Asia's Top 20 for 2008/2009
Thousands of people from around the world cast more than 75,000 votes for restaurants in 16 countries. Despite the intense competition, there were some restaurants that garnered significantly more votes (from both the voting public and our Special Jury) than others—which mean the restaurants at the top of our list truly stood out against their peers.
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Singaporean restaurateur and sommelier Ignatius Chan’s eponymous four-year-old restaurant has consistently received rave reviews both locally and internationally since it first opened in September 2004. While he doesn’t cook, Chan supervises the culinary direction of the kitchen in close collaboration with his young head chef, Sufian Zain. At Iggy’s, exceptional seasonal ingredients (their chargrilled Australian Blackmore Wagyu is not to be missed) are showcased and flavours reflecting Chan’s gustatory passions have expanded and diversified with his extensive travels. Zain’s stint in San Sebastian under the tutelage of Elena Arzak at Restaurant Arzak has added a playful hint of molecular gastronomy to the menu without turning it into a cheesy gimmick. Given that Chan is also an award-winning sommelier, wine is an integral part of the Iggy’s experience. Explore the restaurant’s impressive wine list or dip into their changing selection of wines by the glass. Reservations at Iggy’s are highly recommended.
2. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Hong Kong)
The Miele Guide 2008/2009 correction (from pg 12 & pg 56)
Correct reservation number: +852 2166 9000
Correct website: www.robuchon.hk
The food at L’Atelier is, quite simply, beautiful. But what else would we expect from the man who was once heralded as the world’s greatest chef? The menu is encyclopaedic, offering diners a choice of almost two dozen small dishes, more than half a dozen appetisers, slightly more main courses, 19 different cheeses, and a wide range of dessert choices. These make up a well-balanced range of classic and modern French dishes. We recommend building one’s meal with two small tasting portions to start, an appetiser, a main course and a dessert. The food here is elegant and light, with enough options for each customer to create as small or large a meal as he or she desires; no longer are we fettered by the customary constraints of the three-course standard meal. The total experience is one that puts diners at ease while also making us feel special.
3. Les Amis
Les Amis’s resident chef Thomas Mayr’s strong foundation of classic French cooking shows in his light and refined dishes, which he describes as “modern French, influenced by the availability of the ingredients”. In October, Les Amis Group announced that Thomas Mayr would be seconded to the upcoming Les Amis Hong Kong, slated to open in December 2008. His replacement is Austrian chef Armin Leitgeb, who was most recently executive sous chef at Raffles Hotel Singapore and who boasts stints at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York and French Laundry at Napa Valley. He promises more contemporary European cuisine at Les Amis, tinged with influences from his trans-Atlantic experiences. Whatever Leitgeb chooses to serve, it would be safe to say that Les Amis will no doubt continue to impress with its fine service, masterful wine list and all the other accoutrements of luxury dining that it has deftly put in place to create a truly world-class experience.
Since it opened in August 2007, Gunther’s has steadily made a name for itself with its small but impactful menu and its focus on serving only the freshest ingredients. The food at Gunther’s reflects Hubrechsen’s stark and serious attitude towards his craft. As he tells it, nothing served at his restaurant is second rate. Hubrechsen was, after all, sous chef at Alain Passard’s L’Arpege in Paris before coming to Singapore. His food is always clean and refined, with little embellishment but plenty of flavour. Diners shell out top dollar for an experience that excites but doesn’t overwhelm. A perfect example of his delicate yet knowing touch is his famous cold angel hair pasta with konbu and truffle jus, topped with a gleaming onyx sprinkling of Ossetra caviar. A perfect prelude to the rest of the menu, it packs a fabulous umami goodness derived from the konbu, generous truffle jus and the caviar.
Trained under culinary luminaries such as Alain Senderens, Daniel Bouley and Thomas Keller, French-American chef-owner Chris Salans wields his classical training with much competence. Having lived and worked in Bali for the past 11 years, Salans understands well the importance of balance, and this is meticulously reflected in the well-rounded flavours of each dish. He deftly marries French skill with traditional Balinese ingredients and flavours to inventive and delicious results. For instance, pan-fried foie gras is paired with a sweet and sour stewed belimbing soup lightly scented with star anise and cloves, providing the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness. At Mozaic, four tasting menus—Indonesian Discovery, Vegetarian, Tasting Menu of the Day, Chef’s Surprize—are offered, and the menus change daily. The beauty of dining at Mozaic Restaurant is not just about the distinctive food, but the wonderful dining experience made possible by the establishment’s impeccable service, fronted by knowledgeable and attentive staff.
