In Hong Kong, eating is a local pastime. The ethnic Cantonese city and former British colony on the southern reaches of the Pearl River Delta has long been renowned as a foodie hot spot. Point in fact: there are more than 11,000 restaurants in the city.
They predominantly serve the tasty treats of Canton, such as crisp roast goose, preserved sausage, and egg waffle, the latter a distinct nod to the territory’s British roots.
In recent years, restaurants serving foreign rather than Cantonese cuisine have taken centre stage, with casual Spanish- and Italian-inspired diners leading the charge, due perhaps to a growing multicultural population. After all, the Hong Kong Tourism Board has rebranded it “Asia’s World City”.
The new wave of more informal restaurants is influenced by the Michelin Guide to Hong Kong and Macau, which was rolled out in late 2008. Usually reserved for restaurants with bills as jaw-dropping as the food they serve, this Michelin guide went native, doling out stars to dinky noodle shops with plastic chairs, impertinent staff and chicken feet on the menu.
Not to be left behind, bars have also been opening at dizzying speeds, and in just as vertiginous locations.
Here’s a snapshot of what is new.
This pint-size street-side tapas bar by British chef Jason Atherton and hotelier Yenn Wong has been a huge hit since opening a few months ago. Almost a carbon copy of Atherton’s Esquina in Singapore, 22 Ships marries rustic interiors of exposed brick, a central stainless-steel bar, an open kitchen, no reservations, and share plates of Spanish-inspired fare with a relaxed, cheery vibe. Think fabulous deep-fried cheese and Iberico ham balls, rich poached eggs with roasted potato cubes, and sliced chorizo and salmon ceviche prepared sous vide for 20 minutes at 40 degrees and served with a compressed cucumber and radish. Order two or three plates each and team them with sangria or a house specialty, sherry, such as Lustau’s East India Solera.
Lunch for two is about $HK420 ($52); lunch and dinner seven days; 22 Ship Street, Wan Chai; see 22ships.hk.
The latest nosh-spot of local celebrity chef and restaurateur Tony Cheng, Ammo takes its name from its location’s former life as a magazine compound for the British Army. Adjoining the spanking-new Asia Society, it’s also an acronym for “Asia, Modern, Museum and Original”. With a stunning brass bar sandwiched between a tangle of thick foliage and a Japanese garden, the space is sleek and smart. The food merges classical Italy with a touch of Asia, with varying results. The ravioli with burrata and orange sauce is nicely tangy, but the ground Peking duck topping is too dry for the dish. The vitello tonnato – cold veal with a creamy tuna sauce – fares better, here revamped with a poached egg and bonito flakes.
Lunch for two $HK500; lunch and dinner daily; 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty; see ammo.com.hk.
The latest opening by the Press Room Group (who also own the Classified chain and The Pawn) is a smart space of white tablecloths and pale wooden floors – and it’s their most sophisticated restaurant to date. Headed by Jonay Armas from the Canary Islands, the fare is grown-up Spanish/Mediterranean with a contemporary flair; think a delicate salad of tomato with basil ice-cream and mozzarella, and succulent pigeon with semolina and cacao. It’s classy but with a relaxed edge, made even more interesting when teamed with the Principal’s wine list – an encyclopaedia by talented Australian sommelier Kavita Faiella with some very special international drops, including long-overlooked Georgia, Slovakia and Greece.
Set lunches for two from $HK550; lunch daily, dinner Monday-Saturday; 9 Star Street, Wan Chai; see theprincipal.com.hk.
Australian chef David Laris, formerly of Shanghai’s Three on the Bund, has made his foray into Hong Kong with Laris Contemporary Dining. The small space overlooking an old police station matches gold-coloured panelling with marble floors and a huge wine cellar. The food is more comfort than contemporary; think buttery leek tart and light and tangy beef tartare with egg and apple mustard. Laris’ take on “tuna in a can” is fun, cooking the fish in a tin can with dill, gherkins and lemon, but it’s disappointing to see Laris use a critically endangered fish – wild bluefin tuna.
The set lunches for two from $HK304 are good value; lunch and dinner daily; 2F 77 Wyndham Street, Central; see diningconcepts.com.hk.
Janice Lai’s debut restaurant on Elgin Road got off to a rocky start when it opened in mid-2012, with critics grumbling over whimsical dish titles and divergent flavours. The 32-year-old former designer has quickly turned things around, making Tate one of the city’s best new finds. Like the clean white 26-seat space, the food is delicate and feminine, with dishes such as raw scallops with caviar and fennel shavings, rich lily bulb veloute with crab, and decadent chocolate mousse with smoked whisky. It’s a pity that Lai didn’t take on Les Amis’ oenophile skills; Tate’s wine selection sometimes lets the food down.
Dinner for two from $HK1496; dinner Monday-Saturday; 59 Elgin Street, Central; see tate.com.hk.
