TOP 20

BEST RESTAU­RANTS

T.Dining by Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

The wait is over—dig into the most ex­cit­ing places to eat in Hong Kong and Ma­cau right now

For the past six years, we have set our­selves the chal­lenge of dis­till­ing a year’s worth of din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences into a list of 20 ex­cep­tional restau­rants—a task that is, cru­cially, ap­proached with an open mind. Join­ing Hong Kong Tatler’s Din­ing Ed­i­tor Wil­son Fok and my­self is the T.Din­ing panel of re­view­ers (page 10), a di­verse group of ex­pe­ri­enced food writ­ers and trusted palates who tasted and rated more than 220 restau­rants and bars in Hong Kong and Ma­cau with us. Each restau­rant’s score is based on four key cri­te­ria—food, set­ting, drinks and ser­vice—and, more im­por­tantly, judged in the con­text of whether or not it of­fers some­thing ex­cep­tional and unique.

The T.Din­ing Top 20 is not a list of the best restau­rants of all time. Given the volatile na­ture of the din­ing scene and the con­tin­u­ous evo­lu­tion that even ex­tends to our all-time favourites, it would be fruit­less—not to men­tion a bore—to sim­ply pub­lish a col­lec­tion of what ev­ery­one al­ready knows from years of restau­rant rank­ings and Miche­lin-star ac­co­lades.

What this list aims to do is to show­case the restau­rants that we felt of­fered the most ex­cep­tional din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of the year and that have the po­ten­tial for more sur­prises yet to come.

A restau­rant can be tech­ni­cally brilliant and score highly on pa­per—but can fail to make it on the list if it ap­peared per­func­tory or lacked soul, or if we had seen lit­tle progress or de­vel­op­ment in the last 12 months. Our re­view­ers didn’t merely re­view, tal­ly­ing points on their score­sheets like QC of­fi­cers—they also ap­praised, putting for­ward their thoughts on who had ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions and who had failed to tran­scend their rep­u­ta­tions. They ral­lied be­hind restau­rants they felt of­fered more than just a good meal—and made their voices heard about those whose stan­dards had slipped. And so, af­ter months of anonymous vis­its, blind vot­ing and de­lib­er­at­ing, we are proud to re­veal our de­fin­i­tive Top 20 list for the year. There are some old favourites, as well as some sur­pris­ing new en­trants—we think that ev­ery sin­gle one should be added to your din­ing agenda right now.

What de­fines a great restau­rant? In our quest to find the most mem­o­rable din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in Hong Kong and Ma­cau, we dis­cov­ered a di­verse land­scape that in­cludes ev­ery­thing from se­ri­ous noo­dle bars to multi-course culi­nary

nir­vanas—proof that the idea of fine din­ing is no longer what it used to be. Char­maine Mok lifts the cloche on the

cur­rent state of our evolv­ing food scene

HOW WE DO IT

Each restau­rant is re­viewed anony­mously— our re­view­ers do not make them­selves known to the restau­rant prior to their visit—and rated us­ing an ex­ten­sive score­sheet that takes into ac­count more than 35 dif­fer­ent points of ref­er­ence in­clud­ing cre­ativ­ity of the plat­ing, man­ners of staff, com­pre­hen­sive­ness of the drinks list, and whether or not the restau­rant makes an ef­fort to be en­vi­ron­men­tally aware. Re­view­ers are also en­cour­aged to in­clude ad­di­tional notes and comments that are not cov­ered by the scor­ing ma­trix. Fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of the re­views, we com­piled the scores to find the top-rated restau­rants—this year, 70 venues made the cut. Each re­viewer was given the list, in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der and with no fi­nal scores to in­flu­ence them, and asked to se­lect 20 restau­rants they felt were most de­serv­ing of in­clu­sion based on their ex­pe­ri­ences; con­versely, they were also asked to mark down venues that they felt were not ap­pro­pri­ate. Ul­ti­mately, the Top 20 list is an ex­pres­sion of the restau­rants that have cap­tured the zeit­geist of the din­ing scene in 2017. Flip ahead to read more about them.

