Amid widespread speculation, French tire manufacturer Michelin updated its famed food guide for Shanghai on Wednesday.
First launched last September and attacked widely for lacking local flavor, the Shanghai Michelin Guide for 2018 comes out with few surprises or changes.
None of the 26 restaurants that were awarded one to three stars last year lost a star. Four new restaurants were added to the list, all in the one-star category but mostly were upgrades from the guide's less famous recommendation list, the Bib Gourmand.
Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, which offers innovative cuisine by combining food with multisensory technologies, joins Cantonese restaurant T'ang Court as the only two three-star restaurants in the guide, which are defined by Michelin as "exceptional" and "worth a special journey".
"The real big news is that Shanghai now has two three-star restaurants, which puts it in the same league as cities like London. It shows Shanghai is a globally recognised fine dining destination," said Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides.
Ultraviolet, founded by French chef Paul Pairet in 2012 at an inconspicuous location, sells the city's, and possibly the country's, most expensive meal at 4,000 to 8,000 yuan ($600 to $1,200) per person.
Reservations are usually required three months in advance. Guests gather at Mr & Mrs Bund, another Pairet venture, and catch a shuttle bus to the restaurant after enjoying a sip of champagne.
Yet, despite the prices, the Ultraviolet is not turning a profit, according to Christopher St Cavish, a food writer based in Shanghai who used to work with Pairet. To feed a table of 10, the restaurant's capacity, and prepare a 20-course set menu, chefs outnumber guests, and a 1,000-square-meter warehouse is used to support the 80-square-meter dining room.
"I know that Paul Pairet and his team were disappointed last year because they didn't get three stars. They came and spoke to us, and we told them what our criteria are. I think they really make the effort to take the cooking to a higher level," Ellis said.
In response to criticism of whether a food guide from Westerners can comprehend the complexity and variety of Chinese cuisine, Ellis noted that the majority of the Shanghai guide's inspectors are Chinese, and from different parts of the country.
"Not everybody has to agree with us. We have our unique way of looking at things and unique voice. But in general, I think we tend to capture a good photo of what the food scene is. And it gets better over time. We are certainly not encyclopedic. We don't pretend to cover everything," he said.
First launched in 1900 to boost demand for cars and tires, the Michelin Guide, the most coveted list for chefs around the world, now has guides in 28 countries. In 2009, it arrived in Asia, with Hong Kong as its first stop.
While Ellis said he is unable to confirm specific cities or timing, he allowed that more Chinese cities will have their own guides, and Asia is going to feature prominently in the future of Michelin Guides.