TOP 20 BEST RESTAU­RANTS

Hong Kong and Ma­cau has plenty to of­fer when it comes to ex­cep­tional din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences—but which restau­rants pulled ahead to bring some­thing just that lit­tle more spe­cial? Char­maine Mok ex­plores the restau­rants that have made the deep­est im­pres­sion on T.

T.Dining by Hong Kong Tatler - - Top 20 2019 -

This year marks the sev­enth edi­tion of the Top 20 Best Restau­rants—a list we painstak­ingly com­pile each year in the hopes of pre­sent­ing a dis­til­la­tion of Hong Kong and Ma­cau’s most ex­cit­ing din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s a gar­gan­tuan task that re­quires my­self, Hong Kong Tatler’s Din­ing Edi­tor Wil­son Fok, and the T.Din­ing panel of ex­pe­ri­enced food writ­ers and pro­fes­sion­als (see their pro­files on page 8 of this guide) to con­sider 12 months of meals and par­take in a rig­or­ous re­view­ing process that in­volves more than 200 restau­rants across both cities. Ev­ery venue is scored us­ing the same strin­gent cri­te­ria set out in our scor­ing ma­trix, a sys­tem that is di­vided into four key cat­e­gories—food, set­ting, ser­vice and drink—that are fur­ther split into spe­cific check­points. Our re­view­ers are all ex­pe­ri­enced din­ers who are as ob­sessed and in­formed about food as we are, and ap­praise restau­rants while draw­ing from a rich back­ground of ref­er­ence points.

So, what does the Top 20 list rep­re­sent? Cru­cially, this is not your tra­di­tional restau­rant rank­ing. There are no num­ber ones or twos here— ev­ery restau­rant on the list is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an ex­cep­tional din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that we felt was wor­thy of spe­cial men­tion that year. In past edi­tions, we have in­cluded restau­rants that spoke most beau­ti­fully of a time and place; venues that chal­lenged the sta­tus quo with their icon­o­clast cui­sine; and kitchens that have sim­ply thrilled us with solid cook­ing un­like that found any­where else.

With only 20 spots on the list, these restau­rants rep­re­sent the top 10 per cent of all the venues we have tried and tasted this year—mak­ing the task of se­lec­tion an in­cred­i­bly in­tense process. Our pan­el­lists were free to com­ment on and dis­cuss their nom­i­na­tions, down­vot­ing venues they felt lacked the right cri­te­ria for the list, as well as show­ing their sup­port for the restau­rants they felt went above and be­yond. And so, af­ter months of anony­mous vis­its, blind vot­ing and de­lib­er­at­ing, we are proud to reveal our de­fin­i­tive Top 20 for the year. With the din­ing scene con­stantly evolv­ing, so has our list, with eight new en­trants (among them, a come­back). And don’t for­get, our guide is filled with more than 200 bril­liant restau­rants that we would rec­om­mend again and again—just flip through our full re­views sec­tion from page 78

to feed your cu­rios­ity.

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 high­est rated restau­rants—this year, 105 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.

Two-time Lo­cal Cham­pion award win­ner May Chow is to be com­mended for her ded­i­ca­tion to show­ing the world just how com­pelling mod­ern Chi­nese cui­sine can be. With Happy Paradise (page 87), the neon-lit diner ded­i­cated to fun takes on Canto clas­sics, Chow proves that a great din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence can work out­side the tra­di­tional def­i­ni­tions of the genre. Con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing, the menu at Happy Paradise is a riot of culi­nary jibes and tongue-in-cheek ref­er­ences, from the savoury sour­dough egg waf­fles served with bot­targa whip to the whole sweet-and-sour pork chop anointed with ed­i­ble flow­ers and berries.

An­other new en­trant to the Top 20 this year is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the other end of the spec­trum, with its quiet, Nordic char­ac­ter. Helm­ing the kitchen at H Queen’s

Ar­bor (page 79) is Eric Räty, a tal­ented and in­tro­spec­tive chef that brings his Fin­nish sen­si­bil­i­ties and love for Ja­panese pro­duce into a pro­ces­sion of fine French cook­ing. Con­stantly tun­ing his recipes and el­e­vat­ing each flavour, tex­ture and pre­sen­ta­tion, Räty has sim­ply blown us away with his cre­ations, from tart ume­boshi coulis paired with fudgy foie gras par­fait to his ode to soy milk dessert, fus­ing crisp yuba baked with honey and but­ter, soy milk ice cream and black beans cooked in Kowloon Soy Com­pany soy sauce.

