With 25 restaurants and seven Michelin stars, he’s clocked in at number 58 in this year’s Forbes list of 100 most powerful celebrities, but Gordon Ramsay is more than just a number, baby. His original television programmes that made him a global household name portrayed him as an intimidating, domineering, profane, powerhouse of a chef with The F Word, Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef. But a more human Ramsay was seen with the launch of last year’s Masterchef Junior, televising a cooking contest featuring talented child chefs being hugged by Ramsay when they depart; perhaps suggesting his exaggerated and explosive personality is being tucked away for a focus on his softer side and further expansion of his restaurant empire.
Enter Bread Street Kitchen, Hong Kong. The Gordon Ramsay Group originally began down the fine dining route before transforming into a more casual concept with Gordon Ramsay BurGR, Maze, Savoy Grill and Bread Street Kitchen. In collaboration with Dining Concepts, best known for bringing New York celebrity chef Mario Batali to Hong Kong with Lupa and Carnevino (the latter rumoured to be closing up shop shortly), they have unveiled an identical design of the London branch of BSK with a modern and moody vibe, and a large, exciting open kitchen as its centrepiece. Head Chef Gilles Bosquet from the group in London will head up the team here with the restaurant featuring long, leather booths throughout, ideal for large group dining parties as well as intimate Lan Kwai Fong watchers with its raised mezzanine vantage point.
I couldn’t ask for a more fitting location. There’s a pulse here, a heartbeat, and it’s vibrant for a chef.
Serving up a hearty menu full of British favourites (see our full review of Bread Street Kitchen on page 12 of this issue), we were interested to find out why Ramsay chose Hong Kong as the next stop on his global culinary takeover. So, when he came to our fair city to celebrate the grand opening, we asked him.
“This is an exciting step, entering the amazing food culture of the Asian market with one of our successful London concepts. We’re drawn to Hong Kong, as the first place in the region to open, as it has a vibrant and welcoming dining scene with lots of food lovers and explorers looking for new food and drink experiences. I can’t wait to open the doors.”
When we asked Ramsay specifically about his choice of Lan Kwai Fong, its clear he feels strongly about the area,
“I love the hustle and bustle of everyday business here. Walking up three flights of stairs, through two hairdressing salons and a betting shop and getting to a restaurant on the top floor of a block of flats is extraordinary. I love the energy of this area. And the rents are f**king expensive. So this has to work guys, otherwise my ass is on the line.”
Known for his high standards, Ramsay tells how he will maintain them from a distance.
“What we managed to do six months ago was exchange with key staff in London, getting the team up to speed with Bread Street Kitchen and having that collaboration early on. With Facetime, Skype, mobile telephones, communication is brilliant.”
We’re not the only restaurateur in Hong Kong faced with colossal rents.
- Gordon Ramsay
He says the key here is the size.
“We didn’t want to go with 250 seats. I didn’t want the restaurant looking half empty on a Monday night. The secret behind any successful restaurant is having it full Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then Friday, Saturday, Sunday takes care of itself, naturally. We have 90 seats and a cool bar area where you can have one or two courses, or have people popping in for dessert; so it was maintaining that kind of consistency across the board of the London set up. We’re not the only restaurateur in Hong Kong faced with colossal rents. That helps us focus on the business earlier and tweak it earlier.
No one likes to see a restaurant going down, but no matter if it’s New York, or even London, this rent issue is not going to slow down. But there is an advantage to that, if we look at the positive that it keeps us on our toes and makes us work harder to be a success.”
He also takes a jibe at what some consider his closest rival “And how fitting is that, where Bread Street Kitchen sits in London, we have a fellow chef, a neighbour literally next door to us; you probably haven’t heard of him, but he’s breaking through the market currently, his name’s Jamie Oliver. And now we’re in Hong Kong together.” Ramsay goes on to joke that at he least he showed up for his restaurant’s launch.
Walking up three flights of stairs, through two hairdressing salons and a betting shop and getting to a restaurant on the top floor of a block of flats is extraordinary.
