Downtime: How to find the perfect place to eat in Asia

What's the best way to ensure you're well fed in Asia? We pick through some of the options to ensure you're always satisfied, not starving.

Finding out about great places to eat in Asia is getting easier than ever. It seems almost every day a new guide appears taking the lid off the best places to grab a delicious bite or dine on high-quality nosh in this city or that country.

But better knowledge of the market means much more choice (and more competition), making it harder to actually decide where to eat.

Call it the Netflix effect, where the wannabe television viewer can sometimes spend more time trying to choose which series to binge on than actually watch anything.

FinanceAsia takes a look at a few of the options out there and weighs up the pros and cons each.


Why use it: This annual ranking – a spinoff from the World's 50 Best Restaurants list – is of course just one of many award programmes in the region. But it has established its credibility by tapping the expertise of some 300 industry leaders across Asia

Recommendations: Gaggan in Bangkok has topped the list for the past four years, including the 2018 edition released in March. It offers "progressive Indian cuisine", although the 25-course tasting menu "written entirely in emojis" may not be to everyone's taste. That said, you get a proper menu at the end. If you can remember what you ate after a few glasses of wine, it’s all in there, including such potential delights as “Umami oysters charcoal-grilled Malabar style with lemon air” and “Iberian pork cooked for 24 hours with pickling spices and vindaloo curry”. Be quick, though, if you want to make a reservation as the chef Gaggan Anand plans to close the restaurant in 2020 and moving to Japan.

The downside: A list of 50 is hardly going to fill many bellies. While culinary havens such as Bangkok, Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong are well represented, there are obvious big gaps in the coverage, with nothing at all if you're peckish in Beijing, Jakarta, Manila or Kuala Lumpur.


Why use it: The French grand dame of culinary guides has been on an expansionary tear in Asia since its first Tokyo guide was published in 2007. Hong Kong and Macau followed in 2009, and despite a few early complaints about a lack of local character, it has continued to churn out guides to cities region-wide. Taipei was the most recent recipient, with Cantonese restaurant Le Palais the only three-star option.

Recommendations: Michelin hit the headlines in 2016 when it handed a star to Singapore's Liao Fan Hawker Chan, a stall dishing up street food in Chinatown and famed for its soya sauce chicken. More typical Michelin fare is served up by Joel Robuchon, who among many others, earned three-star honours for his Hong Kong L'Atelier and au Dome outlet in Macau. Among the French delights you can savour at the latter is “Beef châteaubriand and foie gras, ‘Rossini’ style and vintage port wine’ and “Hot caramel soufflé and passion fruit sorbet”.

The downside: While Michelin has tapped Asia's love of food, it's also played into a less desirable regional trend – the love of all that is faddish. The aforementioned Hawker Chan underlines the problem: to cash in on its new-found fame, the stall is becoming a franchise – much like Hong Kong Michelin favourite Tim Ho Wan, which now has 45 outlets as far afield as New York. The low prices are just one of the benefits that will inevitably be lost in translation.


Why use it: Asia is a region of food fanatics and there's no better way to discover something new and delicious than leaning on local knowledge or those who've come before. This can be as simple as stepping out into a city centre and joining the longest queue (this works particularly well in Singapore) or getting technical, using a website such as Tripadvisor or local alternatives like Hong Kong's Openrice or Singapore's Hungry Go Where? Unlike with the other options, you will certainly find something nearby.

Recommendations: A TripAdvisor search of the area near FinanceAsia's Hong Kong office points towards steakhouse Mr & Mrs Fox and Feast, the buffet restaurant at the East Hotel – both of which we can endorse. There's also Japanese restaurant Campers and, with grim inevitability, Pizza Express. Openrice names all of those and also throws in The Graces (Cantonese) and Kyo Hayashiya (Japanese).

The downside: Of course, this isn't one to rely on for that key client dinner or must-impress date night. Also, if you're relying on visitor tips. There's no doubt, as well, that local tastes don't translate to everyone, and a sophisticated palate may not be suited to more popular choices (like Pizza Express). And be careful, if you do follow an actual crowd, you never know where you're going to end up.

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