Michelin star wars: Recognition not the tastiest dish

Michelin star wars: Recognition not the tastiest dish

Some Hong Kong restaurants complain their Michelin stars result in unpalatable rent hikes
Michelin one-star restaurant Tim Ho Wan's Mong Kok operation will be relocating due to an increase in rent.

It's one of the most coveted measures of success in the restaurant business -- the prestigious Michelin star.

But some Hong Kong restaurants are finding such recognition is actually not the boon for business that it might be.

Eagerly anticipated in food mad Hong Kong, the Michelin Guide: Hong Kong Macau 2013 awarded 61 Hong Kong restaurants and seven Macau restaurants with Michelin stars.

Some 76 restaurants are also listed as Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants -- quality restaurants offering affordable three-course meals for less than HK$300 (US$39).

Despite being sanctified by one of the most important guides in the industry, local media report several restaurants are less than keen on garnering a Michelin mention.

Though a Michelin rating automatically draws long queues of foodies, such popularity may be leading to a significant increase in rents.

Alfred Chang, owner of the Bib Gourmand-recommended Indonesian restaurant IR1968 in Central, appreciates the Michelin recognition but admits his concerns.

Famous for its braised ox tongue, the family business was forced to move last year from its original location in Causeway Bay after its rent was increased three fold.

“One of the reasons for the huge rent raise was because we were mentioned in the Michelin Guide,” Chang told CNN.

“We will try to maintain a good relationship with our [current] landlord now.”

Sky high rents

Two Tim Ho Wan dim sum restaurants (the Mong Kok and Shum Shui Po branches), the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurants, were awarded one Michelin star again this year.

Owner Mak Kwai-pui is philosophical about the downsides of attention.

“The [building] owner has a reason to raise the rent if your business is good, but it will be the same if you are running a poor business," said Mak. "It's because a poor business may depreciate the value of the property.”

Awarded one star in the latest Michelin guide, Mak says Tim Ho Wan’s original shop in Mong Kok will be relocating "soon" to the Olympian City 2 shopping mall due, in part, to an increase in rent following its Michelin recognition.

Local media reported Tim Ho Wan's rent more than doubled.

With property prices in Hong Kong rapidly climbing in the past decade, residents have become accustomed to the blink-and-it’s-gone lifespan of businesses getting edged out of retail spaces by sky-high rents -- rents that increase well beyond the level of inflation.

Many businesses in popular areas such as Central, SoHo and Sheung Wan have seen rent increases in excess of 50 percent over three years.

Though rent increases add significant pressure to a business' bottom line, the result is also an ever-changing scene in Hong Kong that fosters the rise of new neighborhoods such as PoHo, as tenants seek more affordable rents.

One rule of thumb with which all locals are familiar: before going out for dinner, double check that the restaurant hasn't moved.

More on CNN: Michelin docks stars but Tokyo still wear crowns

Tim Ho Wan, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok, +852 2332 2896 (relocating soon)

Tim Ho Wan, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po; +852 2788 1226; open daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

IR1968, 5F, The L Place, 138 Queen's Rd, Central; +852 2577 9981; www.ir1968.com

Michelin Guide: Hong Kong Macau 2013

Three stars

Caprice, French

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, French

8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Italian

Lung King Heen, Chinese


New Restaurants with two stars

RyuGin, Japanese

Sushi Yoshitake, Japanese


New restaurants with one star

Pang's Kitchen, Cantonese

L'altro, Italian

Zhejiang Heen, Zhejiang cuisine

Yu Lei, Shanghainese

Guo Fu Lou, Cantonese

Jade Garden, Zhejiang cuisine

The Steak House winebar and grill, American 

Tate Dining Room and Bar, French-Japanese

The Principal

Strip House by Harlan Goldstein, American

Hiufu Wong is CNN Travel's staff writer.

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