Ute Junker follows the much-vaunted Michelin guide to dining out in the world's best foodie cities.
The world's most famous restaurant guide was launched in 1900 as a reference for French motorists and included instructions on how to change a tyre, along with maps and lists of mechanics and petrol stations. However, the publishers soon turned their attention to hotels and restaurants. The Michelin three-star rating system, introduced in 1931, has become the most recognised elite restaurant ranking system.
There may be debate about bias - Michelin is regularly accused of favouring formal, French-style dining experiences - but there's no denying the dramatic effect the awarding or removal of a star can have, particularly at the rarified three-star level.
Today there are 14 editions of Michelin's Red Guide, covering 23 countries. Many foodie fans use the guides to plan their holidays. Here's our guide to five cities that offer serious Michelin bang for buck. Bon appetit!
BEST ON A BUDGET
Hong Kong is where Michelin's famously anonymous inspectors let their hair down. The guides are notorious for favouring restaurants heavy on formality yet in Hong Kong, the inspectors clearly fell in love with the city's cheap and cheerful tea houses.
The result: Hong Kong is the city where, instead of paying a three-figure sum for a multi-course dinner, you can enjoy a meal at a one-star restaurant for less than $5. Slurp a bowl of wontons or fried flat noodles with beef at Ho Hung Kee or tuck into barbecue pork buns and steamed dumplings at Tim Ho Wan. If you're ready to experiment with the more adventurous end of Cantonese cuisine - snake soup or baked fish intestines in a clay pot - Pang's Kitchen is a great value option.
There are plenty of traditional fine dining options to choose from among the city's 61 starred restaurants. Hong Kong's luxury hotels boast a stellar array of options. The Four Seasons is home to two three-star restaurants, Caprice and Lung King Heen, while three restaurants at the InterContinental have been awarded stars: Spoon by Alain Ducasse (two stars), The Steak House and Yan To Heen (one star each).
Perhaps Hong Kong's most notorious Michelin-starred chef is Alvin Leung at Bo Innovation. Leung's rebel pose and his molecular techniques have won him plenty of media coverage but he has a traditionalist's fondness for prestige ingredients, enlivening the mouthwatering richness of prime toro tuna with foie gras powder and acidic freeze-dried raspberry.
BEST FOR DIVERSITY
Food mavens know everything there is to know about a top-of-the-heap restaurant such as Per Se. They know it's the NYC outlet of Californian chef Thomas Keller; that a nine-course menu costs $295 (wine is extra); and that signature dishes include Oysters and Pearls, which blend sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and Californian sturgeon caviar.
For most of us, Per Se and its counterparts, including Daniel Humm's Eleven Madison Park, Masa Takayaa's Masa and Daniel Boulud's Daniel - are a once-in-a-lifetime proposition. Dining at one of these restaurants requires serious advance planning, saving up and booking far in advance for a prime-time table.
Fortunately, among NYC's 66 starred restaurants there are plenty of outlets offering food with flair at a fraction of the price. There's Tori Shin, a smokey yakitori bar on the Upper East Side; superb Indian at Tamarind Tribeca; and Scandinavian favourites such as gravlax and herring at Aquavit. There's even a gastropub on the list: The Spotted Pig, where British chef April Bloomfield serves a killer Roquefort burger.
Tiny Casa Mono in Gramercy, a casual, crowded tapas bar, is part of celebrity chef Mario Batali's empire. In true tapas fashion, it's a raucous, crowded kind of place.
Rouge Tomate is possibly the only Michelin-starred restaurant to have its own juice bar. It's as elegant as any other Michelin eatery, but the emphasis is on nutrition and sustainability. Curried carrot broth with black-pearl tapioca, and lettuce-and-root-vegetable cassoulet, make it a pleasure to eat your vegies.
BEST SMALL TOWN DINING
The tiny German town of Baiersbronn has a lot going for it, not least its Black Forest location. There are just 16,000 inhabitants, although holidaymakers can swell that number considerably. Which is precisely how this town garnered an impressive seven Michelin stars, including two three-star restaurants.
