I’m ping-ponging the labyrinth of streets in Hong Kong’s Central District with my friend, Jason Collins, a gay, former professional athlete. More than seven-feet tall and African American, Jason quite literally stands out in China, though his extra height doesn’t help us find the restaurant where we have a reservation—and neither does Google Maps. On most of our dinner quests, we’ve been confused with directions (GPS isn’t exactly resourceful with laneways and alleys), and frequently hit dead ends and felt like tourists with question-mark faces. It shouldn’t be this difficult finding a handful of Hong Kong’s newest restaurants, though they haven’t exactly been on the beaten path. They’re located on second, third, and even eighth floors of nondescript buildings, hidden in alleyways or tucked away inside shopping malls.
But we never give up. Not only are we constantly famished; these restaurants have reached a level of prestige in the short time they’ve been open. In fact, they’ve been known to exceed expectations for new restaurants, creating major hype. They’re worth the hunt, especially since Hong Kong’s dining scene is already outstanding. With Jason as a moving natural wonder to the eyes of hundreds of pedestrians, and the off-the-radar restaurant locations that take significant effort to find, we eventually and always make it to our destinations. And, once we arrive, Jason is no longer the main attraction.
In a food-focused week, and a very memorable one, we discovered some of the best new, unforgettable, and irresistible restaurants in Hong Kong. Open less than a year, a number of these hot spots have emerged as extraordinary and next level. With every visit to Hong Kong, I’m always impressed with the commitment newer restaurants make to be the best they can be, but this year, 2018, has been one for the books. Restaurants are thinking outside the box, going against the grain, and offering dining experiences Hong Kong hasn’t quite seen before. Both emerging and seasoned chefs alike are creating inventive, thoughtful menus that are defying expectations in restaurants with equally notable design and atmosphere.
Hong Kong’s dynamic culinary scene is diverse, chockfull of Michelin-starred restaurants, ex-pat-opened treasures, and local Cantonese haunts. Jason and I ate (and Instagrammed) our way through ambitious menus, never looking back, and believing we’d never eat the same way again. This current trend, excellent new restaurants in unassuming places, made it a lot more fun finding them, adding to the intrigue and journey. Here are the best new restaurants in Hong Kong, which are destined to become instant classics in the destination’s legendary dining scene.
YING JEE CLUB
If you haven’t already bought a Prada suit in Hong Kong’s famed designer shopping scene, now’s a good time to splurge. The high level of glam at Ying Jee Club is not just about the elegant, art deco details, but also the staff (in sleek suits) and sophisticated diners. Here, it’s not hard to spot the obvious, rich Chinese women in white gloves toting Gucci bags, many who now have an upscale hideaway in a stylish, contemporary setting. Once you find Ying Jee Club (through a set of escalators to the second floor in a nondescript building in Central), you’ll feel a slight time warp to an affluent, 1920’s Shangha that merges with distinctive, modern style. The restaurant conjures a private club for the elite, though reservations are open to all. The smart, classy design—with marble tables, emerald-green velvet banquets, jade china, and natural wood paneling—allows genuine warmth, which eliminates any stuffiness you’d expect at a place like this. The menu, while upmarket, is also not pretentious, thanks to the careful execution of executive chef Siu Hin-Chi, who has earned 16 Michelin stars in his previous nine years. Naturally, with his pedigree, Ying Jee Club earned a Michelin star within the first year of opening, and Siu’s delivery of painstakingly detailed, highbrow interpretations of Cantonese food is commanding. While traditional Cantonese meals prompt family-style sharing plates, Ying Jee Club is all about tasting menus that change frequently according to seasonality and freshness. The Chinese haute cuisine is served on elegant dishware with artful plating, and they’re familiar dishes with modern panache, including a flavorful and exquisite mixed fungus dumpling with black truffle in pumpkin soup, and wok-fried, diced Kagoshima A4 Wagyu beef prepared with golden-fried garlic and spring onion, so tender it has little chew. Diners also get a fill of the sweet imperial bird’s nest, a celebrated delicacy only served in China. Shop G05, 107-108, Nexxus Building, 41 Connaught Road, Tel: 852-28016882. www.yingjeeclub.hk
