Top photo credit: NUR Restaurant
When the Michelin guide is released each year in major food cities like London and New York (somehow, incredibly, Australia isn't included in the ratings system. Fortunately they have hats to guide the way) there is a maelstrom of criticism, elation, outrage, bewilderment and congratulations expressed nearly in equal quantities. Whether anyone pays attention to these comments, other than the French, is yet to confirmed, but no one can deny the collective breathe that is held as the results are released in Hong Kong on November 5th.
It’s been a big year for Hong Kong when it comes to the finer dining restaurants, and the potential for innovation and world class cooking has never been more available. With the influx of international chefs, and arguably, the most encouraging recognition of the region as one specifically for gastronomy, the future is hopeful for Hong Kong.
Here are some thoughts on HK’s dining scene in anticipation of the Michelin release of stars for 2016:
Serge et le phoque is a gallic collaboration between Fred Peneau, formerly the business partner of Iñaki Aizpitarte at Le Chateaubriand and chef Christophe Pelé, joined by interior designer Charles Pelletier. They created ripples as they opened behind the fish markets of Wanchai early in 2014. The food is accomplished, drawing on the tenures of of its founders in some of the best restaurants and bars in the world, from Chateaubriand, Le Dauphin (sister restaurant to Chateaubriand), La Bigarrade and Café Burq. Though the laid back feel, lack of website, and placing of the washroom, has been said to be off-putting to some diners, when it comes to the first Michelin star, which looks at that which is on the plate, this shouldn’t pose a problem.
Richard Ekkebus gained recognition for Amber this year in another aspired-to guide: San Pellegrino's 50 Best Restaurants. It was the only restaurant in Hong Kong to make the list. While Amber is helmed by executive chef Maxime Gilbert who attends to day-to-day cooking and operations, Ekkebus is culinary director and ensures dishes remain consistent. In light of the two stars bestowed last year, there have been murmurings that Amber, if any, should be elevated to three.
Bo Innovation, headed by Canadian celebrity chef Alvin Leung, retained three stars in the 2015 Michelin guide. The announcement of its three stars back in 2014 raised many an eyebrow, and aloft they have remained as the years have progressed and the stars have stuck. The cooking is no doubt memorable with molecular forms of Chinese cooking showing up in dishes like Umami: toro, har mi oil, mixed noodles and 'wok air' powder and tomato: 'pat chun' Chinese vinegar, fermented Chinese olives 'lam kok', marshmallow with green onion oil, but upon which side of the taste test fence these dishes fall is hotly contested.
One Michelin starred NUR has a team comprising of virtuosos from the kitchens of NOMA's The Nordic Food Lab (2 Michelin stars), Le Manoir Au Quat Saisons (2 Michelin stars), Petrus (1 Michelin star), Michel Gerard (3 Michelin stars) and Texture (1 Michelin star). They have pioneered fermentation with Western cooking styles in a way that has added umami depth to produce in a way that Hong Kong hasn't seen before, and have become champions of Asian-centric produce in a way that’s being described as Scandinavia-meets-Asia.
ÉPURE was opened in 2014 but only seemed to come into its own this year, which likely came as a result of better PR, given the tricky Kowloon location of this fine French eatery. Kowloon comparatively holds far fewer Michelin restaurants than the island of Hong Kong. Though ÉPURE currently holds no stars, and even as the media flurry accompanying the ‘discovery’ of this restaurant died down, creativity of process and respect of ingredients have remained high. Executive chef Nicolas Boutin, formerly of Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, and prior to that Lameloise (3 Michelin stars), Troisgros (3 Michelin stars) Jardin de l’Opera (2 Michelin stars) and Jean Bardet (2 Michelin stars), is an excellent craftsman and ensures this standard is maintained.
Still over in Kowloon, La Saison is tucked behind the blazing neon lights of chaotic Cameron Street in Tsim Sha Tsui. Like something of a little culinary secret, and in sharp contrast to the buzz outside, La Saison is all refined luxury, awash in muted greys and natural wood tones. The first Asian venture by veteran chef Jacques Barnachon, La Saison’s ethos is based on deep-rooted respect for sustainability and seasonality. “You cannot have cherries all year round” perfectly sums up the ethos, as Chef Jacques only uses ingredients when they are in season. In Hong Kong, the man Chef Jacques has appointed to lead is Executive Chef Florian Muller, a former protege from L’Etang du Moulin. Their fine French cooking is staunchly traditional and nearly faultless, but they are yet to receive a star.
The Chairman is a beloved restaurant who once held stars but, bewilderingly, no longer does. It has been said to be among the best Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong for years, and even on his latest visit, Ferran Adria quoted "Hong Kong needs thousands of restaurants like the Chairman to make the traditional cuisine of Hong Kong truly world class." Sophistry without being complex, first rate service and small, high quality servings are what set this restaurant apart and should earn it a star.
Shane Osborn, an Australian chef who achieved one and two Michelin stars at Pied-a-Terre in London, opened his solo venture Arcane in Hong Kong’s centre late 2014. The food is simple and precise; clean, with an immersive thoroughness for the origin of each element. The stories that accompany each ingredient are enthralling and palpable, drawing on slow methods and sustainable practices. They use tuna from Spain, touted as the most sustainable in the world. Many of their vegetables are specifically cultivated for the restaurant by the sous chef’s father, who owns an organic farm in the New Territories.