Ramsay certainly knows how to work a room, perhaps unsurprisingly for a personality who has dominated television screens, either charming or chastising chefs, for over a decade. He goes as far as to profess his love for the blogging community, calling them “perfect mystery shoppers” for their rapid feedback that allows them to swiftly amend items on their menus.
“I love that little underbelly because bloggers are critical. Everyone despises them, which I think is ridiculous because you have those food critics with long leads but bloggers give you instant feedback. If there is something wrong, there and then, we get to change it instantly. I’m not talking three days later, but that night. When it’s not running right we can take it off in a heartbeat. Redo it, get it perfect, get it back on there.”
When we asked of his favourite Cantonese dish, he had many colourful things to say,
“I like the certain amount of lightness, the infusions, the blends, the broths, whether it’s the braised pork belly or the caramelised pork belly. We had extraordinary duck yesterday and it came to the table with its neck and its head, and it was smiling at me, and if we did that in the UK, I’d get in so much sh*t for that you have no idea. I like the fact that you’ve kept hold of those humble beginnings, traditions and steeped in that culture. I couldn’t ask for a more fitting location.
There’s a pulse here, a heartbeat, and it’s vibrant for a chef. I remember my first six months in Paris, I was getting up to speed and learning French and we were running out of asparagus and mushrooms in the middle of service and literally we could step out of the restaurant and buy the fresh produce we needed from the market and I think Hong Kong has that feel still from the local markets. It brings it back to that collaboration, and we’ll use those noodles, those broths, those spices and traditions and we’ll stamp it down on Bread Street Kitchen’s menu to make it compatible and unintimidating for locals.
Jean George was the first big influence for me that managed to grasp that French-Asian influence and that success in New York was incredible. We’ll follow suit; Pétrus (Ramsay’s UK fine dining venue) is going through a bit of a transformation where everything’s a lot lighter. We’re using caramelised broths with fish, and glazing fish with meat juices, steering away from that sedated veal stock eight-hour reduction that’s cloyingly heavy on the palate. Our responsibility as chefs is to transfer that level of excitement to the customer.
So we’ve not gotten rid of cream or butter but to use them in moderation, and that’s based on our experience here in Asia where we’re compelled to use less cream, less egg, less butter and become more flavoursome without the punch at the end. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but chefs are getting slimmer across the world, which is good news.”
Ramsay revealed to us for the first time that they will definitely also be opening a restaurant in Macau. Having also recently announced Bread Street Kitchen will open in 2015 in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, Ramsay’s Managing Director Stuart Gillies has confirmed their partnership with Sands Macao but remains tight-lipped about the details of the concept. He does say they will be in Hong Kong frequently to maintain the quality of the brand and he himself will return in six weeks with Ramsay confirming he will be back before Christmas.
When asked about additional locations in Asia, Ramsay batted around a few ideas, “Stuart and I would like to do a cool steakhouse; we did it in Vegas, we took the Americans on with the steakhouse and with our beautiful burger concept, and worked hard. Making these burgers with Devonshire butter, the dressings and the desserts that you never really see in a burger outfit. We’re having crème caramel smoothies, burgers, truffle fries, and this amazing shake stroke dessert. We have two or three other possibilites in the pipeline and hopefully across summer 2015, we can be looking to announce something.” He also mentions the possibility of a late night supper club.
So, for those looking to try out his Hong Kong venue, what would Ramsay suggest on a first visit to Bread Street? “I would look at some of the confirmed hits: the ceviches, even something as simple as the Tamarind chicken wings, it’s the kind of thing we grew up with, that mum cooked. The pork, the beef, the lamb, the desserts. The caramelised sticky toffee pudding – to die for. It is the kind of dessert where you have to lie down for three hours afterwards but it’s an indulgence and I like to see that dish shared. Those dishes will give you a proper taste.”
Bread Street Kitchen & Bar, Mezzanine Floor, LKF Hotel, 33 Wyndham St, Central, 2230 1800