I haven't written on food in awhile and I always enjoy the magazine Food and Wine, so I figured I'd pick up this month's issue with its Top 50 Restaurants in China. With few exceptions, even outside the big 3 (restaurants in Hangzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, HK, Shenzhen, Xiamen, and Fuzhou were also included) all the meals ranged from RMB200/per person to astronomic. I've eaten at 4 of the 50, not bad for someone who lacks a substantial expense account (and I WILL bust my wallet and eat at Jade on 36 at some point), and wouldn't put any of those experiences anywhere near my top dining experiences in China.
I guess I should forgive the list, after all the magazine is called Food AND WINE, many of the great restaurants experiences I have are at restaurants without wine lists or whose list is limited to a few bottles of Great Wall or Dragon Seal. That said, just because a restaurant has a bottle of '82 Latour doesn't mean I want to mix it with the chef's ultra-modern fusion style Kung Pao Chicken, maybe its just me, but I'd still rather have a bottle of the local brew or some xiao er or even a very nice (and very expensive) tea with my meal, thank you very much.
The other noticable bit about the list is the large number of hotel restaurants, especially in Beijing and Shanghai, where hotel restaurants are in the majority. Part of this is because service is factored in and 5-star hotels are likely to pay special attention to all the little touches (though that isn't always the case). The proliferation of these hotels (something for an upcoming post) could mean that next year even a larger percentage of the list is made up of hotel dining, though Handel Lee's Legation Quarter hotspots-to-be are sure to find their way onto the list. 5-star hotels, backed up by major foreign conglomerates, also are more willing (and able due to both money and space issues) to splash the cash to put together an impressive wine cellar. The average restaurateur, even at a high-end restaurant, especially one serving Chinese style food, has to be concerned about the bottom line, and if diners will be interested in pairing wine with their meal.
As an aside, I'm wondering what partners at the bigtime I-banks or law firms feel about chits submitted to them for massive food and drink bills from these restaurants. While prices are constantly rising as diners become more and more spoiled for choice, at I would estimate 95% or more of the high-end restaurants, the majority of bills are for RMB500 or less per person. In the US, food is almost always the main expense. However, as wine in China is already more expensive than the US (due to import tariffs, etc.) even before you add on restaurant markup, and with these restaurants trying to promote top wine lists, its easy for wine costs to exceed food costs.