For many among the gilded circles of Hong Kong society, Christmas celebrations are incomplete without an invitation from the most gregarious couple in town: Lumen and Andrew Kinoshita. With a guest list envied by every PR firm in the city, they go all out for their friends and family with surprising venues, an incomparable feast (buffet, uniformed servers, chocolate fountain – the whole enchilada), champagne and drinks made to Andrew’s own secret recipes. Self-professed foodies, the couple has travelled the world and traversed the arteries of Hong Kong with friends to try all the best restaurants and bars.
As they’re renowned for being perfect hosts, we take great pleasure in reversing the roles and inviting the power couple (Lumen is a director at a major investment firm and Andrew is founder of Underwood Design Studio and is the managing director of Tetra Architects & Planners) to a dinner. Along with their friend Louisa Hung, we dine one fine evening at the minty new Commissary at Pacific Place. So new is it that the official launch and opening of the venue is the following week, but as Lumen knows the folks behind the scenes (Yenn Wong, CEO and founder of JIA Group being a friend), she suggested a trial dinner at the casual eatery, which was actually already abuzz that night and was filled to capacity with people in the know.
Arriving early, we speak with Adam Shoebridge, Commissary’s executive chef, while we wait for our traffic-troubled VIPs. “At Commissary, we want to bring Hong Kong diners the best of Southern Californian cuisine,” he says, “with a range of dishes that reflect a host of different cuisines including Californian, Southern and Mexican. We want to provide Hong Kong with good, honest and simple dishes created using fresh, light produce and vibrant flavours.”
Soon after the guests arrive, we are seated by the bar, facing the outdoor terrace, which is surrounded by lush greenery and string lights that give the space a warm glow. “What was this place before? Starbucks?” asks Andrew. Lumen chimes in, “It was LV!”
For the record, it was both at one time and another, but it’s telling who remembers each incarnation. While we peruse our menus, Andrew’s initial reaction is to the interiors.
“We love to try new venues, but I’ve noticed that a lot of new places are too noisy,” he explains. “I know it’s to create atmosphere and a ‘happening’ vibe, but when a place has bad sound, it’s an interior design flaw. Maybe it’s a generation gap thing – when we used to be young, when we used to go clubbing, we were so used to screaming at each other and you’d inevitably find you’ve lost your voice by late night. Now, my hearing has gone bad and we have no energy to shout! The music is too loud, it’s very, very strange to be in that sort of restaurant when you’re out with friends but you can barely hear the person next to you.”
Well, thanks to designer Siew Hui Lim of Hui Designs, Commissary is lively but not overwhelming, featuring ’60s and ’70s touches and bursts of retro colour. Music rings in the air, but it doesn’t perforate conversation. The lengthy menus are mind-boggling but we’ve asked our venue hosts to make the decision for us long before arriving, and the recommendations come waltzing in. The tuna poke tostada and the brisket tamale (garnished with herbs and onions, topped with Alabama white sauce) get to the table fir along with virgin mojitos (Lumen is a famed teetotaller despite her champagne-bubbly personality).
Before we break bread – or tostada, as it were – Lumen drops a bombshell. “We aren’t doing the Christmas lunch this year.” Jaws drop, as does a fork. “Travelling too much means there’s not enough time to organise it. Too much to do in too little time.”
Right, we weren’t going to partake of the wine (Andrew opts for the house red, a fine Château Massereau 2012, selected by Artur Aronov, seasoned sommelier), but after that newsbyte, sorrows need to be drowned in a generous glass.
If her Instagram (@lumenluminous, riddled with postcard shots of exotic locales, dishes, and plenty of photos of cutlery) is anything to go by, the Kinoshitas are redefining the jet-set lifestyle, as clearly there’s no spot on Earth to which they are unwilling to travel. “Spain was a great dining destination and I’m not afraid to try out the random hole-in-the-wall spots,” reveals Lumen. “The branded name restaurants are fine, but as I’m moseying along different paths, if I find something unique, I’ll try it. Trouble is, I can never remember the place or name of it again – I wanted to recommend a place to Jane [Louey], the last time she was travelling but I can’t remember anything.”
“All your memory RAM has gone on your storage and warehouses. And you keep moving things from one place to another!” comes in Andrew with a side note. “I heard that!” says the missus, and we all burst out laughing.
As it’s the season for sharing, multiple mains arrive simultaneously; the Commissary double cheeseburger and the southern fried chicken sandwich both land with generous portions of seasoned fries. For those feeling only mildly peckish, the sea bass with tomato mole and greens was light and easy on the knife. The pièce de résistance was the grilled lobster with citrus butter, topped with herbs. Delish dishes all, sampled in bibs and bobs as we criss-crossed the table serving one another.
Hung, who shares a common love for shopping with Lumen, refrains from overindulging, saying she’s trying a new diet based on her blood type. “For example, if you’re blood type A, you should be mostly vegetarian, have loads of tofu, grains, legumes. You’re allowed seafood, but have to avoid meats and dairy. And wheat! But, if you’re type O, you must have a high protein diet with meats, but have to avoid (for weight loss purposes) corn, kidney beans, navy beans, cabbage and cauliflower. Red meat and seafood will help you lose weight.”
Diets be damned; we indulge with relish. For all the song and dance for the main course, the unanimous verdict (and placement of second orders) went to the humble cauliflower, flecked with fennel pollen and smeared with honey butter. There was much “hmm-ing” for the side-dish, and while we try to order another serving of the fish the waiter apologises and says that the kitchen is closed but that dessert is on its way.
Plates soon arrive and a chocolate and salted caramel pudding that comes served with a selection of fanned out slivers of chocolate-chip cookies attracts the most attention.
Rooibos tea is sipped to settle us into the night, and as we’re so unwilling to end our evening or the repartee, Lumen ponders, “Maybe we should do a small, mini- Christmas thing … ”
“Oh no. Another round please,” says Andrew as we polish off the goblets of Massereau.