Fine-dining is dying, according to many in the industry. Explore why the demise of haute cuisine is ushering in the rise of fine-casual in Hong Kong and the world
Once ranked the world’s best restaurant, Copenhagen’s Noma announced in January 2023 that it would be shutting up shop at the end of 2024, reportedly reeling from budget restraints owing to paying interns a fair wage.
David Chang’s two-Michelin-starred spot in New York, Momofuku Ko, closed in early November 2023, at the behest of the company’s restructuring. And, at the end of 2023, Michael Dean’s famed Deanes EIPIC in Belfast closed owing to rising rent and ingredient costs.
Fine-dining, once considered the epitome of culinary excellence, is characterised by formal settings, intricate plating, and hefty price tags. It is a realm reserved for special occasions and extravagant indulgence.
The pandemic, like SARS and the 2008 financial crisis, shortened our pockets and changed our dining habits – some say permanently. Supply chains are yet to recover, oil prices are perpetually rising, and human labour is being priced more fairly – all bad news for fine-dining.
“One word – struggle,” explains Dante Fung, manager of fine-dining Japanese concept Sushi Zo, where an 18-course omakase menu costs HKD2,500 per person.
“[The] fine-dining scene is heavily connected with the economy. People tend to spend more on food and drinks when they are abundant. Facing uncertainty, most people prefer to reserve rather than spend.”
A new wave of diners has emerged in the wake of fine-dining establishments shuttering or facing imminent capitulation, craving the more accessible yet refined experiences of fine-casual dining.
Fine-casual dining bridges this gap by offering high-quality cuisine in a more relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. It combines the best elements of fine-dining, such as expertly crafted dishes and the use of premium ingredients, with the laid-back ambience and affordability of more casual eateries.
As the demand for fine-casual dining continues to grow, traditional fine-dining establishments are reevaluating their strategies. Some have embraced the trend by introducing more casual dining concepts alongside their formal offerings, whilst others have transformed their entire dining experience in order to cater to the evolving tastes and budgets of their patrons.
In 2024, chef Nate Green of REX Wine & Grill and KILO Steakhouse predicts that “fine-dining establishments will [begin to offer] small and cheaper set menus with less luxury ingredients. I can see the refined casual restaurants taking the same approach to just try and get people on seats.”
Bo Innovation, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong serving haute Hong Kong cuisine, now introduces their establishment as “Hong Kong’s Most Affordable 2-Star Michelin Restaurant”, according to their website.
Managed by chef Alvin Leung, known commonly as the “Demon Chef” abroad, their latest “Arts of Asia” dinner menu costs only HKD1,200 per person for 12 courses, as opposed to their previous “The Masterpieces” menu, which charged customers HKD2,000 for 11 courses.
The adaptations that many Hong Kong restaurants have taken showcases the resilience and creativity of the city’s culinary scene as it embraces change to maintain its fine edge whilst staying true to its commitment to offering exceptional food and hospitality.
Some chefs in Hong Kong are keen on embracing both fine-casual dining’s rise and comfortability with diners as well as the prospect of fine-dining becoming central to the F&B industry’s future, both in Hong Kong and worldwide.
“While we have seen the casual-dining space flourish, I think there will always be a healthy appetite for fine-dining because diners do want to be pampered, especially for special occasions,” says chef Tiff Lo of French eatery jean may in Wan Chai. “Whilst we have seen quite a few fine-dining restaurants opening this year in Hong Kong alone, dining out as a whole has been dramatically affected by COVID, the economy, and [the] political climate.”
“I see the dining scene, whether globally or in Hong Kong, [as] a place where restaurateurs express their own version of hospitality, artistically, yet the operations have to survive financially in this harsh environment. I believe we will continue to see a lot of creativity in hospitality, with more interactive dining, visible sustainability efforts, and greater collaborations across countries.”
The rise of fine-casual dining in Hong Kong and worldwide signals a shift in the dining landscape, where accessibility and quality converge. As diners seek memorable experiences that balance refinement with relaxation, fine-casual establishments have emerged as the next trend to look out for, possibly at the demise of fine-dining itself.