Arguably one of the better restaurant groups in Hong Kong, Black Sheep Restaurants, have opened three new restaurants and bars this year alone in a rather aggressive expansion plan. Though the group tends to shoot for the middle range –fast casual as they call it– two restaurants might catch the eye of the Michelin inspectors; Carbone and Ho Lee Fook. Carbone is the Hong Kong sister of the older, already Michelin-recognised restaurant in New York by the same name, while Ho Lee Fook is the brainchild of Jowett Yu, who was Taiwanese raised but immigrated to North America early on. He made his mark in Sydney, before introducing his brand of modern Chinese to Hong Kong, and gaining much esteem for it, no less than at San Sebastian this year as one of the four key speakers from Hong Kong. The food is more casual than fine dining focused, but the quality has been said to rival many of the more established, modern Chinese restaurants, and everyone from Matt Damon to Ferran Adria visits this restaurant on trips to Hong Kong.
Mong Kok's Ming Court has become a Michelin-starred stalwart of fine Cantonese cuisine and had a new chef take over earlier this year. Mango Tsang Chiu Lit, from the former executive chef, who just happens to be his younger brother. Chef Mango is an original Hong Konger who started out in the city’s dai pai dongs and now has over 40 years notched up working in top hotels. We were taken through his degustation menu to taste all the wonders he can craft with his wealth of experience, which may be just the catalyst needed for three stars.
Duddell’s gained two Michelin stars for their dim sum which is crafted and served in a restaurant of artistic dynamism which merges culture, craft cocktails and high end Chinese food. Often collaborating with local designers, galleries and fashion brands, dining at Duddell's is casual yet refined; a seemingly unusual criteria for Michelin standards. Whether this standard remains will be evidenced in November.
Caprice is a contemporary French restaurant in the Four Seasons who currently hold two Michelin stars. A fine dining stalwart, Caprice held three stars but was reduced to two in 2014. With no contention over the quality of food and innovation of chefs, this may be a year to reascend.
One Michelin-starred Tate's Vicky Lau has had a big year. Taking the title of Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef award at Asia's 50 Best Restaurants and as owner and head chef of Tate, a restaurant renowned for telling eloquent stories through its dishes, she also featured on CNN Culinary Journeys alongside the likes of Gaggan and Helene Darozze.
Yardbird is the brainchild of two Canadians–Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang–who are able to demonstrate just how delicious every part of the chicken can be. But that's not all they excel in; the KFC (Korean fried cauliflower) is every bit as delicious as the more meaty menu compatriots. A restaurant that is constantly buzzing, this is another eatery every celebrity and industry god visits when on island shores.
On the subject of poultry-related news; Toritama made a name for itself this year when it brought yakitori to Hong Kong in a way that made the Japanophiles yell "irrashaimase!" The menu truly gives a beak to tail experience, comprising of over 20 chicken parts, catering to the adventurous and to those taking the next step up from chicken nuggets. It has been said to be the most authentic yakitori in town, owing largely to yakitori master Hironobu Matsumoto, a Japanese celebrity chef who has starred in popular TV programs back in the land of the Rising Sun.
At China Tang, the ever cheerful Chef Au (who began his cooking career at 14), oversees all conceptualisation and creation of the cuisine. He honed his skills in refined Chinese cuisine in both in Hong Kong and China and became the youngest three Michelin-starred Chinese cuisine chef during his career at The Eight in the Grand Lisboa in Macau. Having a constant drive to find a new angle, Chef Au's direction for the cuisine of China Tang illuminates the best of Chinese flavours with the intricate details of each dish exemplifying the history and mastery of one of the oldest culinary traditions.
Here's the list from last November to refresh your memories. What restaurants do you think will join the guide this year? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.
The 2015 Hong Kong Michelin List of Starred Restaurants:
3 Michelin Stars
(Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey)
- 8½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA
- Bo Innovation
- L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
- Lung King Heen
- Sushi Shikon
Two Michelin Stars
(Excellent cuisine, worth a detour)
- Celebrity Cuisine
- Shang Palace
- Summer Palace
- Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine
- T'ang Court
- Tenku Ryu Gin
- The Principal
- Tin Lung Heen
- Wagyu Takumi
- Yan Toh Heen
One Michelin Star
(A very good restaurant in its category)
- Ah Yat Harbour View Restaurant
- CIAK - In The Kitchen
- NEW Fook Lam Moon
- Forum Restaurant
- Fu Ho Restaurant
- GINZA IWA
- Golden Leaf
- Golden Valley
- Guo Fu Lou
- Ho Hung Kee
- Jardin de Jade
- Kam's Roast Goose
- Kazuo Okada
- Lei Garden (Central, Kowloon Bay, Mong Kok, North Point, Sha Tin, Wan Chai
- Loaf On
- Man Wah
- Mandarin Grill + Bar
- MIC Kitchen
- Ming Court
- NUR Restaurant
- Pang's Kitchen
- restaurant Akrame
- Seasons by Olivier E.
- Sing Kee Seafood Restaurant
- Spoon by Alain Ducasse
- Tate Dining Room & Bar
- The Boss
- The Square
- THE STEAK HOUSE winebar + grill
- Tim Ho Wan, the Dim-Sum Specialists (North Point, Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui)
- Upper Modern Bistro
- Wagyu Kaiseki Den
- Yat Lok Restaurant
- Yu Lei
- Yè Shanghai
- Zhejiang Heen