Hong Kong has reopened to the world once again, following some of the world’s longest-lasting Covid-19 restrictions. In spite of the city’s reputation as a tourist destination suffering in recent years, particularly from violent political protests from early 2019 to mid-2020, those in the hospitality industry are optimistic. There is no doubt that it is an exciting food destination, maybe even more so than ever before.
“Hong Kong is a very resilient city, and it never ceases to amaze travellers with its vitality and creativity,” says Uwe Opocensky, executive chef at Island Shangri-La Hong Kong, where he helms the famed Restaurant Petrus and the pop-up series in Cafe Too, so diners can enjoy much-loved dishes from local brands, including Michelin-starred Yat Lok’s roast goose and On Lee’s fish balls.
“There has been a real transformation in the dining scene in the last few years — it’s much more locally driven and young talents have emerged,” he adds. “Hong Kong has always been a culinary destination. With these newfound souls, the city will emerge even stronger than before.”
Cantonese cuisine, refreshed
Hong Kong has always offered exceptional Chinese food, but in recent years chefs here have taken the cuisine in exciting new directions. At The Chairman, which relocated to The Wellington building last year, restaurateur Danny Yip takes an ingredient-led approach to Cantonese, using traditional cooking skills on carefully sourced, seasonal produce.
He sources almost-forgotten ingredients from southern China, such as 20-year-pickled lemon or sugar-roasted chrysanthemum, and creates fresh new Cantonese dishes with them. Yip opened The Chairman in 2009, but it made the top spot in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2021, propelling it to international stardom.
Trend-setting chef Vicky Lau runs two-Michelin-star Tate Dining Room, which fuses home-grown flavours with French techniques. Each dish on her elegant tasting menu pays homage to a classic Hong Kong ingredient, such as Ode to Crab, a flower crab with ocean mousse and Oscietra caviar in a crisp seaweed cone. Having developed another dish, Ode to Tofu, Lau was so inspired by the humble soya bean that she started a restaurant dedicated to the ingredient.
Mora opened in January last year among the antique stalls of Upper Lascar Row. Each dish contains soya bean in some form, from noodles in soya milk lobster bouillon to seared scallop with fermented tofu sauce. Lau makes her own soya milk in a local factory, and sells it through a regular pop-up called An Soy.
Vicky Cheng, another boundary-breaking chef, opened his second restaurant Wing in April 2021. Located in The Wellington Building, one level below his first restaurant Vea, which radically blends Chinese and French cuisines, Wing reinterprets classic Chinese recipes and familiar flavours with creative twists.
His starter of smoked eggplant in house-made sour sauce is served plaited, inspired by his daughter’s pigtail, while his main dish of baby pigeon employs a Teochew technique usually used on duck. He glazes the bird with cane sugar, then smokes the pigeon with sugar cane pulp.
Cheng says that this turn to local flavours and ingredients in recent years makes Hong Kong a unique dining destination that can compete with the best food cities across Asia.
“The city is beautiful and full of resources, and I’m glad that we’re exploring it all, like the dried and fresh seafood, meat and vegetables, and the long-standing Hong Kong brands, such as Chinese yellow wine and sugarcane juice,” he says. “This is something that all chefs in Hong Kong, regardless of whether they were born here or aboard, should explore, not only to be more sustainable but also to offer diners something new and interesting.”
Another chef flying the flag for local cuisine is ArChan Chan, who burst onto the Hong Kong dining scene when she returned from Australia to take over the reins at Ho Lee Fook, which was already known for its playful renditions of Cantonese dishes. She has brought a far more traditional heart to the menu, serving dishes that are “more unapologetically Cantonese” in spirit.
Her char siu is made from top- quality, Japanese marbled pork. She cooks it in the traditional way except for one final step: Chan finishes it with a honey and maltose glaze on a charcoal grill, adding a smokiness to the meat not usually found in char siu. At monthly dim sum sessions, she uses curry Wagyu beef inside taro puffs and serves crispy fun gor or steamed meat dumplings with supreme broth, which are no longer readily found outside “old-school” restaurants.
Cantonese is one of the most popular food cultures within the portfolio of Chinese cuisines. Hong Kong has such a rich culture. Throughout history, it’s been a place where so many different cultures have come together. We’re proud of our cuisine and where we’re from. We want to continue to push ourselves and the recognition for our work even further.
A new wave of Latin American restaurants
While there is a growing focus on local cuisine, excellent food from across the world can also still be found in Hong Kong. The city has always prided itself on its multicultural status and although expat numbers have dropped, chefs cooking a kaleidoscope of cuisines, from Korean to Sichuan and Spanish to British, are ensuring the dining scene remains vibrant and varied.
Latin American cuisine has taken off here, with Mono by chef Ricardo Chaneton delighting diners with dishes that combine flavours from across the continent. Venezuela-born Chaneton was formerly head chef at three-Michelin-starred Mirazur in France, which was World’s Best Restaurant in 2019, before heading Petrus at the Island Shangri-La Hong Kong.
At Mono, Chaneton returns to the flavours of his childhood, drawing on ingredients such as mashua tubers and leche de tigre, a citrus-based, spicy marinade used to cure fish in Peruvian ceviche. While many ingredients are imported, Chaneton uses local when possible, sourcing locally reared Iberico pigs for his pork rack with morcilla (blood sausage) and sarrapia (tonka beans), for example.
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Chaneton says that while he was able to offer Hongkongers a taste of something different during the pandemic, he’s now looking forward to cooking for visitors from all over the world.
He has partnered with another boundary-breaking chef in the city, Agustin Balbi, to open the more casual Rosita. Balbi, who spent five years in top kitchens in Japan, cooks exceptional Japanese-meets-Spanish cuisine at Michelin-starred Ando, offering delights such as raw samegarai (roughscale sole) with black olives and an elevated take on the classic biscuit of alfajor, served with Japanese black tea sorbet. The two chefs’ skills come together at Rosita, where dishes are modern Latin American, incorporating some French and Japanese techniques and flavours.
The variety of innovative cuisine remains undiminished. In Cheng’s view, Hong Kong does not need to rebuild what has been destroyed; it needs to regain the confidence of visitors.
“It’s just a matter of doing what we do and being what we are,” he says. “The uniqueness of the restaurants here will show tourists that over the last three years of staying put in Hong Kong, we have only improved our skills.”
New food districts in Hong Kong
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Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo are no longer thriving nightlife areas, but other enclaves have taken their place as dining hot spots.
Tai Kwun, Central
The almost-100-year-old Former Central Police Station Compound has been transformed into an impressive public space with some must-visit restaurants.
Black Sheep restaurant group’s Magistracy Dining Room was one of the most talked about openings of last year. Gorgeously designed to mimic a private member’s club in London, the menu is similarly themed, with classic dishes such as oysters, endive and Stilton salad, and prime rib carved at the table in grand style. Dessert is sticky toffee pudding, of course.
Agora is a modern Spanish fine dining counter by Chef Antonio Oviedo, who is also responsible for the much-loved tapas bar 22 Ships. Desserts, including one that pairs clementines with chestnuts and Pedro Ximenez sherry, are a highlight of the excellent tasting menu.
Sun Street, Wan Chai
The small streets in the Star Street precinct are a haven of quiet in busy Wan Chai. The independent coffee shops and small restaurants offering a range of cuisines from Greek to Vietnamese give the area a neighbourhood feel.
Take the steps up to Sun Street for a meal at Danji, a modern Korean bistro. It serves seafood pancakes, top-notch fried chicken, and japchae (glass vermicelli noodles) along with Korean liquors such as soju and makgeolli.