Best Bites is a roundup of the outstanding dishes we had within the last month: those which renewed our love for established venues; caught our attention at a new opening; or freshly impressed upon us the creativity and skill of Hong Kong’s talented chefs. From casual street snacks to meticulously prepared tasting menus, these are the plates we’d recommend you make a special trip for.
The dish: Petrossian ‘Daurenki’ caviar, hamachi, oyster, green chilli
With summer well and truly upon us, restaurants have begun the always-arduous task of adapting prie fixe menus to the sweltering heat and downpour so endemic of mid-year life in Hong Kong. Food is often employed as a means by which diners are transported to another place — oftentimes, where we’d rather be. Over at Kowloon Bay private kitchen Le Pan, executive chef Edward Voon embodies this mentality with their bright plates of contemporary French fare: namely, the ‘Daurenki’ caviar concoction (part of the HK$1,480 discovery menu, available at dinner).
On the plate, each element’s vibrant colour and artful placement is striking: an array of joyful primary colours set in stark contrast to a generous dollop of obsidian caviar. Flavours on show here are bright but delicate: with the fleshy hamachi offset by a subtle brine note produced by an accompanying diced oyster. Elevating this entire experience was a glass of bubbly, courtesy of the winemakers at Maison Mumm. More specifically: their reserve collection of Grand Cru champagnes, aptly labelled RSRV. The 2012 Blanc de Blancs was light, crisp and refreshing — owing partly to the vintage’s lower levels of effervescence. Along with a number of other restaurants, Le Pan is currently partnering with the RSRV Club to offer members exclusive privileges and access to a range of reserve cuvées. You can learn more about the RSRV Club on their website. —Alexander Esmail, Contributing Writer
Le Pan, Golden Financial Global Centre, 17 Kai Cheung Road, Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, +852 3188 2355
The dish: Chef Eric Räty’s homemade ‘XO’
In Hong Kong, every chef and their sous have a different opinion about what constitutes the perfect XO sauce. The salty, spicy, tongue-coating condiment — more relish than ‘sauce’ per se — is a constant source of pleasure amongst Cantonese cooks and gourmands, though it’s altogether rarer for Western chefs to weigh in on this hallowed subject, much less attempt a from-scratch version. Happily, Eric Räty isn’t most chefs.
As part of Arbor’s latest short or full dinner menu (HK$1,488/$1,888) the talented Finn has studied, dissected and ultimately reimagined the quintessential XO formula; concocting a delicious meditation on how this pantry staple might fuse with its own constituent elements — plucking out such ingredients in their raw or minimally cooked state. A chunky Hokkaido scallop — succulent and shimmery, after a quick sauté — is laden with Räty’s own homemade XO (reportedly inspired by his wife’s family recipe). Diners will find the other essential elements executed as accoutrements: black garlic strained into coulis; an emulsion consisting of scallop skirt and chilli oil; and ittybitty Japanese turnips (kabu) which lend a dose of earthiness to the dish. Rather beguilingly, Chef Räty explains the latter element is an homage to lo bak go (turnip cake): to be eaten in concert with nibbles of crispy sakura shrimp cracker, served to the side. Nostalgic and original in equal measure, I’d say this just about gives your por por’s XO sauce a run for its money. —Randy Lai, Watches Editor
Arbor, 25/F, H Queen’s, 80 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong, +852 3185 8388
The dish: Grass-fed Polmard heritage beef tartare with shishito pepper, shiso and sourdough shavings
I’ll be the first to admit I love a good no-holds-barred, Cristal-fuelled, 16-course ode to haute gastronomie, but it’s always meaningful to contextualise those experiences against a relaxed, approachable style of cooking. I’d ascribe these adjectives to the entire menu at Somm — though that certainly doesn’t mean the dishes are prepared slavishly. On the contrary, something as simple as a starter of grass-fed beef tartare (HK$288) throws the spotlight on seasonality; and on what is possible when sommeliers and terroir snobs are allowed to add their own perspective to a restaurant’s culinary repertoire.
Somm serves its tartare with a simple accompaniment of crumbled shishito, shiso mayonnaise and what the menu euphemistically terms ‘shavings’ of sourdough. Such ingredients are a literal and figurative taste of summer, adding green undertones and spot-on notes of citrus to the main event: 36-month old Alexandre Polmard beef, which is then aged for four weeks. Connoisseurs will have heard of Polmard’s exquisite vintage cuts, which feature a special ‘hibernation’ technique that age at a specific sub-zero temperature to intensify the flavour, aroma and texture of the meat. This controlled decomposition is akin with how certain Burgundian winemakers control the rate of fruit maceration. With a menu clearly designed with input from the sommeliers, this tartare is all the better for its singular focus: rich in the glutamates that are essential for a tender mouthfeel; but surprisingly fresh and lifted in flavour (owing to the Lorraine pastures on which Polmard’s cattle are grazed). Order this and a glass of Charles Ballot’s excellent 2015 ‘Perrières’ and you have two halves of an absolutely bulletproof power lunch. —RL
Somm, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong, +852 2132 0055
The dish: Poached white asparagus with parma ham and Hollandaise
Asparagus season anyone? The highly coveted vegetable, known for its flavourful and decadent preparation, is annually in season between February and June (April being primetime, as it were). If you’re acquainted with traditional Germanic cuisine, then you’ll know the hype accompanying this five-month period: when diners go absolutely mad for the country’s prized white asparagus. My own excitement was confirmed when I visited Cucina earlier this month — I had high hopes, and didn’t leave disappointed.
