It is quite possible to get an overview of Hong Kong’s history and culture by eating your way through this metropolis. We may not be proud of the fact that the city now imports 97 percent of its food, but it is also a testament to Hong Kong’s incredible ascent as one of the world’s largest trading centers. A mere 180 years ago, this cluster of islands consisted of tiny fishing villages, but being an international port Hong Kong has ensured to underscored the ‘East‐meets‐West’ concept. Street food and food court culture is fast disappearing as a result of out‐of‐touch food licensing laws and a lack of interest in the grittier end of the industry.
When Amber opened in 2005, fine dining in Hong Kong was all about stuffy, old‐fashioned French food, with everything flown in from Europe. Executive chef Richard Ekkebus arguably changed all that, making ingredients like Japanese sea urchin fit into a modern European menu by placing it atop a lobster jell‐O with cauliflower, caviar and crispy waffles. Traditionalists had their doubts at first, but more than a decade on, Amber now tops most restaurant guides and lists, internationally and globally, so book well in advance.
Chef David Lai is no stranger to local restaurant hounds, loved by local dining obsessives for bucking food trends and simply serving what he thinks is delicious. The French Laundry alum was one of the first chefs cooking non‐Chinese to shop daily at the city’s ‘wet’ markets (fresh food markets). The menu changes weekly, and features whatever’s in season – be it local, from Japan or from the south of France. It might be Japanese firefly squid one week, and local lobster the next, always cooked simply with a slight French accent.
In Central, the main business district, restaurants designed for expense accounts are dime a dozen ‐ flashy, bold, steak‐and‐Bordeaux affairs. Arcane is a bit of a dark horse— this quietly sophisticated fine diner showcases the work of Shane Osborn, Australian by way of London’s Michelin‐starred Pied à Terre. With much of the produce coming from Japan, as well as the restaurant’s own petite kitchen garden, dishes are in tune with the Asian seasons while delivering restrained, elegant Euro‐centric flavour profiles, such as a caprese salad‐like Japanese fruit tomato with homemade ricotta, pinenuts, rocket and sherry vinegar dressing, or a crudo using Hokkaido scallop, paired with smoked eel mousse, celery, apple juice and walnut.
Luk Yu Tea House
Luk Yu is probably featured in every tourist guidebook ever written, but it’s worth putting up with the fanny packs and condescending service for two things— the gorgeous, meticulously maintained 1930s décor, and the sweet and sour pork. The latter, lest you think it a fabricated Chinatown dish, does in fact have its roots in China. At Luk Yu, the sauce is made the traditional way, with hawthorn, giving the deep‐fried nuggets of pork a deeper, cherry‐like colour and a more rounded tartness than the ketchup‐and‐vinegar takeout variety.
After leaving Tenku Ryugin, the Hong Kong branch of venerable Tokyo restaurant Ryugin, chef Hideaki Sato opened Ta Vie, a tasting‐menu‐only restaurant in Central. Modernist influences on his kaiseki background are obvious, with dishes like sweet corn mousse served with botan shrimp dressed in olive oil with a shrimp jelly winning the hearts of high‐end diners across Asia.
While it’s named after the New York City Chinatown street, this is far from your neighborhood takeout joint. The super‐sleek restaurant occupies the basement of a bank, attracting a beautiful crowd with its well‐executed, slightly modernized pan‐Chinese fare— from local favorite char siu (barbecued pork) to a slightly numbing Sichuan‐style peanut, chile and pork stir‐fry. Start dinner with a cocktail, such as Hong Kong Iced Tea, featuring tequila and jasmine tea, served whimsically in a sealed bubble tea cup.
Lung King Heen
As the first Chinese restaurant in the world to be awarded three Michelin stars, Lung King Heen carries the weight of a proud culinary culture on its shoulders, and it doesn’t disappoint. Serving mostly Cantonese cuisine with a few favorites from other Chinese regions, such as Peking duck, expect masterful wok work, such as prawns stir‐fried with house‐made XO sauce, as well as dainty dim sum at lunch.
