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.
First things first: HAKU has made the move across the harbour from its hidden Harbour City den to the glamorous rooftop at ifc. But that’s not what you need to know. HAKU is no longer just another Japanese restaurant. Instead it leans heavily towards western-style fare, particularly in-line with executive chef Rob Jacob Drennan’s own experiences, and a continuous emphasis on premium ingredients.
“Our new location seemed like a good chance for us to redefine ourselves,” Drennan shares. “To do some cool and interesting new things.”
“The new menu will represent what I’ve learned in the places I’ve worked, from the United States to Europe, and now Asia.”
Exquisite Japanese produce still outline the menu, but HAKU, now also embracing locally sourced ingredients from Hong Kong’s growing crop of eco-farms, has chosen to forgo an exclusive genre of cooking and loosely base their dishes around the broad concept of “creative modern cooking”.
“My cooking style is probably eclectic,” Drennan adds. “Guests will hopefully experience some surprises when visiting.”
Landing in Hong Kong — and HAKU’s minimalist-designed dining room — during late 2020, Oklahoma-born Drennan rounds out a globe-trotting affair through notable names, with this being his first foray into Asia. It started off with a job at Uchiko, a Japanese restaurant in Texas, to eventually a career highlight in scoring a coveted spot at Norway’s three-Michelin star fine-diner, Maaemo. HAKU then, is a culmination of these worldly experiences; a destination where Drennan reminisces on his roots, his learnings, yet discovers innovative new dishes from a base of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
“I want my guests to have an experience [when visiting HAKU],” Drennan begins. “It’s more than just the food; good music, good views, interactions and conversations with the chef.”
And while you look out the newly fitted floor-to-ceiling glass windows that offer an unbeatable vantage of Hong Kong’s famed Victoria Harbour, you’re served with similarly stunning visual creations that’s rich in complexity and creative in its flavours. Some dishes at the renewed HAKU will be a familiar old reminders, like the Jerusalem Artichoke Ice Cream, which makes a much-welcomed return.
But as Drennan puts it, HAKU — and his cooking approach at the once-Japanese-only venue, at that — has since evolved. A new menu signature — and Drennan’s own favourite pick — arrives in the form of an all-American comfort: fried chicken. In perhaps a very un-fine-dine move, the Yamaguchi chicken thighs is served with black garlic hoisin and caviar, and encouraged to be enjoyed piping hot with your fingers. The bread course, on the other hand, is an addictive pan of Parker House Rolls toasted with black garlic butter and served with truffle-infused whipped brown butter.
Elsewhere on the menu, exacting Japanese techqniues still receive an honourable dedication in intricate presentation of dishes like Smoked Cod Roe, beautifully piped over a crisp spring roll pastry and dusted with roasted garlic emulsion, onion ash and edible flowers; and Hotaru Ika, firefly squid, charcoal-grilled and glazed in tare. The distinct Japanese-influenced dish of Uni Toast also makes a debut with Bafun Hokkaido uni lightly sprayed with shiro dashi and layered atop brioche toasted over bichotan.
So, do visit HAKU’s shiny new home, just don’t draw explicit comparisons to fine Japanese dining.
Cheat Day with Rob Drennan:
What was the last meal you had?
What does being a chef mean to you?
I think the same reason why other people want to become chefs: To cook, create and make guests happy.
What was the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
You get out what you put in.
Who inspires you/your cooking?
Coming up in the industry a lot of my role models were actually pastry chefs such as Jordan Kahn, Alex Stupak and Sam Mason.
Honestly, what is it like working with you in the kitchen?
[Laughs] You’ll have to ask other people that question.
Tell me some of your signature dishes/ creations.
- Fried Chicken
- Parker House Roll
- Jerusalem Artichoke Ice Cream
Your favourite local Hong Kong ingredients to use?
Not sure if I have “favourite”, however, I’m super excited to be using the pineapples from Farmhouse Productions.
Do you cook at home? If so, what is your go-to home-cooked dish?
Sometimes. My wife cooks more than me at home. But when I do, I like to make Bun Cha and spring rolls or a pasta of some sort.
You have 30 minutes. What will you make?
Name the top three favourite ingredients/condiments you currently own in
Hot sauces of all varieties, cheddar cheese and anything pickled.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Sour gummy candies.
The best meal you ever had?
Hmm I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one, so I’ll give you my top three:
- Saison (San Francisco)
- Quintonil (Mexico City)
- Pakta (Barcelona)
What was your most memorable food moment?
I will also need to give you three:
- My meal at Marisco na Praça (Cascais, Portugal)
- My meal at Juvet Landscape Hotel (Valldal, Norway)
- Having freshly made Tortillas and Cochinita Pibil (Yucután, Mexico)
What is one dish/snack/food you can’t live without?
Savoury or sweet?
The five best dishes/drinks you’ve had in Hong Kong?
In no particular order:
- Stuffed chicken wing at Roganic
- Curry laksa konjac rice at Whey
- Beef Jerky from Chôm Chôm
- Martini at The Diplomat
- Aperol Spritz at Stazione Novella
HAKU, Shop 3011, Podium Level 4, ifc mall, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2818 8030