One of the most talked-about top­ics in the din­ing in­dus­try this year was the cu­ri­ous case of the chef swap. In April, French­men Fabrice Vulin and Guil­laume Gal­liot of­fi­cially took up their posts of ex­ec­u­tive chef—at the other’s restau­rant. Af­ter the ini­tial be­muse­ment and spec­u­la­tion, it has be­come ap­par­ent that the un­in­ten­tional ex­change has done both a world of good. We find Gal­liot’s cui­sine at his new home of Caprice (page 93) to be even more re­fined than be­fore—as be­fit­ting this bas­tion of fine French gas­tron­omy, Gal­liot brings a con­fi­dence to the Four Sea­sons with cre­ations such as crab laksa with con­fit egg—a thor­oughly con­tem­po­rary dish that de­fies all ex­pec­ta­tions of what should be served at a French restau­rant.

Mean­while, Vulin—our 2016 Best New Chef award re­cip­i­ent—has found his own rhythm at TheTast­ingRoom (page 118) in Ma­cau’s City of Dreams. A staunch sup­porter of French pro­duce and clas­sic tech­niques, Vulin nev­er­the­less cham­pi­ons a new way for Gal­lic gas­tron­omy with his bold flavour pair­ings born from an in­ter­na­tional re­sumé. For ex­am­ple, Gil­lardeau oys­ters, usu­ally per­fect on their own, are en­livened with rice es­puma, yuzu-scented vegeta­bles and lardo di Colon­nata. But don’t be mis­taken—the French­man knows ex­actly what to do with a pre­mium Alexan­dre Pol­mard beef tenderloin, sim­ply served with del­i­cate soufflé pota­toes and clas­sic French Riviera condi­ments.

In the same vein, Ni­co­las Boutin of

Épure (page 93) con­tin­ues to fine-tune his dishes that as­tound with their sur­facelevel sim­plic­ity—a piece of foie gras comes bur­nished and caramelised and, in Boutin’s

We’re hop­ing that more chefs will find in­spi­ra­tion from

Hong Kong, cre­at­ing a new kind of gas­tron­omy

eyes, needs noth­ing more than a ra­zor-thin slice of the most pris­tine pear as its bed­fel­low, the fruit’s gen­tle sweet­ness and whis­per of acid­ity calmly tack­ling the rich­ness of the liver. It’s hard not to be en­am­oured by the re­straint shown in the plates here; the rather ex­cep­tional desserts by pas­try chef Ken Thomas drive the point home. Like Boutin, Thomas’ cre­ations are mod­est in de­sign, but in­no­va­tive in ex­e­cu­tion.

The evo­lu­tion of French cui­sine has played out in a fas­ci­nat­ing way in Hong Kong, with venues such as SergeetlePhoque (page

80), which has just opened a sec­ond branch in Lon­don, rem­i­nis­cent of the bistron­omy move­ment in Paris—with ap­proach­able din­ing that doesn’t sac­ri­fice cre­ativ­ity, and speaks of its time and place. At Serge, few din­ers es­cape with­out the obli­ga­tory dac­quoise for dessert, which has be­come a de­li­cious con­stant in a world of wax­ing and wan­ing trends. The rest of the menu is where you can ex­er­cise your ad­ven­tur­ous side, with dishes rang­ing from sea bass with man­gos­teen and wakame to Chal­landais duck with cloud ear mush­rooms and sakura (quite of­ten, in­gre­di­ents are sourced from the Wan Chai wet mar­ket across the road), all done with aplomb by chef Ni­cholas Chew.

We’re hop­ing that more chefs will find in­spi­ra­tion from Hong Kong, cre­at­ing a new kind of gas­tron­omy—Daniel Calvert’s use of a lo­cally grown corn to cre­ate his fresh po­lenta with Aus­tralian black truf­fle comes to mind. The chef ’s in­spired neo-bistro cook­ing is rea­son why Belon (page 78) is back on the Top 20 list for the sec­ond time since it opened. Since tak­ing over from James Henry,

SUNNY SIDE

Guil­laume Gal­liot’s crab laksa with con­fit egg yolk dish at Caprice is in­spired by his jour­neys to Sin­ga­pore

AN AR­CHI­TECT OF TASTE

Vicky Cheng of VEA is known for his sur­pris­ing take on French cui­sine

Calvert has shifted the menu to por­tray his own point of view. Ex­pect re­fined takes on French favourites (the pi­geon pithivier is ethe­real), and stay open-minded about the es­o­teric and dis­tinctly un-French cre­ations such as the mer­guez sausage sand­wich with salsa verde.

