Award-winning dining in Hong Kong
Jason Atherton tiny tapas restaurant 22 Ships in Hong Kong's Wan Chai neighbourhood opened in October 2012. (22 Ships)
Although foodies make pilgrimages to Hong Kong for Cantonese staples such as dim sum and barbecued pork, top-quality French or Japanese has not been a draw. But it should be, according to the brand new 2013 Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau.
The annual appraisal, which will be released in March in the US but is already stocked in local bookstores, reveals that although the three-star options in Hong Kong have held steady at four restaurants, the number of two-star earners has jumped from 10 to 13, and nine new restaurants nabbed a single star.
Though Chinese restaurants still make up the majority of included eateries, the new two-star options are pricey Japanese joints: Sushi Yoshitake and Ryu Gin. Their stories are parallel. In both cases, famous Tokyo-based chefs (Masahiro Yoshitake and Seiji Yamamoto, respectively) decided to branch out and open a second outlet outside of Japan, choosing Hong Kong as the sweet spot, partly because they can easily split their time between their two restaurants, but also because they can use the same fresh ingredients flown in daily. Sushi Yoshitake is a tiny eight-seater joint tucked inside The Mercer, a boutique hotel in the Sheung Wan neighborhood. Ryo Gin is located in a glam location on the 101st floor of Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper, the International Commerce Centre in the area of West Kowloon.
There are also a whopping nine new restaurants that bagged a single star. These include The Principal, which serves creative, modern European dishes under the watchful eye of a chef who hails from the Canary Islands, steak haven Strip House, and Zhejiang Heen, which delivers lauded homestyle renditions of signature dishes such as braised pork belly and squid from Zhejiang, a coastal Chinese province south of Shanghai known for its tender, fresh seafood. Other notable mentions include innovators such as French-Japanese fusion hotspot Tate and Italian-French restaurant L'Altro.
Recent openings by internationally-known celebrity chefs such as New York veterans Mario Batali, Michael White and Ferran Adria protégé Paco Roncero are proving Hong Kong is a promising place for new dining ventures. What's more, the current buzz around town is that Heston Blumenthal of the UK's legendary Fat Duck restaurant, which has three stars of its own, is scoping out options for a possible new location.
The most recent star chef to grace the city's shores, though, is Jason Atherton, a wunderkind who broke free from Gordon Ramsay's empire in 2010 and whose restaurants in London, Shanghai and Singapore have attracted a lot of accolades in a short amount of time. His latest venture, tiny tapas restaurant 22 Ships in Hong Kong's Wan Chai neighbourhood, has been attracting hours-long waits (due to its no-reservations policy) since its October opening.
Hana R Alberts is the Hong Kong Localite for BBC Travel