Ho Lee Fook
The tongue‐in‐cheek name means ‘good fortune in your mouth,’ but who are we kidding? The food is as fun as the branding and decor — modern Chinese that doesn’t take itself too seriously and occasionally dips into nostalgia like ‘Mum’s ‘mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork’ dumplings.’ Taiwanese‐Canadian chef Jowett Yu dares to serve Cantonese‐style roast goose cooked medium; elsewhere, it’s well done by default.
Yardbird was the first restaurant opened by Matt Abergel (a Masa alum) and Lindsay Jang, and they’ve since become legends in Hong Kong’s notoriously finicky restaurant scene. Their restaurant is almost five years old, and it’s still one of the hottest spots in town. Yakitori is the name of the game. Every part of the chicken served, from skewers of hearts to crispy skin on rice. There are no reservations; queuing is part of the experience. And be sure to have a drink— the Japanese‐influenced beverage program is one of a kind.
Ronin fits into the sweet spot of being neither a restaurant nor a bar, yet it functions as both in a tiny, narrow space. Opened by the Yardbird team, this 20‐odd seater serves a creative, seafood‐led menu (tasting menu or a la carte) featuring sharable izakaya‐inspired plates that are big on flavor. They’re also ideal with drinks, of which there are many: Japanese whiskeys, sakes, beer, wine, and even a house‐infused coffee shochu. Book well ahead or take your chances with walk‐in seats.
After Cantonese immigrants from neighboring Guangdong province, the second most prominent group of people in Hong Kong hail from Shanghai. Trade groups and fraternities associated with the region are still going strong, and one of the trade groups opened Zhe Jiang Heen as a sort of restaurant‐slash‐clubhouse. Luckily you don’t have to be brokering a deal in Shanghai to gain access, so everyone can get a taste of classic Shanghainese dishes like shrimp stir‐fried with Longjing tea leaves, smoked eggs, and hongshao rou (slow‐cooked pork belly in a dark soy and vinegar sauce).
Kam’s Roast Goose
Flip through any Hong Kong guidebook written before 2010, and Yung Kee was probably high on the restaurant list for their famous roast goose. It was a Hong Kong legend, but a high‐profile family feud regarding ownership of the restaurant divided the clientele. Many food lovers now prefer Kam’s; it’s operated by a portion of the family that left Yung Kee and took chefs with them. Although a much less glamorous establishment than Yung Kee, Kam’s lack of VIP rooms and frivolous banquet menus means that they concentrate on what they do best — Cantonese‐style barbecued meats.
Kin’s Kitchen is about as close as you can get to Cantonese home cooking without an invitation to someone’s house. Operated by father and son Kin‐wai Lau and Chun Lau, both of whom are food writers with a scholarly approach to Chinese cuisine, eating here is like tasting recipes that have been refined and distilled from generations of home cooks. You’ll be thinking about the steamed egg custard topped with morels for days.
In Hong Kong, there are almost as many Japanese restaurants in the city as there are Cantonese. One of the top tables for sushi is Mori on Caroline Hill Road, not to be confused with the many other similarly named establishments. Omakase is the way to go, and it’ll almost always include the restaurant’s popular uni.
Yat Lok Restaurant
Cantonese food is known to be subtly flavored — except when it comes to barbecue. Yat Lok is best known for their roast goose, although their barbecued pork and crispy skinned roast pork are equally good. All the meats are barbecued in the Tai Po original location, but if you can’t make it out there, the owners also truck it out to their shop in Central. The goose leg on rice noodles is so well loved it’s almost a legend, so be prepared to queue during lunchtime.
To eat like a Hongkonger on a daily basis, though, still means to eat the most vital regional Chinese cuisine, Cantonese; noodle dishes that speak to the city’s halieutic past; hybrid diner‐style foods that feature the first imported British and American ingredients, including macaroni and canned evaporated milk; adopted colonial meals like afternoon tea; and today’s new‐gen Chinese cooking and internationally recognized fine dining.
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