After time spent cooking around the world, with stops in London, Paris and Gothenburg in Sweden, Shane Osborn has covered enough ground in the foodie world to last a lifetime. Famed for adding a rooftop garden to his London restaurant Pied á Terre – to get the fresh produce he felt was missing from his kitchen, obviously – Osborn also notably became the first Australian chef to head a one and two-Michelin-starred restaurant.
The Aussie chef came to Hong Kong and opened Arcane in 2014, a modestly proportioned but always-buzzing Italian restaurant that skirts the borders of the city’s Central district. The seasonal menu and fresh ingredients combined with eclectic music straight from Osborn’s personal playlist quickly put Arcane on the map for Hong Kong food lovers.
We sat down with Osborn to find out where he heads for dinner, and to get the lowdown on a special project he’s got coming up with fellow chef Mark Best.
Let’s talk dinner parties. Are the best ones casual or formal?
Casual. Arcane is not a formal restaurant in my view. Yes, we have high-end wines; yes, we’ve got the best wine glasses you can buy in the world. It’s a nice setting, but I think we’re smart-casual in terms of the environment. I don’t like those intimidating formal settings where you’ve got all the knives and forks on the table and you don’t know which one to use. We like to do things really simply and elegantly, with style. I think the casual side is much more fun.
What’s on the playlist?
Oh, my playlist is the best fucking playlist you’ll find in Hong Kong. It’s one of the things that we get commented on a lot by our regular clientele. Think The Cure, Depeche Mode, Jamiroquai, The Eagles. I’ve got three different lists that I’ve got on my Spotify so it depends on the night. That’s one thing that I think is quite hard to get in Hong Kong: good music.
And your must-have dish for a dinner party?
It must be seasonal, so for this time of year I’d do something like shoulder of lamb. I love lamb. It’s springtime at the moment so you’d whole-roast a couple of lamb shoulders and have things like asparagus, broiled beans, wild garlic, and some new potatoes. That would be my ideal dish to do for a party. It’s quite easy as well and it’s quite dramatic when you put it down in the middle of the table.
How does Hong Kong’s sub-tropical climate affect your seasonal dishes?
We try and stick to the European seasons so that’s why we’re featuring all these items like asparagus, raw beans, and morel mushrooms. Once we get into summer, there will be more lighter fish dishes and all of the stone fruits from Europe – peaches, nectarines, stuff like that.
How tough is it to source great, fresh ingredients in Hong Kong – where do you go to get them?
My favourite ingredients would have to be from Japan. That’s one of the things that keeps me sane in Hong Kong with it being a city that produces hardly any fresh produce. To have Japan only a couple of hours flight away is my saving grace. The produce that we get daily from Japan is outstanding; it’s the best I’ve ever worked with in my life.
The Japanese fruit tomatoes and the range of fish that you can get. We’re using wild suzuki seabass at the moment – line-caught wild fish – and that’s just outstanding. When you get fish of that quality, you don’t have to do very much to it. You just keep it very simple and that’s the style of cuisine that we do here at Arcane. We don’t mess about with it. We keep it as pure as we can.
What do you consider the most vital ingredient in cooking?
Salt. Seasoning can really make the difference; it can make a good dish bad because you over-season it or a good dish dull if you don’t put enough salt in it. Getting the seasoning right is so key. Part of my job is training my chefs how to season correctly. Salt is such a ubiquitous ingredient, but it’s something that technically, you have to get right every single time.
We’ve heard about Arcane’s special olive oil, can you tell us about that?
Our restaurant manager, Stefano, comes from Umbria and his next door neighbour produces a very unique olive oil called Marfuga. It’s an incredibly beautiful, peppery, deep-flavoured olive oil. We serve that with our bread and with our tomatoes.
If we could only have one dish from Arcane’s menu, which should it be?
One of our signatures is the potato gnocchi, which changes its garnish seasonally. It’s a very humble dish – quite a comfort food dish. At the moment, we’ve got it with wild garlic, pine nut truffle cream and some St. George’s mushrooms. A couple of months ago we were doing morels with charred leeks and ceps. It’s the one dish most regulars order.
And in other Hong Kong restaurants, what are you ordering?
In Hong Kong, I’d say the pigeon pithivier dish at Belon is pretty outstanding.
Do you consider cooking therapeutic, or does it still feel like work?
It is bloody hard work, but, look, I’ve been in this industry 30 years and I still love it. I love it more now than I did when I started. It’s been a career that has made me travel the world, I met my wife through this industry and it’s just given me a lot of great opportunities. I still love doing it every day.
If you could have any three guests at a dinner party, who would you invite?
It would be my wife and two kids, without a doubt. Has to be, if I’ve only got three.
And if it wasn’t family?
There’s a chef called Mark Best. Him and I have become very close and we have a project coming up around September time, which is going to be a huge international TV show. That’s as much as I can tell you. Him and I are like brothers from another mother.