6. Robuchon a Galera
Robuchon a Galera, the supremely high-end and refined Macanese outpost of acclaimed French superchef Joel Robuchon is both a resplendent safe haven (from the rest of the Lisboa) and an exceptionally well-executed exercise in measured excess. The food is constantly outstanding. Chef Robuchon and Galera’s executive chef, Francky Semblat, consistently create masterful dishes that are elegant yet rich and wonderfully flavourful. Some of our favourite dishes include the mille-feuille of tomato and crabmeat, and the crispy papillotes of scampi with basil. Visitors will also enjoy thumbing through the massive wine-list that runs over 100 pages with over 3,200 wines to choose from. Of course, if you have trouble navigating this bible-sized list, ask sommelier Paul Lo or one of the restaurant’s managers for a recommendation. Not only will they be able to help you pick the perfect bottle, they can also create pairings based on your menu.
Garibaldi may as well have been named Galetti—the restaurant, after all, is often referred to in the same breath as the name of its executive chef and main shareholder Roberto Galetti. The quiet Italian has enjoyed a career at some of the most renowned restaurants in the world, including Bice in Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Argentina and Singapore. A well-known stickler for quality, both in the authenticity of his cuisine and the produce that goes into it, it is this exceptional quality of Galetti’s that keeps regulars returning. Like a typical Italian menu, Garibaldi’s is broken up into several sections: antipasti, soups, pastas, risottos, main courses, cheeses and desserts. But what sets it apart is the fact that almost everything is imported or made fresh on the premises. From the warm and tender focaccia infused with sundried tomatoes, rosemary and Parmesan cheese, to the selection of fragrant handmade pastas—each must pass muster under the watchful eye of Galetti before it is served.
8. Yung Kee
Kam Shui Fai couldn’t possibly have anticipated what a success he would be when he founded Yung Kee 66 years ago—that it would become one of Hong Kong’s most famous restaurants, with its name practically synonymous with succulent roast goose. Novices might be startled (or repelled) at the sight of the beautifully coloured (grey-amber yellow-black) pei dan (also known as century eggs) that are served with pickled ginger to all diners. To eschew this delicacy would be to miss out on some of the best pei dan you’ll ever taste in Hong Kong. Few places serve such quality preserved eggs, with its yolks still slightly runny. Connoisseurs look forward to this amuse bouche as much as they do Yung Kee’s famous goose. While it Yung Kee certainly isn’t the only restaurant in Hong Kong to make delicious roast goose, it is the one to which all others are compared. In this food-obsessed city, it’s obvious they’re doing something right.
Hutong’s executive chef Calvin Yeung creates modern interpretations of northern Chinese cuisine, with a few dishes from other regions thrown in for good measure. Yeung’s food, which is always sans monosodium glutamate, is by turns hearty and pungent or refined and delicate. On the hearty side is the absolutely delicious crispy boneless lamb ribs, with the different layers of meat and skin giving varying textures and flavours, and which is served on a long ceramic platter with small bowls of dipping sauce and condiments (this is one of Yeung’s signature dishes). At the other end of the spectrum are dishes of bamboo clams with Chinese rose wine and chilli sauce, jade vegetable in ginger oil, and poached chicken with organs in Chinese wine soup. A lot of thought has been put into the presentation—the tableware is lovely and special, yet it fortunately doesn’t detract from the beauty of the food at Hutong.
10. Antonio’s Fine Dining
Tagaytay City, Cavite, Philippines
Standing for over five years now, Antonio’s menu has proven to be as spoon-worthy as its ambience is swoon-worthy. It has consistently been considered among the top five restaurants in the Philippines and a favourite for proposals and intimate weddings. Chef Antonio Escalante’s commitment to fine cuisine remains strong. A la carte ordering is simple enough although the pre fixe menu may prove a little tricky as it allows guests a mix and match of salads and desserts with select entrees. Don’t skip the salads as Tagaytay offers the best greens in and around Metro Manila. Duck has also been known to steal the show, especially the duck confit in Grand Marnier beurre blanc or the roasted duck breast served with foie gras. The service here at Antonio’s is excellent. The wait is never long and within minutes you are seated, handed a menu and offered the restaurant’s signature dalandan juice.
