8 SAVOURY SENSATIONS
Sea urchin in a lobster jello with cauliflower, caviar and crispy “seaweed” waffles, Amber: The jewel in this critical favourite's crown will convert even the staunchest of urchin haters – mounds of sea-sweet specimens laid on a bed of cauliflower cream, poshly partnered with lobster jello, caviar and a dash of gold leaf to make it even more decadent. And though we've never really figured out whether you're supposed to dip that leafy accompaniment into the dish or eat it separately, it's a cool little addition to the team.
Chicken-liver mousse, Yardbird: There's a reason that this is Hong Kong's hippest, most in-demand restaurant. They didn't invent the wheel, but they sure did perfect it. Crispy fried shallots are the perfect topper, while a semi-sweet milk bread makes a great canvas for the mousse, which is whipped to a spreadable consistency, put into a jar and sprinkled with chopped scallions.
The Bikini, Catalunya: It's neither the most labour-intensive dish nor the most creative, but somehow, this upscale take on a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich has patrons drooling. Mozzarella cheese, Iberico ham and generous slices of truffle make up the filling of this ultimate comfort food. Hint: vegetarians can hit the Sunday brunch buffet, during which the Bikini is offered with a zucchini twist – and in unlimited portions.
Three thin-sliced fatty-tuna sushi, Rozan Sushi: You wouldn't think that you could make toro taste better than it naturally does, but chef Masa manages it, splitting one thick cut of fish into three thinner sheets, stacking them like a hand of cards across a mound of rice.
Spicy Sichuan-style stewed mandarin fish, San Xi Lou: Beloved by critics and the general public alike, San Xi Lou isn't fancy, but you wouldn't want to have to dress up for a chilli bath – that mandarin fish certainly didn't. Perfectly poached, it falls apart in the mouth, and the thick noodles that come with it have that al dente heft more associated with pasta.
21st century egg, chargrilled asparagus, lemon mayonnaise, black truffle and hazelnut dressing, St Betty: Shane Osborn's resuscitation of St Betty has been nothing short of miraculous, and part of it is due to his thoughtful approach not only to food, but also to fitting into the local dining scene. A prime example is this dish, which takes a breaded deep-fried poached egg and pairs it with chopped Chinese-style century egg. Asparagus and homemade lemon mayo ground the dish in Western territory but the appeal is definitely cross-cultural.
Crispy and steamed rice served in lobster consommé, Nanhai No. 1: This twist on Chiu Chow-style congee uses a base of lobster soup so thick it's practically a bisque, and the duet of crispy and soggy (but not completely disintegrated) rice is a play on texture that will blow your mind – and your taste buds.
Oyster bocata with barbecued foie gras and home-made sweet potato bread, Quemo: Oysters, foie gras, sweet potato bread…what's not to love? Quemo's location on Queen's Road East means it isn't always top of mind, but these upscale and juicy little mini burgers will soon change that – or perhaps not, and it'll stay our little secret.
8 SWEET TREATS
Better Than Sex, Ms B's Cakery: You could close your eyes and point anywhere in the glass display case, and still end up with a pretty darn good cake. But there's something about this decadent chocolate concoction that has captured our hearts and bellies (not to mention made us forget our libidos). A dark fudge cake base is adorned with chocolate-coated caramel crunch and salted toffee, as well as those iconic red lips. Sex? What's that? This is population control in a pastry.
Lemon poppyseed cupcake, Green: Say what you will about the death of cupcakes, but these bad boys prove that more new-fangled hybrid desserts are but a passing fad in the story of sweets. Moist and fluffy and injected with a bit of lemon cream in the centre, it's not clear if this is cloud or cake, but it's clearly good.
Saint Honoré, Sabatini: The cronut may have dominated 2013 as dessert du jour, but combining disparate sweets is certainly nothing new. Sabatini's Saint Honoré uses a chocolate and mascarpone cream tart as a base, rimmed with caramelised profiteroles for a crunchy surprise.
Tiramisu croissant, Le Salon Restaurant et Croissanterie: We'll admit that the city's best croissants are to be had at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. And if those had fillings of tiramisu or chestnut or raspberry yogurt, then it would be a winner. But as it is, nobody can touch these oozy-good pastries, as an empty glass case attests on a nightly basis.
Fat Kid Cake, Stone Nullah Tavern:
Unabashedly calorific and a definite talking point (not to mention frequent Instagram subject), this concoction combines red velvet cake, cheesecake, dark chocolate mousse and crème brûlée. MasterChef's finicky judges would probably send this creation away in disgust, but we're buying – and eating – it.
Chilled mango and sago cream with pomelo, Lung King Heen: Nowhere is the sago cream as thick and delicious as at this three-Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant. Throw in the freshest mango and pomelo, serve it all at the optimum cold temperature and you have a winner.
Macaron Infiniment Jasmin, Pierre Hermé: Ispahan is the signature crowd pleaser, but the Infiniment Jasmin macaroon steals the show with its subtle mix of jasmine tea and jasmine – a floral bouquet that both permeates and challenges the taste buds, and a truly intellectual dessert.
