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A taste of the best

The recently announced Asia’s 50 Best list selected 16 hotel restaurants as among Asia’s best. Despite losing three spots since last year, hotel dining in Asia still commands a status among both locals and travelers that perhaps is less common in the international scene.

In comparison, last year’s World’s 50 Best had only a small handful of hotel restaurants on the list. This got me thinking about the particular role hotel dining has played in Asia and how it can better meet the needs of today’s market.

It’s no secret that hotel dining in Asia is synonymous with high quality, hygiene and international standards of service. Hotel restaurants can also offer a safe taste of local cuisine for traveling guests. But is the reliable hotel menu now too safe for the taste buds of the sophisticated jetsetter?

Today, more travelers are seeking out authentic Asian cuisine while locals are finding more options for the exclusivity world-class hotels provide. I often find high-end hotel restaurants serving dishes like beef phó or tom yum goong that are tasteless when compared with the street-stall version a few minutes down the road. “Local food” in a hotel rarely seems “local” enough. Hotel restaurants therefore face a new challenge: they must achieve authenticity for the local palate and a level of creativity and service at the height of international standards.

Made In China at the Grand Hyatt in Beijing is home to what many Chinese locals affirm is among the capital’s best “Peking duck” sets.

Old fashioned Peking duck from the wood-fired oven at Made In China (photo courtesy of Grand Hyatt Hotel Beijing)
Old fashioned Peking duck from the wood-fired oven at Made In China (photo courtesy of Grand Hyatt Hotel Beijing)

Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong, the first Chinese restaurant to receive a 3-star Michelin rating, serves dim sum as extraordinary as its views of Victoria Harbour.

And more recently, Shang Xi restaurant at the Four Seasons Pudong, Shanghai was named Best Chinese Restaurant by Forbes Travel Guide.

Shang Xi Chinese restaurant (photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Pudong, Shanghai)
Shang Xi Chinese restaurant (photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Pudong, Shanghai)

What makes such hotel restaurants great is that they provide an experience diners only find there. A century ago, the Singapore Sling was a cocktail only found at the Raffles while the Waldorf Salad was taking root on the other side of our planet.

These are restaurants tourists will travel from other hotels to visit. They give their chefs opportunity to craft dishes that astound local palates rather than assuage international ones.

Fortunately, I am seeing more hotels looking beyond what international luxury is supposed to mean and discovering new possibilities for their dining. While the DNA of the hotel brand must not be lost, it is increasingly important to inject a unique local personality. Whether this means celebrity chefs, authentic local dishes or just extraordinary design, hotels must bring forth their own unique character. In my opinion, a great hotel restaurant should be more than a convenience for guests. It should itself be a destination.

How do you think hotel dining should evolve to meet the needs of both jetsetters and foodies? Should hotel F&B deliver a luxurious environment for reliable fine dining, or should it offer a window into authentic local delicacies for those with more intrepid palates?

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