Where do the notable chefs and bartenders of Hong Kong’s F&B scene like to eat when they’re not cooking? What is their best home-cooked meal? Cheat Day goes behind the scenes with the city’s culinarians and tastemakers to find out exactly what their personal favourites are during their days off.
Like the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Chinese cuisine, especially here, so very familiar and close to home, is probably best left to tradition. But that’s not the case at Woo Cheong Tea House, formerly known as The Pawn, which has taken up a new residence and a genre of cuisine that feels much more in line with the traditional tong lau‘s (old tenement buildings) own architectural history: contemporary Chinese.
This is not to say that the restaurant is set on revolutionising Chinese cuisine as a whole, but head chef Edmond Ip is committed to foster a renewed Cantonese dining experience for visiting guests, one that elevates the usual boisterous fast-casual dining scene and instead refers to classic known-and-loved flavours while still taking one creative step forward towards the new and unknown.
As Ip describes it, it’s “Innovating with Tradition.”
“There was an unexpected chance for me to learning how to cook when I was young,” Ip shares. “I met many seniors though the years. Learning and exchanging ideas with each of them has been extremely rewarding. But at the end of the day, I’m required to have my own creativity, and that has allowed me to think outside of the box, keep trying and improve my cooking.”
“From being a blank piece of paper to being curious about everything related to cooking, these are the experiences that have helped me grow. I do feel that I belong in the kitchen,” he shares excitedly.
With almost 20 years of experience, the Hong Kong native is still considered “young” to the complex world of Cantonese cooking, which, often times, is dominated by older, much more established names. However, Ip has admirably managed to hold his own, working his way through reputable restaurants to receive accolades that confidently reaffirm his skill-set as a Cantonese chef, while impressively also securing a seat on the World Master Chef Association for Chinese Cuisine in Hong Kong as board director.
Over at Woo Cheong, Ip instills his culinary philosophy of seasonal eating into the menu, which also means that the rotating dishes are always in perfect alignment with the 24 solar terms — indicated by the sun’s movements to mark different climates and weather periods — on the Chinese calendar (As I write this, we are in the beginning of Minor Heat, or 小暑, the start of the hottest period of the year). It’s a collection of familiar Chinese banquet-style serves, presented with innovative new riffs that offer a more experiential Cantonese dining experience — one that goes beyond flavour and aroma, adding visuals and textures as well.
It’s showcased in simple dishes like sautéed prawns, which are expertly carved to mimic flower-like petals; while the traditional crispy baby pigeon is resurrected with an alternate preparation method — marinated while raw before deep frying — and photogenically served in a nest-like bowl with a tea-smoked quail egg. Other highlights includes Woo Cheong’s tea-smoked chicken, infused with added dried flowers alongside tea leaves — jasmine flower and osmanthus — for an extra fragrant take; and the sitr-fried pork ribs coated in rich Zhenjiang black vinegar and renewed with Xinhua dried tangerine peel for a balanced tartness.
“Apart of meeting the tastes and needs of our customers, we add different seasonal elements from time to time to serve them occasional delicacies,” Ip explains. He names a winter melon soup as example, adjusted to the imminent summer months for a refreshing cool-down.
“I want to be an outstanding chef,” he continues. “I hope my guests will think of me and continue to come for my signature dishes.”
Try the sweet and sour pork on your next visit — there’s a popping surprise.
Cheat Day with Edmond Ip:
What was the last meal you had?
My last meal was at Woo Cheong Tea House. We have a training session every night after work to review and ensure the food quality and standards.
What was the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
Do everything with heart and serve the customers with heart. They can feel the sincerity!
Tell me some of your signature dishes/ creations?
I’m currently focused on creating new dishes by “innovating with tradition”, which is the philosophy of Woo Cheong Tea House. I respect tradition a lot, and so I want to preserve the signature features of dishes, while still adding some new elements to enhance them and bring out the best from the ingredients. For example, Sweet and Sour Pork is a traditional and popular dish. It is hard to make a breakthrough. Therefore, I chose to keep it traditional, but added rock candy as an innovative spin to this beloved classic, resulting in an explosive new layer that stimulates the taste buds.
Our team in Woo Cheong is focused on every tiny detail. We try to improve everything — from the usage of fresh ingredients to seasoning, sauce making, and of course the taste of cuisines.
Honestly, what is it like working with you in the kitchen?
I am very serious in the kitchen, and maintain very high standard in my area. I also place great emphasis on the quality of the food. While I always maintain focus during working hours, I have a close relationship with my teammates when away from the kitchen. We know each other, work hard and play hard.
Your favourite local Hong Kong ingredients to use?
Seafood, such as the Eagle Pomfret that is caught in Hong Kong waters. There is a significant difference between those caught by aquaculture and import or foreign fishing vessels. The Eagle Pomfret is the most premium and the largest among all pomfrets. It has no small bones and is therefore suitable for all to eat. It is perfectly matched with our homemade 25 years old Xinhui Chen Pi black bean sauce.
Do you cook at home? If so, what is your go-to home-cooked dish?
I will only cook during special occasions or festivals. The rest of the time, my wife is the main chef at our home, and I do not dare to disturb her while she is cooking.
You have 30 minutes. What will you make?
I will make beef stir-fry with rice noodles. It is a simple dish, but it requires skills to make it delicious!
What are your guilty pleasures?
It has got to be the dried abalone. It tastes so good but you won’t be eating it very often.
The best meal you ever had?
The best meals are those cooked by my wife or mom. I can always taste their love and effort that they put into every meal.
What was your most memorable food moment?
A few years ago, I was having a meal at a French restaurant. I was very impressed from the moment I entered the restaurant. The whole experience was incredible, no matter in terms of dining experience, food quality, hospitality from the brilliant team!
The experience inspired me to bring customers an incredible dining experience at the Chinese Restaurant I worked, as good as the quality found in French fine dining — with top quality ingredients, great food, and good quality services.
What is one dish/snack/food you can’t live without?
Japanese cuisines, especially sashimi.
Savoury or sweet?
Of course the sweet ones! It enlightens your day.
Where do you like to go on your day off?
Whenever I am on holiday, I will travel, particularly to Japan. For the weekends, I usually spend time with my son who is a fan of travelling around the town on the bus. We’ll do that together to enjoy some slow and relaxing moments.
The five best dishes/drinks you’ve had in Hong Kong?
- Woo Cheong Tea House; I love our Woo Cheong premium Barbecued Pork, Deep-Fried Crispy Baby Pigeon, Double Boiled Soup and Homemade Daikon Puffs.
- The Chairman Restaurant; I like their flowery crab, Razor Clams and barbecued pork.
- Room of Gloucester Luk Kwok Hong Kong; Barbecued pork in Canton and their Sorrowful Rice.
- Yong Fu Hong Kong’s crab
- Xi Rong Ji’s braised sea Anemone with sweet potato noodles
Something you want to try while in Hong Kong?
I would like to collaborate with a team of young chefs, to cooperate and design a menu together for a meaningful event, a Charity Banquet for example.
Woo Cheong Tea House, 1-2/F, 62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2866 3444