Caprice, the Four Seasons Hong Kong’s signature French restaurant, with its four large crystal overhanging chandeliers, is fantastically chic and romantic. The food, of course, is equally brilliant. Executive chef Vincent Thierry’s dishes are modern interpretations of French classics, some of which are inventively and subtly perked up with well-chosen Asian ingredients. Must-try starters include lobster carpaccio with Aquitaine caviar, nori seaweed and yuzu blanc manger. For mains, try the Wagyu beef poele and beef fillet sashimi. Before running Caprice, the exceptionally talented team here (executive chef Vincent Thierry, pastry chef Ludovic Douteau, maitre d’hotel Jeremy Evrad and chef sommelier Cedric Billen) all worked at the very highly respected Le Cinq in the Four Seasons Hotel Georges V Paris. In Hong Kong, they’ve been able to showcase the very best traditions of European fine-dining with none of the pretensions. Dining at Caprice is a joy, making it the perfect place to celebrate any occasion, big or small.
If one restaurant in Hong Kong can truly be called ‘hot’, it would be Zuma. Stunningly designed, this cool, contemporary izakaya is constantly packed with Hong Kong’s prettiest people. And the food is excellent too. Zuma’s menu is extensive, divided into multiple sections from which diners can build their meals—namely small dishes, sushi and sashimi, food from the robata, ZUMA dishes and desserts. The restaurant also offers two robust 11-course tasting menus for the intrepid diner. The cuisine here is best described as a contemporary reinterpretation of traditional fare. The underlying structure and roots of all of the dishes are fairly classic, while unlikely pairings or the addition of Western ingredients creates a sense of the modern. The robata-grilled pork belly (a slightly more traditional dish) is heavenly, and the baby chicken marinated in barley miso then roasted in a cedar wood oven is one of Zuma’s executive chef Dan Segall’s best dishes.
13. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Tokyo)
The Tokyo branch of what is fast becoming one of the sexiest up-market food brands in the world is located in Roppongi Hills, the heart of Japan’s capital city. Every dish here is elegant, flavourful, and wonderfully exciting. The degustation menu yields small but numerous dishes with roots in French, Italian, Spanish and even American cuisine. A la carte options are compact but still satisfying. Gelee of hommard (lobster jelly) with sea urchin covered with cauliflower cream is one of Robuchon’s signature dishes. It looks beautiful and the flavour is absolutely amazing. Meanwhile, Robuchon’s foie gras burger is catchy and will appeal to all generations of diners. Chef Robuchon reportedly got the idea for L’Atelier from his favourite sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, and even went so far as to measure the length of Jiro’s counter. L’Atelier’s sleek counter then makes conversation between guests and staff one of the highlights of and reasons for eating here.
New Delhi, India
Bukhara is not just a restaurant, it’s an experience. In the midst of the restaurant is an open kitchen where you can see chefs grilling meat and vegetables in clay ovens known as tandoors. Open since 1977, Bukhara serves food from the North West Frontier province, a region known for its rugged terrain and simple but delicious cuisine. The food is mostly grilled and cooked with minimal spices. Menus are thick planks of wood, with the choice of dishes painted on them. You must not miss the famous Bukhara dal and its sikandari raan. The latter is a whole leg of baby lamb that had been marinated for hours with spices such as cumin and cinnamon before being grilled in the tandoor—utterly delicious. The spices really seep into the meat, which is grilled in the deep charcoal oven to perfection. You are expected to eat with your fingers (though you can always ask for cutlery) and the restaurant will provide you with a lovely red-and-white apron to ensure that you don’t mess up your clothes.
Given its name, it is only apt that the delicious aroma of freshly baked breadsticks (grissini) greets you as you enter this renowned Italian restaurant. Since 1989, Grissini has been sating Hong Kong’s palate for traditional yet sophisticated Italian fare. And now, under the hands of Marco Torre, Grissini’s sixth chef de cuisine, the food continues to be truly authentic thanks to his impeccable skills and the use of utterly fresh ingredients.
Grissini’s menu is a seasonal one, but there is a range of classics that remains all year round. These include the always-popular tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese. The deceptively simple Bolognese requires hours over a stove and is a good benchmark for which to gauge the authenticity of any Italian eatery. Chef Torre’s signature Mediterranean sea bass with potatoes, red onion, cherry tomatoes and black olives is also a firm favourite for its well-rounded yet fresh and simple flavours that evoke images of an Italian summer day.