An­other chef who has carved his own style of cui­sine with clas­si­cal train­ing is Hideaki Sato of TaVie (page 80), who has suc­cess­fully par­layed his un­der­stand­ing of French and Ja­panese tech­niques into dishes that are vis­ually stun­ning and highly orig­i­nal. Sato is the kind of chef who will read­ily nerd out when it comes to the in­gre­di­ents at his dis­posal—each item on the plate tast­ing dis­tinct and some­how more than it­self. He’s also a fan of us­ing cre­ative tech­niques to fash­ion culi­nary sur­prises, such as com­bin­ing flour, wa­ter and squid ink to cre­ate re­al­is­ti­clook­ing abalone shells. The en­thu­si­asm for pro­duce, both local and for­eign, trans­lates into dishes that truly speak of the sea­son— and in turn speak to us.

When it comes to the lan­guage of food, Vicky Lau’s flu­ency in the art man­i­fests in a menu she calls “All the Odes”—a se­ri­ous tast­ing menu at Tate (page 80), her split-level restau­rant on the qui­eter end of Hol­ly­wood Road. Each course is in­spired by a sig­nif­i­cant in­gre­di­ent or mem­ory, from the flavour of Chiu Chow mari­nade to the scent of os­man­thus. The lyri­cal qual­ity of Lau’s food is neatly matched by the pic­ture-per­fect set­ting that be­trays her past as a graphic de­signer; the dishes are each self-con­tained pieces of art, ren­dered in brilliant hues, shapes and tex­tures.

From one Vicky to an­other, we ar­rive at VEA (page 80), Vicky Cheng and An­to­nio Lai’s bi­jou Cen­tral restau­rant, where the tiny de­tails (the vel­veteen rest pad to keep your mo­bile phone from slid­ing off the mar­ble table­top, for ex­am­ple) and the over­ar­ch­ing sto­ry­line of the food com­bine to be­come more than the sum of their parts. Staunchly proud of his Hong Kong and Shang­hainese her­itage, Cheng’s menu is filled with thrilling spins on tra­di­tion, from the su­perla­tive roasted sea cu­cum­ber with lan­gous­tine and cordy­ceps to a beau­ti­fully cooked local yel­low chicken paired with Chi­nese cab­bage, scal­lions and Iberico lardo.

An­other new ad­di­tion to the Top 20 list this year is just one street away but, gas­tro­nom­i­cally speak­ing, worlds apart.

ALL UNI IS LOVE

Shinji by Kanesaka of­fers an in­dul­gent ex­pe­ri­ence of pre­mium Ja­panese pro­duce

Goshima Shinya’s Go­denya (page 101) is not the kind of restau­rant you stum­ble across, but make pur­pose­ful strides to­ward, de­spite it be­ing hid­den down a dark, nar­row al­ley­way. Be­yond the doors, you’ll find a peace­ful shrine to the art of sake. Shinya’s menu of gen­reskirt­ing cre­ations (a del­i­cate scampi tom yum goong is one of his spe­cial­i­ties) fea­ture dishes that are each skil­fully paired with a sake, chilled or warmed to the op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture. A meal here is more than just about eat­ing and drink­ing—we can learn much from this master of gas­tron­omy.

Also in the area is mod­ern Ja­panese iza­kaya Ronin (page 83), the mod­ish fol­lowup restau­rant by the team be­hind Yard­bird (which, by the time of go­ing to press, was about to move to its new lo­ca­tion in She­ung Wan). Be­hind the cool, slate-coloured slid­ing door is a lengthy room that wouldn’t look out of place in the trendier part of Ginza, where din­ers sip thin glass tum­blers of pre­mium small-batch sake, paired with highly in­ven­tive, seafood-fo­cused small plates. This is the kind of place where in­gre­di­ents are han­dled just enough to coax out their max­i­mum flavour with­out ob­scur­ing their essence—the grilled pike mack­erel with a zingy pars­ley, onion and mugi miso top­ping is one of the best mouth­fuls we’ve had this year.

