From A to Z, CHRISTINA KO takes a roll call of our city's top dining trends
IT'S HERALDED AS one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the world in which to eat, but just because you can identify a large variety of food options in Hong Kong doesn't mean it's immune to the odd fad. And while some trends fade – remember the ramen rage of 2012? – we've compiled a list of the ones that have persisted more recently. Some have been in the mix for some time (the proliferation of the no-reservations policy, for example, has been particularly irksome for the impatient) while others are welcome newer additions, like the bacon that has grown up from fatty breakfast staple to cocktail-list constant. Read on to see what else we've been craving as a city.
ALUMNI OF NOMA
Now that everybody and their mother can claim time spent at that Spanish bastion of culinary invention (“I was the assistant to the assistant of the busboy at elBulli! And now I own my own restaurant!”), ex Noma chefs have emerged as the in-demand kitchen talent du jour. But wherefore wilt they forage? Quipped Bo Innovation's Alvin Leung at a recent restaurant forum, “I tried foraging once. I got arrested for shoplifting.”
Almost everyone would agree that herb butter trumps the regular stuff, but now restaurants are taking the idea to its logical conclusion, most notably at Vasco, where the homemade sourdough is accompanied by a rainbow butter platter featuring flavours such as beetroot, spinach and tomato. Nur is also churning out a mean mushroom butter to go with its slowcooked Taiyouran egg (see also item E for Eggs).
The tasty alternative to water is popping up everywhere, from dedicated vending machines to gyms to bars, with a broad appeal few beverage manufacturers can claim. Local label Jax Coco has emerged as the brand to buy, successfully infiltrating cocktail lists at Honi Honi, 001 and other spaces, but we like The Envoy's use of it in the Cotton Candy Negroni, featuring coconut candy-infused rum (see item I for Infusions), Campari, Dolin Rouge and a Jax Coco ice ball that won't dilute your drink. Whether it's good taste or just good marketing at work, we appreciate the hydration.
When The Diner opened across the street from Prestige Towers the collective squeal was heard throughout the building, because even when they're bad, diners are still good. And then we heard The News Room was being converted into The News Room Diner, and mayhem ensued.
No longer just an afterthought or an add-on, the slow-cooked egg has risen to prominence, with its own proprietary temperature – 63 degrees, or one degree below the temperature at which egg cooks. These babies now take centre stage in dishes, even spawning dedicated Instagram accounts committed to documenting that #yolkporn ...
Edible flora is all the rage these days, and particularly at Chôm Chôm, where Peter Cuong Franklin's obsession with Asian blossoms has resulted in dishes such as wok-fried green lily bud flowers with garlic and XO sauce. More familiar floral renditions can be found at MO Bar's Perfect in Pink and Purple afternoon tea this month, which uses violets, roses, Egyptian starflowers and lavender in pretty petite pastries, sales of which benefit the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation.
It was awesome when Swedish sensation Björn Frantzén gave Amber guests a taste of his new Nordic menu, fantastic when we spotted Fergus Henderson in the open kitchen at Blue Butcher organising an awful lot of offal. Just last month, Jaan's Julien Royer popped up at the The Principal and Sichuan sensation Wang Zhengjing of Da Rong He showed some spice at Man Wah.
Incorporating canvasses into restaurant interiors is nothing new, but large-scale, in-your-face murals are now not just de rigueur but a necessity to court the cool quotient. How & Nosm put their stamp on Yardbird and Paul Hwang “defiled” Little Bao, but nobody has done it louder than Bibo, whose every corner is splashed with art by the likes of Banksy and Koons.
The ease with which you can infuse spirits with other flavours means everyone has jumped on this bandwagon. The Woods really goes to town with the concept in cocktails such as the Fourpepper Margarita (bell pepper and jalapeno-infused tequila) and the Bacon Bourbon Luge (bacon-infused bourbon). And The Envoy, opened by the same team that did Quinary, rides on the success of its sister establishment's Earl Grey Martini, introducing a twist on the Singapore Sling that's called the Colonial Sling, featuring gin slow-cooked with Earl Grey tea.
Part grill, part oven, the Josper chars like a grill but allows whatever is being cooked to retain its moisture, whether it's meat, seafood or vegetables. St Betty's former chef Shane Osborn can be credited with being the first to purchase the fancy contraption for use in Hong Kong, but Le Port Parfumé has since followed suit, and The Continental will soon join the club, too.
KITCHEN CRASH COURSES
Peek in at classes that take place at ABC Cooking Studio at PMQ, originally from Japan, where you can learn how to make dishes such as omurice and green-tea cake. The Butchers Club has a few fun concept courses that are great for groups, such as a sous-vide lesson (also see item N for Nose-to-Tail). And Spark Studios caters specifically to kiddies, a great way to keep them out of your hair for a couple of hours.
