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Owners seeing stars as foodie bible is unveiled

Candy Chan

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The 62-year-old owner of a Cantonese restaurant in Happy Valley jumped for joy after his Pang's Kitchen was awarded a coveted Michelin star.

The Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau 2013, which goes on sale today, has expanded its coverage to include 65 new restaurants in the two cities.

Two new Japanese restaurants, Sushi Yoshitake and Ryu Gin, are making their first appearance in the food lover's bible this year, with two stars each.

And 12 new restaurants, including Pang's Kitchen, have been given one star.

But meriting an entry into the Michelin guide is bitter sweet for owner Pang Pak-sheung because he knows that the days of his restaurant on Yik Yam Street may well be numbered.

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"I've been here for 10 years and the rent has doubled. I don't have any expansion plans. If the rent goes up further, after the lease expires two years from now, I may close the restaurant and retire," Pang said.

The restaurant is famous for its traditional style of Cantonese cooking, with dishes such as baked fish intestines in a clay pot and abalone in oyster sauce.

And Pang is not alone in voicing such concerns.

"It is really challenging to open a restaurant nowadays in Hong Kong," said Dennis Ng Yu-hang, owner of Good Hope Noodle.

His restaurant on Fai Yuen Street, Mong Kok, has won merits for good value and quality cooking of noodles and congee, with affordable prices ranging from HK$25 to HK$65.

Ng said his original eatery on Sai Yeung Choi Street was forced to close in June due to surging rents.

"Since implementation of the statutory minimum wage, it has been hard to recruit non-skilled workers such as dishwashers," he said.

"We do want to keep our brand and make good food, but surging rents and wages in many of Hong Kong's busy areas are forcing good restaurants away."

This is maybe the reason why Michael Ellis, the guide's international director, said about 40 percent of entries in the 2013 edition have changed since last year alone.

The same is not the case with the other Michelin guides in countries such as Japan, where typically only 5 to 10 percent of eateries will change in a year.

Some two-star restaurants lost a star, including Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental hotel and the Mong Kok branch of acclaimed Cantonese chain Lei Garden.

"The rhythm of openings and closings here in Hong Kong is amazing," Ellis said.

"It's a real challenge for us to stay on top of what's going on, but it's also very exciting."


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