Maxime de La Grange Sury, Director of Food and Beverage at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei (台北遠東國際大飯店), said: “We think the most important reviews come directly from our diners, and probably those who voted for us did leave with a good impression.” The hotel’s Marco Polo Restaurant is among the restaurants selected as among the best in Taiwan. Sury added that something like The Miele Guide was especially important for a place like Taiwan, which does not have dedicated English-language restaurant guides like the Michelin guides for Hong Kong and Japan.
International exposure of the chef or the restaurant has a big impact on whether a restaurant makes it into the guide. For Taiwan, restaurants such as Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) and Shin Yeh (欣葉餐廳) might have some local foodies rolling their eyes at the almost cliched presence of these big brands, when there are so many other contenders. But when people talk about Taiwan, these are the names that inevitably crop up. This might be because many good restaurants only get coverage in dedicated food blogs and culinary magazines, with little attention paid by the mainstream media.
“What international exposure does is that it makes consumers more aware of a restaurant, so they are more likely to visit the place. If a restaurant is written about in magazines or newspapers around the world, people visiting Taipei will say ‘I want to visit that place because I read about it,’ and that means there is a greater chance a person will have tried it, will have understood it, liked it and voted for it … I would really like to see more restaurants from Taiwan or Korea, but the amount of media coverage on the top restaurants is not that frequent. You don’t see articles every weekend about top Taiwanese gourmet haunts, but you do see that for restaurants in Tokyo,” Koh said.
Apart from the media, the attitude of locals to their restaurants can also have a powerful effect. Koh gave the example of the Philippines. “I have noted that every time the vote comes around, the social media scene [in the Philippines] just explodes. They are so proud of their chefs and their restaurateurs that every single [food] blogger is campaigning for their country. They are telling all their readers that they must vote so that [restaurants] in the Philippines can get better known internationally. There is a lot of pride, and they champion not just one chef or one restaurant,” Koh said, adding that The Miele Guide hoped to encourage similar interest and active endorsement of local culinary achievement by people in Taiwan. Only in this way will the word get out to a regional, or even international audience.
“People in Taiwan talk about street food, the food in the night market. That is where Singapore was five, six years ago … but I know there are many very talented chefs who are doing amazing things [in Taiwan],” Koh said.
Given some of the exceptional food available at establishments around Taiwan, it is a little disheartening to note that all 20 of the restaurants for Taiwan in The Miele Guide are located in Taipei. This is likely to be due to the poverty of English-language information about establishments outside the capital, which keeps many fine establishments obscured from the international community.