This affin­ity for el­e­gant whimsy is rem­i­nis­cent of Hideaki Sato’s cook­ing at Ta

Vie (page 81), which one pan­el­list de­scribes as thrilling, in­trigu­ing, and sat­is­fy­ing on ev­ery level. Sato is a dis­ci­ple of the pure, sim­ple and sea­sonal school of thought, ap­ply­ing French tech­niques to Ja­panese pro­duce in such a way that en­hances and am­pli­fies their flavour. We also ap­pre­ci­ate his con­tin­ued fas­ci­na­tion with lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and tra­di­tions; in re­cent menus, he has ex­per­i­mented and pro­duced in­tri­cate dishes in­spired by won­ton noo­dle soup, char siu, and even dim sum.

An­other chef who has stood out for his pur­suit of cham­pi­oning lo­cal pro­duce is

Vicky Cheng of VEA (page 81). Known for his stand­out in­ter­pre­ta­tion of French and Chi­nese cui­sine, Cheng’s dishes of­fer din­ers a taste of pos­si­bil­i­ties—that is, the idea that our own shores can pro­duce some of the most ex­cep­tional in­gre­di­ents of our own. Lo­cal shell­fish and chicken are used reg­u­larly in the VEA kitchen, trans­lated into dishes that defy ex­pec­ta­tion and act as an ad­vo­cate for the best of Hong Kong and China.

The cre­ativ­ity ap­plied to sea­sonal pro­duce is some­thing that we have come to ex­pect from Shane Os­born, who con­tin­ues to as­sert his unique point of view at Ar­cane (page 79). This year, the in­tu­itive chef im­pressed with his re­vamped menu of on-point pair­ings— lightly smoked saba mack­erel with herb may­on­naise and pick­led radish fea­tured ra­zor sharp bal­ance of flavour, while a light-yet­pun­gent mus­tard greens purée el­e­vated the ag­gres­sive fat­ti­ness of Mayura 8+ beef rump cap. His brand new ve­gan tast­ing menu, too, is wor­thy of at­ten­tion in a year where plenty got on the plant-based band­wagon but few fol­lowed through with ex­cel­lent ex­e­cu­tion.

Like Os­born, Agustin Balbi of Haku

(page 80) has been mak­ing lengthy strides with his cui­sine. The chef is ded­i­cated to the sea­sons at this unique kappo restau­rant (that is in­con­gru­ously lo­cated within a busy shop­ping mall), sourc­ing in­gre­di­ents at their prime to present in his fre­quently chang­ing tast­ing menu. But the menu at Haku to­day is al­ready wildly dif­fer­ent to that of a year ago, show­cas­ing a new chap­ter of con­fi­dence that doesn’t rely as heav­ily on hero in­gre­di­ents such as uni and caviar. Sim­ple sun-dried toma­toes, for ex­am­ple, form the umami-filled base in a sauce with shio kombu and but­ter, en­liven­ing a per­fectly cooked piece of crisp amadai.

A pared back ap­proach to gas­tron­omy is as re­fresh­ing as they come, and this phi­los­o­phy is en­cap­su­lated at Beet (page 79), an­other new en­try to the list. Sin­ga­porean-born Barry Quek demon­strates a style of cook­ing that is re­strained with­out lack­ing flair, and sim­ple, though far from un­ex­cit­ing. The laid back en­vi­rons re­minds us of the new guard of fine din­ing that does with­out white table­cloths and crys­tal­ware, leav­ing be­hind a re­laxed set­ting in which to en­joy ac­com­plished dishes—from its name­sake baked beet­root with smoked ri­cotta, toasted quinoa and chive oil to thinly sliced hamachi with myoga and spring onions.

Next, head fur­ther east, to the Star Street neigh­bour­hood which has seen a re­nais­sance thanks to new­comer Fran­cis (page 83), an at­trac­tive lit­tle slice of mod­ern Tel Aviv in Wan Chai. Restau­ra­teurs James Ward,

Asher Gold­stein and Si­mone Sa­murri have cre­ated some­thing ex­tremely spe­cial in­deed: a restau­rant that puts you in a great mood

with its vi­brant, in­ven­tive dishes that don’t shy away from the nec­es­sary Mid­dle Eastern sea­son­ings, and qual­ity wine list that doesn’t rely on ex­pen­sive big hit­ters. With its no reser­va­tions pol­icy and con­stant flow of cus­tomers, it’s one of the hottest restau­rants of 2018—and will re­main so for a while.

