The eco warrior
“To make food do good.” That’s the zeitgeist-friendly mantra that’s helped Peggy Chan become a heavyweight of Hong Kong’s new food scene.
At Grassroots Pantry, her aptly named restaurant on the city’s celebrated Hollywood Road, Chan celebrates gourmet vegetarianism and veganism with an innovative and sustainable take on plant-based dishes. That may mean harissa-roasted cauliflower, buckwheat tofu Bolognese or an incredible almond and fig tart.
Chan was born in Hong Kong and raised in Montreal, training at Ottawa’s Le Cordon Bleu cooking school before embarking on a culinary journey through some of Hong Kong’s most renowned restaurants. In 2011, she decided to go it alone, quickly outgrowing her initial space before moving to the current all-day dining venue with its Scandi vibe.
Since then she’s launched multiple initiatives including The Collective’s Table, where she invites renowned chefs to join her in creating their own vegetarian tasting menu. Unsurprisingly, she’s a passionate advocate of the benefits of a plant-based diet. “Good food doesn’t have to be bad for you and everything around us. We aim to educate the community by promoting local, farm-to-table and sustainable food practices, while serving each table a delicious meal.”
The local legend
Like many Chinese chefs of a certain age, Hong Kong native Chan Yan Tak was very young when he started working in his home town’s kitchens – just 13 years old. But dedicating so many years to his craft paid off when his contemporary Cantonese restaurant, Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hong Kong, was awarded three Michelin stars in 2009, the first time a restaurant headed by a Chinese chef was awarded such an accolade.
Still in the kitchen there, Chef Tak refuses to take any credit himself for the remarkable achievement: “The stars belong to each member of the team. Without good leadership, teamwork and communication, you’ll never have a truly strong kitchen.”
In common with all regional Chinese cuisines, freshness is absolutely paramount in Cantonese cooking. This means, for example, keeping live fish in tanks in the kitchen for a show-stopping snapper dish. And even for simpler dishes, such as shrimp dumplings, the quality of ingredients is crucial.
The 25-strong kitchen team works long hours to painstakingly create the many elements that go into dishes that have earned the ultimate culinary award. As Chef Tak watches over them with almost paternal warmth, it’s clear that, even after more than five decades in the kitchen, his passion runs as deep and strong as ever.
The trend setter
Kevin Poon wears many hats. The culinary entrepreneur behind La Rambla, Hong Kong’s foremost Spanish restaurant, also owns a number of cooler-than-thou design brands, stores and coffee shops. He also found time to bring Kanye West to the city for his first gig there and is the very proud owner of what must be Hong Kong’s largest sneaker collection.
His unique eye for design was put to good use at La Rambla, a 500m2 space that boasts breathtaking views of the city’s iconic Victoria Harbour. Poon brought in Spanish artist Javier Calleja to provide a series of humour-filled works for the wall.
But, of course, it’s the plates that count most, and chef Ferran Tadeo, formerly at the legendary El Bulli restaurant north of Barcelona, doesn’t disappoint with his Catalan-inspired menu driven by the best Spanish produce money can buy. That includes enormous, sweet and succulent carabinero red prawns or 120-day aged Galician beef direct from Barcelona.
Poon explains the vision behind La Rambla: “It’s about presenting traditional Catalan cuisine in inventive ways. We wanted to create a space that’s cosy and versatile, and at the same time suitable for power meetings, chilling, fine dining and parties.” Poon looks like he may have another success on his hands – and with it, no doubt, more sneakers.
The dream team
It would be difficult to imagine a more dynamic culinary duo in Hong Kong than Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang, the team behind one of the city’s most popular restaurants, yakitori (skewered chicken) specialist Yardbird.
There’s almost always a substantial wait for a table, but that just means more time to explore the drinks menu, which is one of the best in town, with its focus on Japanese spirits such as saké and classic cocktails – a happy side effect of Abergel and Jang’s time spent in New York’s acclaimed Japanese restaurants Nobu Fifty Seven and Masa.
The wait for tables may well shorten, however, as they’ve recently moved Yardbird from the city’s Soho district to a much larger space in Sheung Wan. The menu has thankfully retained all its charcoal-grilled chicken classics including miso breast, thigh or wings, while ventricle, thyroid or gizzard tempt the more adventurous. “We didn’t invent chicken or charcoal, nothing is groundbreaking,” says Jang, “but it worked because of our experience and interest in yakitori. We actually love it.” No visit to Yardbird is complete without the duo’s brilliant take on vegetables, which includes an addictive KFC – that’s Korean Fried Cauliflower – with yuzu, chilli and lime, or Brussels sprouts with black garlic to make even the most ardent Brassica-hater see the light.
Formerly a couple, Abergel and Jang have continued to expand their business with venues including Ronin, an acclaimed izakaya-style dining spot. But Yardbird remains front and centre, a rite of passage for every chef passing through town and visitors in the know.
The sushi master
Outside Japan, there are only two sushi restaurants anywhere in the world with three Michelin stars. A modest building on an unglamorous street in Hong Kong is home to one of them: Sushi Shikon. Kaki-san, as head chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma is known to the legions of fans happy to drop serious dollars on some of the world’s finest fish and rice, is an unlikely sushi master. The tall and stocky Tokyoite was formerly a committed university rugby player who wanted to turn professional, before the lure of the kitchen won out. Not just any kitchen, however, but that of legendary Sushi Yoshitake in Tokyo.
He then lived in the US for a decade, perfecting his English, before moving to Hong Kong and opening Sushi Shikon, which has held three Michelin stars since 2014. As he explains: “Shiko means ‘challenge’ and ‘passion’, but that’s not just us, it’s the fishermen, the wait staff, the team, everybody who supports us and our culture. Our challenge, coming from a small island, is bringing our treasure outside of the country.”
He and his team are renowned for their attention to detail – even the rice is cooked in water imported from Japan. But despite the very highest of standards, he’s relaxed, funny and engaging with all diners – at least those lucky enough to score one of just eight seats at lunch and dinner.