English chef Nate Green is a character. Snatch a seat at the ex-pat chef’s table/bar of Rhoda, and you’ll not only have frontrow seats to all the open-kitchen action, but the added value of Nate cheerfully narrating for eager diners. In fact, it’s here you’ll understand the young, tattooed, and bearded chef’s encyclopedic knowledge (and passion) for food. His storytelling is just as exciting as the dishes he’s slinging out. Opened August 2016, Rhoda is in the emerging Shan Wai neighborhood, a lowkey area where hipsters are slowly migrating, so arriving here may feel random at first. But Nate clearly has a hold of trends, and Rhoda is leading the pack of interesting, forward-thinking restaurants that celebrates local farmers’ market ingredients in contemporary dining. His goal is to evoke memories from his past dining experiences in global destinations, like his first trip to France, and he recreates them in smart dishes. Rhoda is something you’d expect an ex-pat to open: a little heavy on Western themes (lively and fun, with classic rock playing in the background), but it’s still within the frame of a notably food-driven experience. With Nate’s background as a former butcher, there’s not a thing meat lovers won’t find on the menu (even ox heart, chicken heart, and liver), most prepared with fancy ingredients (think Hawke’s Bay Wagyu short rib with bone marrow and Sturia caviar). All meat is cured in-house, so it’s the intelligent option to order. Also, Rhoda buys whole animals when they can, so don’t be surprised when you get the actual pig’s head with the Mangalica pig head termine with pineapple chutney. Seafood dishes get the same amount of attention to detail, like cured hamachi with pickled wasabi and smoked cod roe, and the red snapper baked in spices like kombu and oregano. It’s always hard to root for chicken, but Nate uses free-range, grassfed chicken, brushing it with a mix of seaweed butter and miso paste, eventually hanging them over the open fire made of bincho tan charcoal and almond wood. The spices are aromatic, the chicken extremely juicy, and the rich flavors easily make the chicken a stand out here. 345 Des Vouex Road, Sai Ying Pun, Tel: 852-2177-5050. www.rhoda.hk
Ten years ago, I would have said it’s never a good sign when a notable chef opens a restaurant in a shopping mall. Welcome to 2018, where restaurateurs defy expectations. And welcome to Hong Kong, where some of the best restaurants are, in fact, set inside malls (think: Din Tai Fung, a Michelin-starred dumpling house that opened inside Miramar Shopping Center). Haku is inside Harbour City, a massive shopping complex that recently unveiled an impressive, brand-new pier on the waterfront. It faces west, with ravishing views that frame a dramatic skyline and traditional junkets, giving sense of place. I loved the new kind of energy at Harbour City, and I was excited to check out Haku, that also opened the week I visited. Haku is an under the radar and intimate, 30-seat Kappo-style dining experience. You’ll only find premium Japanese ingredients in the kitchen, utilized with European techniques (thanks to Agustin Balbi, the seasoned, executive chef Saddle up at the open kitchen, sushi-style counter for one of the most voyeuristic dining experiences in Hong Kong. It’s fascinating to watch the chefs in action, handling exotic ingredients, and preparing impressive creations, especially when you receive a glass of Champagne (Krug) right off the bat. Everything here feels natural and authentic, and the dishes speak for themselves. I was a big fan of the amuse-bouches, like beetroot pickle intricately cut in the shape of a rose, and the light fatty tuna tartar topped with dense Kristal caviar and gold flakes. The rich Kagoshima Wagyu (a rare, Japanese A4 beef tenderloin) with eryngii mushrooms and baby turnips was soft, bursting with flavor in thin slices. This type of Wagyu is a rarity in Hong Kong (Haku is one of three restaurants to serve this), so there was comfort in knowing the extreme, thoughtful measures taken for the gourmands who dine here. Haku doesn’t just serve a great meal; it’s a wonderful show and a journey through the imagination of a prominent chef. Clearly, Haku takes mall food to a whole other level, so much so that it’s a whole category of its own. Shop OT G04B, Ground Floor, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tel: 852-2115-9965. www.haku.com.hk
Spring Moon at Peninsula Hong Kong is not new, but it’s constantly reinventing itself—and it really shined last year, earning a Michelin star. It’s among my favorite restaurants in Hong Kong to return to time and again, and it’s quickly receiving the attention it deserves. In the lower level of the storied hotel, down a long hallway, Spring Moon feels like a speakeasy, tucked away in the back. The closer you approach, you’ll hear the din of contented diners, as if you’re stumbling upon a secret place. First impressions go a long way here. There’s no other place in Hong Kong where I’ve seen such diverse diners, including ex-pat gourmands, affluent hotel guests, and generations of Chinese families in big groups, with young and old alike. There are balloons tied to chairs for birthdays, locals on dates, business men in suits. Unlike many traditional Chinese restaurants I’ve visited, Spring Moon isn’t a one-hit wonder. It takes the heart and soul of Hong Kong and recreates it in a memorable setting, with the type of atmosphere you want to bottle up and take home as a souvenir. Spring Moon is family-style, high-end traditional Cantonese dining in a gorgeous, elegant space. The vaulted ceiling soars, colorful stained glass reflects