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March 30, 2010

Top Michelin Honors for Hong Kong Restaurants

Westerners—or should we say the French in particular—have sometimes seemed reluctant to acknowledge the excellence of Chinese cuisine, but perhaps now, at last, the tide is turning: In December Michelin for the first time awarded its highest honors to a Chinese restaurant. Lung King Heen at Hong Kong’s Four Seasons Hotel was one of only two spots that received three stars in the company’s inaugural guide to Hong Kong and Macau; the other was Robuchon a Galera.

Great, right? Not quite. Learning that only two of Michelin’s 12 inspectors were Chinese, some local commentators insisted that outsiders lack the culinary knowledge to really tell the good from the bad. Others faulted the guide’s preoccupation with ritzy hotel restaurants at the expense of smaller places that serve authentic dishes. And they may have a point. Can Westerners appreciate the slithery, rubbery textures so prized by Chinese gourmets? And might this cuisine be at a disadvantage because of the traditional absence of desserts and European-style wine pairings?

The director of the Michelin guides, Jean-Luc Naret, dismisses such concerns. “Good cuisine is good cuisine,” he says. “Our inspectors travel the world and understand the cultural context of the food. Movie critics don’t limit themselves to writing about films only from their own culture.” Naret hopes the guide will be as much of a hit with locals as the first Tokyo version, which sold thousands of copies in Japan last year despite similar disagreements.

Controversy notwithstanding, the achievement of executive chef and Cantonese specialist Chan Yan Tak shines a welcome spotlight on a cuisine that has, for historical reasons, been largely neglected by arbiters of taste in the non-Chinese world. As Spanish chef Ferran Adrià (of El Bulli fame) once said, had Mao and the Cultural Revolution not destroyed the preeminence of Chinese cooking, “all the other countries and all the other chefs, myself included, would still be chasing the Chinese dragon.” Dinner, $115. At 8 Finance St., Central; fourseasons.com. —Fuchsia Dunlop is author of Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China (W. W. Norton).

Perfection!

Baked stuffed crab shell with onions and fresh crabmeat A crust of breadcrumbs conceals this creamy, juicy concoction made with Chinese flower crab. A surprising Chinglish splash of Worcestershire sauce adds a modern twist to this traditional comfort-fare dish.

Crispy scallops with fresh pear Built like a sandwich, this contemporary dish starts with a slice of Australian pear at the bottom; then there’s shrimp paste in the center and a scallop on top. After being deep-fried in a wok, it’s served with fresh lemon juice and spiced salt.

Steamed goose liver in abalone sauce A secret steaming method leaves the liver velvety—lighter than foie gras usually is and without the fattiness. It’s finished with an abalone sauce made from double-braised pork ribs, chicken, and Yunnan ham, plus a dash of orange zest.

Dim sum The best of chef Chan’s superbly innovative versions of the classic Hong Kong lunch items are steamed shrimp and pork dumplings with black truffle; baked whole abalone puffs with diced chicken; steamed lobster and scallop dumplings; and crispy tofu sheets stuffed with shrimp, sea lavender, and garlic.

Chilled sago cream with mango and pomelo Cantonese cuisine may not be known for dessert, but the chef has created this delightful Chinese-style mango pudding with a creamy top layer, chunks of mango, and bits of pomelo, an Asian fruit that is usually not as tangy as most citrus but still refreshing. —Grant Thatcher is the founder and editor of Luxe City Guides.