The latest addition to American celebrity chef Mario Batali’s rapidly expanding Asian stable is a moody steakhouse in the heart of Central with dark wood panelling, veined marble, dim vintage lights and dashing Italian waiters.
The food is just as appealing: deep-fried calamari with a zesty tomato sauce is crunchy and flavoursome; and tender hunks of dry-aged Gippsland beef served with an aromatic chargrilled edge melt in the mouth. An extraordinary 30-month-old prosciutto from Langhirano near Parma, served with fried gnocchi, is worth the booking alone.
Carnevino’s biggest asset is its sommelier, Maurizio Severgnini, who has compiled a superb list of mostly Italian wines.
Dinner for two is about $HK2300; lunch and dinner daily; F5 LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road, Central; see carnevino.com/hongkong/home.cfm.
The first international outpost for Seiji Yamamoto, whose Tokyo restaurant, Nihonryori RyuGin, has three Michelin stars and gained second place on the 2013 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, is located on the 101st floor of the ICC tower, Hong Kong’s tallest building.
With classy interiors of pale wood and deep purple, it seems like a world away from the pared-down Tokyo RyuGin.
Overseen by Yamamoto’s esteemed disciple, Hideaki Sato, the cuisine is simple and uncomplicated, with clean flavours made from ingredients so pure, it’s tempting to forgive the carbon footprint made by flying them in from Japan each day. Menu highlights include deep-fried ice fish with spring vegetables; egg custard with yuba (tofu skin) and sea urchin; poached abalone, sliced like a comb, served with umami broth made from rock-hard bonito fish and kelp from Kapuka Beach in Hokkaido, known as the “Romanee-Conti of kelp”.
Teamed with impeccable service and timely execution, this is currently Hong Kong’s best restaurant, hands down.
Dinner for two is $HK4350; dinner only; F 101, ICC, 1 Austin Road, Kowloon; see ryugin.com.hk.
At Quinary, Hong Kong native Antonio Lai lays claim to the city’s first micro distillery. Employing a kitchen’s worth of molecular gastronomy gadgetry, Lai hopes to engage more senses than just taste. Quinary’s tea cocktails are a highlight: a refreshing and clean Oolong Tea Collins teams slow-infused Chinese tea with vodka, while the Earl Grey Caviar Martini has “caviar” pearls made from bergamot-scented tea.
56-58 Hollywood Road, Central; see quinary.hk.
Perched on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel a dizzying 490 metres above ground, glitzy jet-setter magnet Ozone claims to be the world’s highest bar. Grab a window seat if you can – they fill up quickly – for dazzling views of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
The dragon fruit with yuzu and vodka Dragontini is Ozone’s signature cocktail, but it’s very sweet. Better is the Aria 118, teaming white wine with orange and mango.
F118, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 1 Austin Road, West Kowloon; see ritzcarlton.com.
Running off the success of its acclaimed three-star Michelin restaurant Caprice, the Four Seasons hotel recently opened Caprice Bar. It’s hushed and sophisticated, with crisp, black- jacketed waiters and prices to match. While you could come here for the views over Victoria Harbour, or even for the grand cru wines, access to Caprice’s cheeses is the real drawcard.
Hand-picked from artisan producers in France, they include Brin d’Amour from Corsica, and Comte, whose owners produce less than 180 blocks a year. Skip dinner if you must – this is worth it.
F6, Four Seasons Hotel, Financial Street, Central; see fourseasons.com.
Hoping to bring a little Italian cocktail culture to Hong Kong, Il Milione opened in Central in early March. Named after the travelogue by Rustichello da Pisa about the epic travels of Marco Polo, this handsome bar of marble and polished cabinets adjoining the just-opened Umbrian restaurant has quickly made a name for itself with its rare and vintage aperitif spirits.
Don’t miss the negronis, here served seven different ways.
Hutchinson House, 10 Harcourt Road, Central; see il-milione.com.
With its clubby air, dark timber panelling, luscious Chesterfields and impressive list of rare cognacs and Scottish whiskies, The Bar is a fitting new addition to the 85-year-old Peninsula Hotel.
The service is a little on the snobby side and you need very deep pockets, but the rare drops of distilled gold, such as 25-year-old Bunnahabhain and 40-year-old Highland Park whiskies, are prize finds.
F2 Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Road, Kowloon; see peninsula.com.
The Four Seasons is arguably Hong Kong’s classiest hotel. Smack bang in downtown Central, metres from the airport express, 399 big rooms have marble and silk panels; book a harbour-facing room for views. It’s also the only hotel in the world to boast two three-star Michelin restaurants: classical French Caprice and Cantonese diner Lung King Heen. Double rooms cost from $HK4700 ($587); see fourseasons.com.
Deep in the thick of hectic Tsim Sha Tsui, the Mira bills itself as an art hotel. There are 492 compact rooms brimming with gadgets, including an all-in-one computer and entertainment system, and bars and restaurants aplenty. Note that weekends fill up with the party crowd. Double rooms from $HK1890; see themirahotel.com.