Speak­ing of cov­eted ta­bles—last year’s

Best New Restau­rant (Read­ers’ Choice) and re­cip­i­ent of the Best Ser­vice award is still go­ing strong. New Pun­jab Club (page 83) con­tin­ues to keep things fresh on Wyn­d­ham Street with chef Palash Mi­tra lead­ing the kitchen. Small only in size, the restau­rant is a pow­er­house of big flavours that are mas­ter­fully ren­dered: think silky line-caught co­bia charred in the tan­door, rich from its mari­nade of dill, turmeric, chilli, carom seeds and yo­ghurt, or thick, lush cur­ries to be mopped up with fluffy, smoky naan. The sassy, sharp ser­vice and drinks from the killer gin trol­ley round out an ex­hil­a­rat­ing meal.

Equally, Okra Bar (page 103) stands out with its rene­gade ap­proach to the sushi-ya ex­pe­ri­ence. Max Levy is one of Hong Kong’s most thought-pro­vok­ing chefs, al­ways ready to chal­lenge him­self and find new points of ref­er­ence for his cook­ing. The omakase din­ner at his Sai Ying Pun restau­rant is cer­tainly un­con­ven­tional, but still firmly rooted in Ja­panese tech­nique (Levy trained as an ita­mae in Ja­pan). Fish is aged in-house to en­hance their umami com­plex­ity and im­prove their tex­ture, and touches such as adding fish maw as­pic and shi­itake mush­room to Hokkaido sea urchin demon­strate his will­ing­ness to work out­side of the con­fines of tra­di­tion.

Chart­ing new ter­ri­to­ries is some­thing that Chan Yan-Tak, chef at the Four Sea­sons’ Lung

King Heen (page 89) has also been known for through­out his decades-long ca­reer—and we’re thrilled to wel­come his restau­rant back onto the Top 20 list. This year, the Can­tonese stal­wart stunned us with their progress on the wine ser­vice front, cu­rat­ing ex­cel­lent and un­ex­pected la­bels that were seam­lessly paired with Chan’s cui­sine, such as the sweet­ness of sake work­ing in har­mony with the bar­be­cued meats. Here, it’s all about the small de­tails, but the beauty of the ex­pe­ri­ence lies in the way that staff al­low you to dis­cover these sub­tleties in your own way.

A truly great restau­rant has the abil­ity to trans­port you to an­other realm through am­brosial food and wine, and in­tu­itive ser­vice. Épure (page 93) de­liv­ers this

con­sis­tently yet man­ages to sur­prise and de­light, thanks to the en­ergy and cre­ativ­ity of front man Ni­co­las Boutin, whose en­thu­si­asm for fine French pro­duce re­sults in mul­ti­lay­ered, com­plex prepa­ra­tions that still some­how man­age to high­light the essence of an in­gre­di­ent. His ap­pro­pri­a­tion of clas­sic tech­niques are bal­anced with a con­tem­po­rary edge, and the team’s seam­less wine pair­ings en­hance the char­ac­ter of the dishes.

Fel­low French­man Guil­laume Gal­liot also shows some verve when it comes to his vi­sion for the Four Sea­sons’ Caprice (page 93), which has all the trap­pings of a fan­tas­tic meal tied up in one of the most beau­ti­ful din­ing rooms in town. Gal­liot con­tin­ues to thrive in his po­si­tion, us­ing su­pe­rior in­gre­di­ents in care­fully con­sid­ered ways. He is known to con­stantly re­fine his sig­na­tures, too; visit now, and his Le Pi­geon de Ra­can is likely to be even bet­ter than ever. Pas­try chef Vivien Sonzogni com­pletes the pic­ture with his dainty desserts that de­liver max­i­mum flavour.

For French din­ing of an­other kind, make your way to Soho to sam­ple the food at

Belon (page 79) by one of Hong Kong’s most tal­ented young chefs. Daniel Calvert was the re­cip­i­ent of our Best New Chef award last year, and he has scaled great heights since then—Belon de­buted at #40 on Asia’s 50 Best list soon af­ter he re­ceived our award—but never rests on his lau­rels. Through dishes such as the most pre­cisely cooked pi­geon pithivier with figs and amaretto, Calvert shows that his suc­cess at Belon is down to not only se­ri­ous kitchen skills, but an in­tel­li­gence as well as an in­stinct for what works.

We’ve also seen a marked devel­op­ment in the cook­ing at Vicky Lau’s Tate Din­ing

Room & Bar (page 81), which has taken its theme of ‘odes’ to a new level. Lau’s for­ward­think­ing menu that fo­cuses on high­light­ing spe­cific in­gre­di­ents in var­i­ous guises is in­spired and po­etic—so are the pre­sen­ta­tions

Ronin’s menu of con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese-in­flected fare is si­mul­ta­ne­ously pared back and com­plex

of her plates, which be­tray her past life as a graphic de­signer. Ode to Chi­nese Yam is a new dish that had us speech­less this year—a com­bi­na­tion of the hum­ble root with smoked eel, cauliflower cream and Os­se­tra caviar is a dreamy cre­ation that re­sem­bles blos­som­ing daisies. This is a restau­rant that holds style and sub­stance in equal re­gard—and sus­tains both sen­sa­tion­ally.