Coffee cognoscenti say Starbucks like it's a dirty word, especially now that we have alternative coffee joints like espresso bar Zai Fé and cool-kid hangout Elephant Grounds. Even tea houses are considered more au courant than coffee chains, thanks to PoHo stalwart Teakha – try boho newcomer DK Cuppa Tea Café, by DK Aromatherapy, on Staunton.
Tiger Curry's topless male mascot, his face obscured by a feline mask, always garners a laugh when he makes an appearance on our Instagram feed, as do delivery service Food Panda's funny posts. There's no denying the power of social media as a restaurant's major marketing tool, and we applaud those that are able to keep it both fun and on brand.
Chinese cuisine has always favoured offal, but now all those items that were drunken-dining dares for tourists have more palatable names than pig intestine or chicken feet. Black pudding sounds considerably more delicious, as does sweetbread. These make the menu cut at many a Western restaurant, and ever on-trend, The Butchers Club has launched a nose-to-tail butchery class that takes home chefs a step in the right direction.
Some of the city's greatest employed chefs broke out on their own recently, taking on ownerchef duties. It started with Philippe Orrico of Pierre and St George going it alone with the buzzing Upper Modern Bistro. Petrus' longtime chef Frederic Chabbert opted to take over the casual Mano, turning it into a simple, elegant French dining destination. And L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon's Olivier Elzer teamed up with Hysan Group to debut Seasons by Olivier E, a fine French haute eatery that's earned a loyal following in just a few months.
Everybody's pickling something these days. Aberdeen Street Social's slow-cooked egg with black pudding, pig ear and pickled mushrooms registers as possibly the trendiest dish of 2014 (combining the trifecta of egg, nose-to-tail dining and pickling in one simple starter), but we also love Catalunya's marinated pickles, Little Bao's pickled mushroom salad and Tiger Curry's home-pickled radishes.
A New York concept invented to maximise turnover, the no-reservations rule works even better in Hong Kong, where we believe a restaurant isn't worth eating at if you don't have to wait in a line. The idea makes sense at 10-seater noodle stalls, but the latest to employ this buzz-feeding tactic is the behemoth Jamie's Italian, which offers only 20 percent of its tables for pre-reservation, with queues started an hour and a half before opening.
You're not a real Italian restaurant unless you're hawking bottles of olive oil to your customers – or at least, that's how it seems these days, with 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo's Umberto Bombana opening grocer -slash-canteen Ciak and Giando launching its own Italian supermarket inside the Fenwick Pier mini mall. Even new kid on the block Sepa has carved out a small space offering a curated selection of Venetian kitchen essentials.
It started with dim sum. The Spanish invaded with variations on tapas. The Italians introduced cichetti. And now we've just gone culturally ambiguous, adopting terminology that describes nothing but the size of the flatware on which our food is served. But if it means more options, we're in with the mini movement. Except in the case of sliders.
Nothing new here, especially not since Stella McCartney, diptyque, Net-a-Porter, Lanvin, Qeelin and almost every luxury brand you can think of has already teamed up with a high-society hotel haunt for an afternoon-tea set. The latest is at W Hotel, which this month is running a four-fragrance tea set promoting scents from Montblanc, Balmain, Jimmy Choo and Lanvin. The snifffest includes a fun personality quiz and a DIY cocktail-mixing session.
We're not sure why this is a trend, and definitely do not approve. We are happy to vacate the table if turnover is an issue, but picnictable seating does not a satisfied customer make.
VARIABLE SERVICE CHARGE
In a land where leaving behind a $10 coin is considered a reasonable tip, the no-servicecharge trend is essentially a restaurant guilt trip that leaves customers calculating a 10-percent cut on their iPhones. We, the arithmetically challenged, request the reinstatement of a standard charge.
We blame Jamie Oliver and his 30-minute meals. Why dirty a plate when you can leave the food on the board on which it was prepared? Why, indeed, asked every single restaurant in town.
Food and fitness aren't always close bedfellows, but somehow, stylish spinning centre XYZ has managed to woo gastronomes into working off those calories. We've spotted everyone from restaurateurs to chefs to food writers climbing atop those bikes, increasing endorphins and appetite for the next big indulgence.
Not a single omakase meal was finished this year without yuzu making some kind of appearance – as a glaze, a zesty sprinkle or a sorbet flavour. We love the citrus kick, but beg a little restraint, before it goes the way of the truffle – a crowd-pleasing chef's bane.
Healthy eating has never been so in vogue, and no longer do wholesome eats equal rabbit food. Case in point, Locofama's new sister venture with G.O.D., Sohofama, serves chemicalfree Chinese comfort food featuring ingredients from its own on-site mini farm.