by Michelin masters. You can head over to Resorts World Sentosa for two dining destinations by Joël Robuchon. Opt for avant-garde French at his namesake, Joël Robuchon Restaurant, or for inventive French classics and the theatrical delights of an open kitchen, try L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
Singapore boasts no less than three places to sample the cuisine of Jason Atherton of London’s Pollen Street Social fame: Spanish at the intimate Esquina, the retro British snack bar The Study, and Mediterranean dishes at Pollen, which also benefits from its stunning location inside the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay. We’d also add Jaan to the list, due to chef de cuisine Julien Royer’s time spent working in Michelin-starred venues, its amazing setting on the 70th floor of the Swissotel hotel and, most importantly, the top-quality seasonal produce used in its French creations.
Of course, no list of Singapore fine dining venues would be complete without a mention of Iggy’s, with chef Ignatius Chan probably being the one who kick-started the city’s fine dining scene to begin with, and Sky on 57, with its modern Franco Asian cuisine by Jason Quek.
The Young Pretender
The final city on our list, Bangkok, has long been famous for its amazing street food, but the last few years has also seen it flex its fine dining muscles. Australian chef David Thompson arguably started the trend when he opened Nahm at the Metropolitan hotel, showing locals how their famous cuisine could be given a fine dining twist. There was a little controversy at the start, but he’s since won over the critics with his finely balanced interpretations of often rare Thai dishes.
Sra Bua, which is affiliated with Michelin-starred Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, quickly followed, presenting its molecular gastronomy take on classic dishes in a sumptuous space at the Siam Kempinski Hotel. But it was really Nahm and the wonderfully experimental Indian creations dreamt up by mad scientist chef, Gaggan Anand, at his beautiful restaurant Gaggan that really got foodies sitting up and taking notice. They placed first and third respectively in 2014’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.
Since then, there have been a rash of exciting openings. The most significant is probably by, that man again, Joël Robuchon, with L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon opening in the shiny new MahaNakorn skyscraper. Another three-star French chef is Jean-Michel Lorain (he arrived in Bangkok before Robuchon). He opened the quirkily decorated J’aime in October last year, which replicates the award-winning modern French dishes from his other restaurant, Côte Saint Jacques in Burgundy.
Chef Marcus Townsend might only be in his early 20s, but he’s got some serious cooking chops, having worked at Chicago’s three-star restaurant, Alinea. His exquisitely prepared tasting menus at Origin on Wireless Road have already got the town buzzing. Dutch chef Henk Savelberg has won a Michelin star at all four of his previous restaurants. He’s now turned his back on Europe to focus on his Bangkok venture, Savelberg, which serves modern western dishes with French leanings in a beautifully bright and airy space.
While Vogue Lounge might not have started out with a focus on food, it has gained plenty of attention, thanks to its intricate, deconstructed dishes by chef Vincent Thierry, formerly of Hong Kong’s two-star Caprice. Finally, proof that it’s not just Western establishments falling for the city’s lure, Tokyo’s one-star Ginza Sushi-Ichi has now established a new outpost in Erawan. Sushi-loving Thais now have a chance to enjoy authentic omakase-style sushi without having to pay for a flight.
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