In the same vein of re­spect­ing Ja­panese in­gre­di­ents and tech­niques, we’re en­thused by the unique cre­ations by Max Levy over at Okra in Sai Ying Pun—but it’s his hide­away, OkraBar (page 103), sit­u­ated on the up­per floor of the build­ing, that has a well-earned place on this year’s Top 20. The omakaseonly restau­rant is quite un­like any sushi bar you may have been to be­fore—not only due to its slightly clin­i­cal, white-tiled coun­ters, but also for the orig­i­nal com­bi­na­tions that flank the ex­pertly crafted ni­giri. Levy’s silky chawan­mushi with Cara­bineros prawn and the tit­u­lar okra is a true sig­na­ture, and the mas­ter­fully aged va­ri­eties of fish that top much of his sushi are a gas­tro­nomic les­son in them­selves.

But when a more clas­sic sushi-ya ex­pe­ri­ence is what we’re af­ter, we would cross the seas to Ma­cau in an in­stant—to dine at Shin­jiby Kanesaka (page 121), here on the list for the sec­ond year in a row. Chef de cui­sine Toru Osumi is a true master of the craft and the omakase menu here is a must. Osumi’s pac­ing is im­pec­ca­ble, with each diner’s jour­ney per­fectly judged so that ev­ery morsel that lands in front of you is per­fectly timed—the hours flow by gen­tly, like a trail of rich honey. What we also ap­pre­ci­ate about the Shinji ex­pe­ri­ence is the ut­ter lack of pre­ten­sion—Osumi and his com­rades are warm and wel­com­ing, dis­solv­ing any fears of an in­tim­i­dat­ing at­mos­phere that can of­ten per­vade high-end sushi bars.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of stilted, for­mal ser­vice can only be wel­comed with open arms—it’s a sug­ges­tion of the chang­ing of the tides, where se­ri­ous gas­tron­omy is no longer syn­ony­mous with strict rules of be­hav­iour. At Haku (page 79), helmed by Agustin Balbi (our Best New Chef awardee in 2015), the at­mos­phere is akin to that of a lively iza­kaya—chefs ban­ter with din­ers from across the hand­some wood counter, the semi-open kitchen of­fers culi­nary the­atrics and the drinks flow freely. Balbi, who pre­vi­ously trained at Tokyo’s Cuisines Michel Trois­gros, has come into his own since helm­ing seafood-cen­tric restau­rant The Ocean; his prepa­ra­tion of in­gre­di­ents from sim­ple sweet­corn to lux­u­ri­ous Kagoshima A4 wagyu are noth­ing short of ex­tra­or­di­nary, pre­sented on beau­ti­ful hand­crafted crock­ery. We also ap­pre­ci­ate that this is the kind of place where din­ers can feel as com­fort­able or­der­ing a beer as they would a glass of the finest Bur­gundy—both of which are on of­fer.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of stilted, for­mal ser­vice can

only be wel­comed with open arms—it’s a chang­ing of the tides, where se­ri­ous gas­tron­omy is no longer syn­ony­mous with strict

rules of be­hav­iour

This mix of high-end gas­tron­omy with a more con­vivial en­vi­ron­ment re­minds us of new ad­di­tion Frantzén’s Kitchen (page 79), the ca­sual off­shoot of Stock­holm’s two-Miche­lin-starred Restau­rant Frantzén. Lo­cated at the top of Up­per Sta­tion Street, the diminu­tive venue of­fers warm Swedish hos­pi­tal­ity com­bined with se­ri­ously com­plex cook­ing. Chef Jim Löf­dahl has worked with Björn Frantzén since the early days of the restau­rant in Swe­den, and he brings forth a dis­tinct in­ter­pre­ta­tion of mod­ern Nordic gas­tron­omy, in­cor­po­rat­ing un­com­mon in­gre­di­ents such as fer­mented lin­gonber­ries, crispy white moss and ven­dace roe into highly orig­i­nal dishes.

This con­fi­dence can also be seen at David Lai’s Neigh­bor­hood (page 79), which has be­come some­thing of a cult favourite among food lovers. You could say Lai is the chef ’s chef, a re­spected peer that has carved his own way fol­low­ing his clas­si­cal train­ing un­der the tute­lage of Alain Du­casse. At this small hide­away restau­rant, the daily-chang­ing menu en­com­passes se­ri­ously good in­gre­di­ents and time-old tech­niques, spun with a lit­tle bit of Lai’s culi­nary whimsy and a Mediter­ranean slant—you end up with awe-in­spir­ing dishes such as runny quails’ eggs cooked with but­ter and herbs like the clas­sic es­car­got, or salt­baked local chicken with black truf­fle and giblet rice.