Part of a menu curated by chef Andrea Delzanno (which ends on 5 June), Cucina’s chosen white asparagus — AAA-grade from Germany — is favoured for a tonne of good reasons. It possesses a pleasant aroma, delicate sweetness, is plump in size and cultivated in extremely small quantities. Within chef Delzanno’s signature menu, it forms the foundation of the first course: simply poached, served with Parma ham and Hollandaise. The rich tang of the sauce met the asparagus’s flavour perfectly — a sweet and sour combo that tickles the tastebuds. As I bit into the warm, tender asparagus spears, the traditional Hollandaise even enhanced their flavour with a slight citric note. Easily my standout dish of the menu. —Faye Bradley, Contributing Writer
Cucina, Marco Polo Hotel Hong Kong, 3 Canton Road, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2113 0088
The dish: Iwate-ken oyster and sweet corn tempura
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, The Peninsula Hong Kong’s long-serving Japanese restaurant is offering a commemorative eight-course menu (HK$2,525 for two; additional HK$725 for a six-glass wine pairing) that traces some of its best-loved hits over the years. Perhaps unbeknownst to many with the wealth of Japanese restaurants around town, Imasa was one of the city’s pioneers when it came to refined Japanese cuisine, educating Hongkongers on the providence of certain dishes and superlative regional produce early on — debuting plates that are now firmly vested in our knowledge of Japanese food. The prized Hida wagyu, for one, is something Imasa is quite proud to be one of the forerunners in bringing to Hong Kong.
While each course deserves its own stellar praises, I was pleasantly surprised by the tempura course, featuring a deep-fried Iwate-ken oyster paired with fried sweet corn tempura, a departure from your orthodox shrimp and vegetable tempura platter and more evocative of the craggly, rocky shores of Japan where its best oysters are found. Compared with rounder, fried Kagoshima oysters that I typically order at tonkatsu restaurants (which perhaps lends better to the thicker panko-crusted batter), this rather hefty Iwate-ken oyster offers an even, bouncy texture throughout despite the difficult task of cooking it through with just a paper-thin layer of tempura batter to protect it. The subtle sweetness of the meat was further brought out by dipping it the accompanying green tea salt. I alternated bites with the top-notch sweet corn fritter, using the esteemed white corn variety that’s a summer staple in parts of Japan for a lovely burst of flavour and texture.
During a time where we can’t travel (and Hongkongers, being such frequent visitors to our neighbouring island, are no doubt sorely missing their favourite haunts in Japan), this exhaustive, beautifully presented menu is a wonderful way to sate all our favourite cravings for dishes from across the pond. –Evelyn Lok, Deputy Editor
Imasa, The Peninsula Hong Kong, Salisbury Road, Hong Kong, +852 2920 2888
The dish: Wet-aged Snake River Farms sirloin and Creekstone Farms Black Angus rib-eye
When Gordon Ramsay pulled his restaurants out of Hong Kong at the start of April, a group of culinary lovers got together to take over his prime waterfront restaurant at Ocean Terminal, making the most of its incredible location to bring us the new Harbourside Grill.
With the restaurant reasonably packed on a Tuesday night, it didn’t take me long to figure out why people were braving the outdoors to hit up this new eatery. Almost every dish I tried put a smile on my face, but none more so than the main event of the revamped grillhouse: The steak. While the restaurant’s former life favoured dry aged meat, loved by those who prefer the gamey, slightly funkier notes, Harbourside Grill now features a predominantly wet-aged repertoire that prizes solid, beefy flavour thanks to the top selection of US cuts by chef Armand Sablon, all cooked with the in-house Josper grill to retain the juiciness of the meat whilst imparting the flavour you get by char-grilling.
Our table shared a Creekstone Farms Black Angus rib-eye (HK$388/350g; pictured) and Snake River Farms sirloin (HK$488/300g) and we were impressed by both in terms of the rich flavour and the tenderness of the meat. I tend to prefer sirloin steaks, and the Snake River Farms’ cut was slightly leaner compared to the fattier, silky texture of the rib-eye, yet offering a richer, meatier flavour that carnivores will love — the result of a cross-breed between Wagyu and Black Angus cattle. I recommend dipping this in some of chef Sablon’s five-peppercorn bearnaise, a lovely blend of white, black, green, French rose peppercorn and Sichuan pepper that adds a little kick to every bite. –Aydee Tie, Head of Marketing
Harbourside Grill, Shop OTE401, Ocean Terminal, 3-27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 2619 9100