Raspberry and rose ice cream, Ava Restaurant Slash Bar: The restaurant hasn't exactly been a home run with the culinary set, but its saving grace is this dessert, made table-side with liquid nitrogen and presented beautifully. Lighter than your average ice cream, and filled with the aroma of fresh-cut roses, it's art for your tummy.
8 MIXOLOGY MUSTS
Earl Grey Caviar Martini, Quinary: Almost everyone quizzed for this list suggested this Quinary tipple, a combination of Absolut Vodka, elderflower syrup, apple juice, Cointreau, lemon, lime, Earl Grey caviar and air. And while we've never been a fan of those magniloquent molecular stylings, we'll give Quinary a pass for the air up there.
Pork Chop and Apple Sauce, Blue Butcher: It takes real innovation to apply the meatmarket philosophy to a cocktail list, but Blue Butcher has done an admirable job. Chief among its accomplishments is the Pork Chop and Apple Sauce: bacon-washed blended scotch, house-made sour mix, apple schnapps and fresh apple jam. They had us at bacon.
MOtox, MO Bar: A sprightly mix of Belvedere Citrus, Luxardo limoncello, coriander, ginger root, cloudy apple, pineapple juice and lemon juice, the MOtox toes that line between sweet and acidic beautifully. And those fresh ingredients almost make you believe it's healthy.
Aqua Tokyo, Aqua Spirit: Aqua Spirit's wacky approach to cocktails sees the use of all sorts of crazy ingredients, from wasabi paste to olive juice to cigar syrup. The Ciao Lovely is labelled “not suitable for vegetarians”. But it's the Aqua Tokyo, a freaky combination of house sake, yuzu, honey syrup, apple juice and blue cheese, that works best for us.
Around the World, Honi Honi: Hong Kong's favourite (and, er, only) tiki lounge sets the bar high with a $2,888 cocktail, mixing six types of rum, guava juice, lime juice, Peter Heering Cherry liqueur, French vanilla syrup, watermelon syrup, mango juice, Maraschino liqueur and a full bottle of Taittinger Brut champagne. Don't worry, it's for sharing. Just make sure your pals don't stiff you with the tab.
Southeast Asian Cooler, Zuma: The luxury izakaya chain took the best cocktails from each of its outposts and created a Zuma Around the World list. This entry comes from its Istanbul branch, and mixes bison grass vodka, fresh passion fruit, mint, cinnamon and pressed apple juice.
Mystery, Tate Dining Room: If we told you what was in this cocktail…we'd have to kill you. And then steal your drink. Tate's dedication to culinary innovation continues with this out-of-the-box surprise, whose recipe changes monthly. One of last year's recipes used black truffle and pear, so who knows what will be in your brew this time.
Snickers Old Fashioned, Lily & Bloom: There ain't nothing old fashioned about this mixed-up classic, which fuses house-made vanilla demerara, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters and Snickers candy bar-infused American whiskey.
8 INDISPENSIBLE INGREDIENTS
Smoked paprika: Hong Kong's Spanish culinary invasion is highly dependent on the presence of smoked paprika in the kitchen. Smoky like a backyard barbecue, deep as Dostoyevsky and seductive as a striptease, it's a must in paella and gazpacho, but also pairs well with chorizo, in stews and with potatoes, and will kick up any egg recipe a notch.
Quinoa: This happening seed has been a staple of the health-food scene for a few years now, but it's even better after a little roast and sizzle. It'll take salads to the next level, and performs wonders with rice dishes.
Jasmine tea: In cocktails or desserts, jasmine tea is taking off indeed as a replacement for yesterday's Earl Grey (which makes sense, if you look around at which part of the world we live in). The aromatic infusion is great for poaching fruit, or where subtle influences matter – in an ice cream, for example – or as a base for cooking rice.
Sweetbreads: Offal is the thing these days, and all those nose-to-tail restaurants that have opened seem to find favour with the palatably named glands, which fry up nicely, pair well with almost anything and retain a texture somewhere between meat and pillow.
Gochujang: Hong Kong seems finally to be getting something of a Korean dining scene (beyond the usual barbecue restaurant) so the country's chilli paste will surely see an upsurge in sales. Already, it's spotted regularly at supermarket food festivals, and is a versatile enough base that you can add it to any dish for a spicy, fusiony kick.
Kaffir lime leaves: If smoked paprika is the secret behind Spanish success, then kaffir is its equivalent in South-east Asian cooking. As its name suggests, lime is a dominant flavour, but it isn't the only one – its fragrance is a big draw, and its ability to temper pungency shouldn't be ignored either. Tom yums and curries thrive on the stuff.
Coconut nectar: With everyone going carbfree, gluten-free, blah, blah, blah, sugar – especially the white powdery kind – is getting a really bad rap. Agave nectar is often cited as the new substitute, but with controversy about its origins, coconut nectar has emerged as the new hipster's sweetener.
Brussels sprouts: America may have found a new love in kale, but over here, we're feeling this Belgian veg. Children of yore reviled the stuff, but new recipes abound – think Motorino's pizza topped with individual leaves, or the Yardbird version with crunchy fried garlic. Go 2013 crazy and stir-fry them with gochujang and coconut nectar for a spicy-sweet twist.