Baiersbronn's two heavy hitters, the Schwarzwaldstube and Restaurant Bareiss, belong to the area's most famous hotels which have been locked in a cycle of one-upmanship for decades. The restaurants are not huge - Bareiss has just eight tables - but they offer some of the best dining in Germany.
The Schwarzwaldstube, where chef Harald Wohlfahrt has retained his three stars for more than two decades, serves classic cuisine with a modern inflection, and is renowned for its refined yet friendly service.
At Bareiss, Claus-Peter Lumpp also favours seasonal produce, showcasing dishes such as cod poached in olive oil on pearly barley and octopus stock.
Nipping at their heels is another local chef, Jorg Sackmann at Restaurant Schlossberg, whose inventive dishes - caramelised goose liver with sheep's milk yoghurt and apple-ginger compote - have earned him a star.
BEST STAR POWER
Michelin launched its Tokyo guide six years ago, declaring the city to be the world's best gourmet destination and the city has maintained its pole position since. Currently, 15 restaurants sport three stars. However, that's just the start: 281 of the city's establishments have been awarded a total of 323 stars.
Unlike cities such as New York and London, where many restaurants are run by celebrity chefs who only occasionally visit the kitchen, Tokyo's eateries are intimate places where the chef prepares the food in front of you. At Sushi-Sho, for instance, chef Keiji Nakazawa serves his edomae sushi - in which the fish is aged for up to two weeks - to just 10 diners seated around a bar.
Other must-visits include the two Michelin starred Raku-tei, where Shuji Ishikura elevates tempura to an art form, and Ryugin, a three-star restaurant where Seiji Yamamoto updates traditional kaiseki meals with molecular techniques.
BEST FOR REINVENTION
France is the home of the fine dining experience - chandeliers, dignified waiters, multiple courses and all. Paris' dining scene had some bumpy years recently but, thanks to some inventive young chefs, it once again makes the cut as an exciting dining destination.
One big change is the incor-poration of Asian flavours into classic French cuisine. Surrounded by ancient stone walls and a heavy-beamed ceiling, diners at the one-starred Yam'Tcha enjoy Adeline Grattard's dishes of grilled scallops on a bed of bean sprouts with wild-garlic sauce. In addition to choosing a wine pairing, they can also opt for a tea pairing.
William Ledeuil at Ze Kitchen Galerie also likes to play with Asian ingredients, teaming grilled monkfish with aubergine marmalade and Thai-seasoned sauce vierge. Equally inventive is Akrame Benallal. At his eponymous Akrame restaurant, he serves fish marinated in carrot juice with carrot spaghetti and polenta gnocchi, and turns a mushroom bouillon into a Japanese-style soup.
For old-style Parisian fine dining, unforgettable experiences on offer include Ledoyen, Paris' oldest restaurant, in a garden off the Champs d'Elysees. Every dish on chef Christian LeSquer's menu is superb, from his outstanding seafood to exquisite desserts.
FIVE MORE MICHELIN MAGNETS
Pulls in foodie travellers with its acclaimed restaurants. Top of the heap are the three-starred Der Karmeliet and Hertog Jan. Also worth a visit is the two-star De Jonkman, known for its superb seafood and innovative presentation.
Superchef Alain Ducasse leads the pack with the revered Le Louis XV but Joel Robuchon gives him a run for his money with two-starred restaurants at the Hotel Metropole: Joel Robuchon Monte-Carlo and the Japanese eatery Yoshi. Also worth checking out is the one-star Le Vistamar.
This North Sea island is a popular summertime playground. The two-starred Jorg Muller is famous for its warm welcome and superb wine list. Fahrhaus is where chef Alexandro Pape combines local flavours with Sardinian traditions.
Nothing works up an appetite like a hard day on the ski runs. Seven restaurants here have 12 stars among them, including two restaurants helmed by Nicolas Sale: the two-star La Table du Kilimandjaro, and newcomer Le Kintessence, which won a star just one year after opening.
Some of Japan's best and most atmospheric restaurants are in Kyoto. Traditional exteriors, formal gardens, waiters wearing kimonos and yukatas and multi-course kaiseki meals are all on the menu at the 300 restaurants featured in the guide.
What's your favourite city for food? Post your comments below.