Nobu isn’t your everyday Japanese restaurant. Norwegian-born executive chef Oyvind Naesheim, who was previously second-in-command at Nobu’s very popular London outlet, is doing an exceptional job of maintaining Nobu’s stratospheric culinary standards In addition to the classic items that diners can order at any of Nobu’s outlets, chef Naesheim has also created several unique dishes, available only in Hong Kong. Signature dishes such as the New Style sashimi, the rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce, and (of course) the black cod saikyo yaki, have never tasted better. In addition to the classic items that diners can order at any of Nobu’s outlets, chef Naesheim has also created several unique dishes, available only in Hong Kong. Don’t leave without trying the Makomo Dake Special, a grilled young bamboo shoot, topped with a shrimp and scallop mousse and slathered with creamy spicy sauce.
17. M on the Bund
M on the Bund appeared on Shanghai’s dining scene in 1999, perched atop the historic Beaux-Arts Nissin Shipping Building with unrivalled views of the Bund and the Pudong skyline. Established by Melbourne-born chef and restaurateur Michelle Garnaut, it is helmed by executive chef Hamish Pollitt and serves refined yet simple European fare. The menu is made up of a collection of classic, seasonal and innovative dishes. Standouts include a satisfying appetiser described on the menu as ‘a fluffy omelette filled with truly wild mushrooms and slivers of black truffle’, as well as their ‘famous salt-encased slowly baked selected leg of lamb with caramelised pumpkin, a tart parsley salad and a pot of aioli’. The latter is a wonderfully hearty main with meat that quite literally melts in the mouth. Don’t leave without going to the roof terrace to take in the sights. To do so would mean you’ve missed out on the quintessential M on the Bund experience.
18. Fook Lam Moon
Fook Lam Moon (Wanchai) is the flagship restaurant of the Fook Lam Moon group. Started in 1972 by founder and chef, Chui Fook, the eatery has adhered to his simple philosophy that a chef’s food is never up to par without premium quality ingredients no matter how talented he may be. And it is this belief that has led Fook Lam Moon to become a bastion of Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong. Naturally, as one of the city’s top Cantonese restaurants, Fook Lam Moon’s prices are high. But customers are happy to fork out for exquisitely prepared premium and classic dishes like braised shark’s fin in brown sauce, braised whole abalone with goose web, and double-boiled bird’s nest with coconut milk. Other must-haves include the deep-fried crispy pigeon and baked stuffed crab in shell. The former is particularly noteworthy for its delicious aroma and softly gamey meat. Every dish at Fook Lam Moon is almost guaranteed to be a memorable one.
19. Zanotti Il Ristorante Italiano
Chef-owner Gianmaria Zanotti’s first (and now flagship) Italian restaurant has garnered a loyal following since it first opened for business over a decade ago. The menu, which showcases the Piedmontese cuisine of Chef Zanotti’s hometown, Turino, is mind-bogglingly extensive. The food is hearty and the portions generous, with most of the ingredients imported from wherever they’re best produced. In addition to the handmade pastas, pizzas and steak Florentine, the sea bass baked in a salt crust is an all-time favourite. Be sure not to pass on the bruschetta that’s presented at the beginning of your meal. It is a delightful, bite-sized introduction to all that is to follow. The perfect balance of tart, sweet and salty flavours makes this simple, classic Italian offering memorable.
The pleasure of visiting this Bangkok dining institution is as much about the scene, ambience and service as it is about the food.
For years, Kyubey has been synonymous with the best (and the most expensive) sushi in Japan. Fittingly, all its outposts (four in Tokyo and one in Osaka) are sited in prestigious hotels, save for its flagship in Ginza, which despite its humbler location, is known to offer the best sushi of the Kyubey group. The best way to experience the exquisite food at Kyubey is to ask for the omakase (tasting menu). It starts off with small plates of beautiful sashimi, grilled seafood and snacks specially made to serve alongside sake or beer, before graduating to different varieties of sushi deftly made by skilled craftsmen (yes, they are referred to as craftsmen rather than chefs). In summer, order the sea urchin that is so fresh, it literally goes straight from the seawater it’s packed in and onto diners’ plates. Both the food and drink are well matched by the splendid service. Uncommonly for Japan, the wait staff here speak some English and are delightfully generous towards foreign visitors.