off the polished, wooden floors, and thoughtful design is down to the smallest detail, like a bamboo centerpiece on every table. Of course, the food is the main highlight. Chef Gordon Leung nabbed the restaurant a Michelin star last year (2017) by slightly tweaking timeless dishes to earn the coveted distinction. The popular, award-winning dim sum sets a high standard in Hong Kong, and it’s a staple to any meal, including signature bites like baked crispy buns with Wagyu beef, which are rich without being overpowering. The roasted Peking duck, carved into flavorful rice crêpé wraps (with the hotel’s signature, house-made X.O. spicy sauce) is as good as it gets. Spring Moon is an authentic experience that inspires you to appreciate food, family, and Hong Kong, and the Michelin star has truly taken it to the next level. The Peninsula Hong Kong, Salisbury Rd. Tsimsha Tsui. Tel: 852-2696-6760. www.peninsula.com/hongkong
Lan Kwai Fong’s nightlife reputation precedes it. It’s rowdy and fun, tourist-packed and chaotic, and it’s always been about the bars and pubs. For decades, you’d be hardpressed to find an exceptional restaurant in this neck of the woods, and Circa 1913 has finally given diners a reason to wade through the crowds—if you can find it (though that’s the whole point). Inside a former Dairy Farm Depot in a century-old building, which is a little rough around the edges, Circa 1913 is hidden on the upper level through winding stairs past a nightclub. Once you enter the stylish hideaway, you realize it’s meant to be a sanctuary from the madness outside. Quiet and elegant, with muted design and engaging artwork, Circa 1913 is an attraction in itself, and it’s a big draw for fashion lovers. Owner Alen Ng isn’t a seasoned restaurateur, but a well known fashion event producer for high-end designers, like Hermes. His fantasy for creating the perfect retreat for friends (old and new) came to fruition with Circa 1913, and he hired executive chef Anderson Tam (Zuma, Robuchon) to spearhead an experiential haute cuisine dining menu. The restaurant is intimate (only 40 seats), though not small, and as you would imagine, it feels like a set for a fashion shoot. The dome-shaped space— with hanging chandeliers, gold finishes, and teal walls—is a wonderful backdrop to a beautiful meal, and windows overlooking the night revelers below help you further appreciate the retreat. Expect smart, French-Japanese fusion for a menu that’s bold and sensory, as you’d expect from a former Robuchon chef. The menu frequently changes based on a variety of factors (including seasonality). Highlights for me were the A5 Wagyu beef and Botan shrimp, as well as excellent paired cocktails, courtesy of an award-winning mixologist. In fact, Circa 1913 is as much a cocktail lounge as it is a supper club, and it’s quickly become a popular hangout for local gay ex-pats who appreciate a fine nightcap. Another memorable after-hours spot in the area is PDT at Landmark Mandarin Oriental. The new, exclusive speakeasy bar, the trendiest bar since opening January 2018, is the second location for NYC’s award-winning Please Don’t Tell, which practically invented tthe craft cocktail. There are only25 seats; dress to impress here. Circa 1913, 2 Lower Albert Road, 1/F South Block, Fringe Club, Tel: 852-36430288. www.circa1913.com. PDT, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Tel: 852-2132-0188. www.mandarinoriental.com
While the mother lode of new Hong Kong restaurants excels in fine dining and haute cuisine, Fang Fang simply serves good food in a dark and sexy setting, on the eighth floor of a random building. To be honest, it has a PF Chang’s-meets-Tao sort of vibe, with a dash of Hakkasan ambience. Before you roll your eyes in the back of your head like I did (especially when a random, live band plays between the soundtrack of EDM music, and learning the restaurant has a “backstory” based on a fictional character), Fang Fang is not meant to be a serious, buttoned-up, Michelinseeking gourmand magnet, and I was actually excited to roll up my sleeves and pig out on good food, because, yes, that exists here. In fact, the quality is supreme over PF Chang’s or Tao or Hakassan. The Pan-Asian inspired menu has a “global” touch, thanks to executive chef Kent Lee Chin Heng, who’s worked in metropolitan cities like London and Mumbai (Hakkasan, to be exact, which explains a lot). There’s tender Wagyu beef I had served with a house-made hot chili sauce with sweet notes. The Posh Duck Salad was more messy than posh, but still had addictive texture and tang. The five-spice squid is a crowd pleaser, and the jasmine tea smoked ribs was playful, the unique floral note of
jasmine tea giving it a hint of unique flavor I never expected. Even the roasted duck, perhaps the best seller, wasn’t greasy or heavy as it’s air-dried, marinated for 48 hours in spices then roasted. Fang Fang is where local scenester ex-pats go to feel like they’re in Vegas or LA, to take out visiting friends, or go in big groups (it’s not a date type of place). It’s not for everyone but, with the restaurant’s execution and thoughtful dishes, I was a big fan fan. 8/F LKF Tower, Tel: 852-2983-9083. www.fangfang.com.hk