And an­other restau­rant that rep­re­sents the epit­ome of cool is Ronin (page 84), back for the sec­ond year on this list thanks to its con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing menu of con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese-in­flected fare that’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously pared back and com­plex. Ded­i­cated to show­cas­ing fine seafood in flavour-for­ward, punchy pair­ings, Matt Abergel’s team are play­ing all their cards right with the culi­nary di­rec­tion. The cu­rated menu of orig­i­nal dishes—in­clud­ing Ronin’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of un­agi chi­rashi-don, which adds an ex­tra boost of ki­nome and sharply sea­soned rice to bal­ance the sweet glaze—is un­ri­valed.

Around the cor­ner is an­other ex­cep­tional restau­rant, this one ded­i­cated to the fine art of sake and food pair­ing. Godenya (page 101) is a se­ri­ous venue that gets spe­cific with its con­cept—here, it’s the sake that leads, and the food that fol­lows. Shinya Goshima is a master of har­ness­ing the sub­tle power of each sake, each served at a very pre­cise tem­per­a­ture to match with the menu of hy­per-sea­sonal dishes—the ef­fect is en­thralling, ed­u­ca­tional, and deeply in­spir­ing. This is haute Ja­panese cui­sine, in the most un­ex­pected of lo­ca­tions.

One of the most en­joy­able places to eat to­day is David Lai’s Neigh­bor­hood (page

81), a hid­den restau­rant north of Hol­ly­wood Road that is never not fully sub­scribed with groups of gour­mands. The in­ti­mate restau­rant is Lai’s space for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, where he reg­u­larly changes the menu to in­cor­po­rate the most cov­eted sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents, from gnarly goose­neck bar­na­cles, to lux­u­ri­ous

white truf­fles into his free­wheel­ing, FrenchMediter­ranean in­flected cook­ing style. The salt-baked lo­cal chicken, beau­ti­fully roasted atop morel mush­rooms and crisped rice is leg­endary, and a per­fect ex­am­ple of just what kind of a chef Lai is—a cham­pion for good, sim­ple food with just the right amount of flair.

The Chair­man (page 87) has been mak­ing waves this year with their ef­forts to pro­mote for­got­ten Can­tonese cui­sine, con­nect­ing with chefs from the Foshan area to bring new in­spi­ra­tion and re­cap­ture tech­niques and in­gre­di­ents from his­tory. Chef-pa­tron Danny Yip con­tin­ues to fly the flag for our lo­cal food, with beau­ti­ful ren­di­tions of Can­tonese clas­sics from the la­bo­ri­ous chicken stuffed with shrimp paste to crisp parcels of crab­meat and mush­room dumplings sand­wiched with pa­per thin slices of pork lard. This is a restau­rant that makes Hongkongers proud.

In Ma­cau, we have seen some won­der­ful new open­ings, but it is Yi (page 115) at Mor­pheus that gives us food for thought. Helmed by Wil­son Fam and An­gelo Wong, pre­vi­ously of Jade Dragon and Howard’s Gourmet re­spec­tively, this high-end restau­rant presents an ex­clu­sively Chi­nese de­gus­ta­tion that they aim to change daily—a wild feat. Their im­pres­sive culi­nary chem­istry has been a cat­a­lyst for some of the most in­ter­est­ing con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese cook­ing to be hap­pen­ing to­day, with their dar­ing de­ci­sions—such as putting a fine din­ing spin on Chi­u­chow rice noo­dles with (Iberico) pork of­fal—mak­ing us sit up and take no­tice. We’re keep­ing an eye on this dy­namic duo—their cook­ing says it all.

NEW RULES (Left) Beet keeps things sim­ple with its ap­proach to din­ing; (Right) Haku’s con­sid­ered ap­proach to Ja­panese din­ing is un­like any­thing else

MAS­TERS OF FLAVOUR (Left) Clean, pre­cise flavours at Épure; (Right) Chef Chan Yan-Tak of Lung King Heen is a leg­end on the din­ing scene

FLIGHTS OF FANCY At Yi, chefs Wil­son Fam and An­gelo Wong set a new stan­dard for Chi­nese dishes, such as roasted pi­geon with lemon­grass

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