This hum­ble ded­i­ca­tion to in­gre­di­ents re­minds us of an­other chef—Shane Os­born of Arcane (page 78), a truly un­sung hero of Hong Kong’s culi­nary scene. His mod­estly sized restau­rant on the third floor of a Cen­tral skyscraper may not have the piz­zazz of flashier ad­dresses, but the level of cook­ing is top-class—and Os­born is al­ways in the kitchen, not be­ing the type to sim­ply splash his name on the menu and reap the re­wards. His con­tem­po­rary blend of Euro­pean tra­di­tions and sea­sonal, flavour­for­ward pro­duce (mainly a mix of Aus­tralian, Bri­tish and Ja­panese) cre­ates a cui­sine that is in­di­vid­ual and dis­tinc­tive.

The same can be said of Am­ber (page

78), a stal­wart on the din­ing scene, with chef Richard Ekke­bus at the helm for more than 10 years since its open­ing. The con­tin­ual evo­lu­tion of The Land­mark Man­darin Ori­en­tal restau­rant has been in­trigu­ing, and the menu is as ex­cit­ing and ac­com­plished

SO SHELL­FISH

The con­tin­ual evo­lu­tion of Am­ber has been in­trigu­ing, and the menu is as ex­cit­ing and

ac­com­plished as ever Am­ber’s Korean abalone with black pep­per, vine­gar-sea­soned tomato com­pote and braised then crisped ox­tail

HID­DEN GEMS

Clock­wise, from top left: Golden Flower’s broiled beef slices with se­same puffs; Jade Dragon’s steamed garoupa; the main din­ing room at Sam­sen

as ever. Ekke­bus has pared down slightly, de­creas­ing the menu op­tions from six main cour­ses to four, show­cas­ing the very best— the Miyazaki wagyu is heftily priced, but sec­ond-to-none, the beef ’s nat­u­ral umami en­hanced by the ad­di­tion of dried red onion skin and sea­weed pow­der. A meal at Am­ber is of­ten atop the list for many vis­i­tors, but re­mains firmly a favourite among Hongkongers as well.

While the level of Chi­nese cook­ery is high in this city, we im­plore you to cross over once again to Ma­cau, where Tam Kwok-fung’s Jade Dragon (page 117) re­mains one of the re­gion’s best restau­rants for mod­ern Can­tonese cui­sine. As one of the most long-stand­ing mem­bers of the Top 20 list, the team have proven time and time again that re­main­ing con­sis­tent while also chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo are skills they pos­sess. From del­i­cate dim sum to roasted meats im­bued with ly­chee wood smoke, Tam’s gas­tro­nomic of­fer­ings are deeply in­formed by decades of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence of one of the world’s great­est culi­nary tra­di­tions.

Sim­i­larly, an in­spir­ing ex­pe­ri­ence can be found at Gold­enFlower (page 117), an­other long-stand­ing Top 20 awardee that con­tin­ues to im­press with its pro­found ex­e­cu­tion of highly in­tri­cate and ob­scure re­gional Chi­nese cui­sine. Liu Guozhu’s dra­matic Wynn Ma­cau restau­rant is a paean to China’s great gas­tro­nomic tra­di­tions, fo­cus­ing on im­pe­rial Tan cui­sine and its ex­tremely labour-in­ten­sive prepa­ra­tions; tra­di­tional Can­tonese, Sichuan and Shan­dong dishes are also re­spect­fully ren­dered to great ef­fect.

Spend­ing time to per­fect age-hon­oured recipes also plays out at our fi­nal Top 20 en­trant, which ap­pears on the list for the first time. The tiny Wan Chai restau­rant Sam­sen (page 83) sur­prised us with its im­mense ded­i­ca­tion to some­thing as sim­ple as a bowl of soup noo­dles. Adam Cliff, a ded­i­cated dis­ci­ple of Thai cook­ery for 15 years, spent a whole year tweak­ing his recipe for the restau­rant’s sig­na­ture wagyu beef noo­dles—a labour-in­ten­sive dish that sees his team mak­ing the pig’s blood-en­riched broth ev­ery day from scratch, sim­mer­ing each batch for at least two to three hours. De­spite be­ing a ca­sual, no-reser­va­tions restau­rant with pa­per place mats and a drinks list that is more lager than Lafite, it’s liv­ing proof that the def­i­ni­tion of great din­ing is no longer so rigid—and thank good­ness for that.

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