As the head honcho at Bistecca Italian Steak House, chef Marc Benkoe spends most of his day sizzling up sumptuous cuts of beef on the grill, from giant Wagyu Tomahawk steaks to juicy Delmonico bone-in ribeyes. While his menu is all-Italian, his personal diet leans much more international: he spends his off-hours traversing the city’s culinary melting pot to seek out hidden gems from Thai-style BBQ squid along the Shek O beachfront to beef pho, Kurobuta pork ramen, and fried intestines (his favourite street snack). He’s also a regular at a hidden Nepalese restaurant that might just serve some of the best momos in town. Read all about it in Benkoe’s Hong Kong Food Diary below.
SUNDAY, 29 JULY
It’s 10am, time to rise and shine. My first day off this week comes with a slight headache from drinking a pint or two too much last night. First order of business, a strong espresso and a BIG glass of water. Then it’s time to wake up my fiancé and stepdaughter, feed the fishes in my new aquarium and of course, my naughty little cat.
We’re ready to head to Shek O beach, but first, a quick stop at a local Chinese street hawker to satisfy my craving for my all-time favourite snacks — fried intestines with spicy sauce and all sorts of stuffed vegetables and tofu.
At Shek O, we play a round of mini golf, bake in the sun and have a short swim before lunch. We sit down at a tiny Thai BBQ place, order grilled Thai sausages, som tam, BBQ squid and some other goodies including an ice cold Singha beer to fight the heat. Then it’s back to the beach for a long afternoon nap.
After strolling around at the Sai Wan Ho fish and vegetable market we keep it simple for dinner: picking up a good-sized sea bass, a couple of hairy crabs and some live shrimps, some really fresh morning glory, Japanese eggplants, local spinach and of course chilli (always chilli!). At home I make a quick Chinese-style steamed fish, boiled crab and shrimp accompanied by stir-fried vegetables and a freshly made Thai chilli sauce with some rice, and voila! Dinner is served. The day comes to an end with a few glasses of Austrian Riesling.
MONDAY, 30 JULY
It’s my second day off in a row with my fiancé, which is a luxury in our field. It’s Monday, so first things first — I check my work e-mails and reply to roughly 100 WhatsApp messages! The usual espresso, a quick shower and off we go to play some squash at the Sai Wan Ho Sports Centre.
After two hours of hammering balls against a wall, I’m starting to feel famished, so we cross the street to one of my favourite places in Hong Kong for a quick lunch — North Viet Pho Beef Noodles. Despite the place being packed, as usual, we get a seat fairly quickly and order two steaming hot bowls of raw sliced beef pho and rice noodles with extra chilli! Just perfect after that morning workout.
We spend the afternoon walking along the Sai Wan Ho Waterfront and enjoy a couple of aperol spritzes with some fried calamari to enhance the mood.
It’s time for dinner, and again I like to keep it simple on my day off. We pass by Wellcome supermarket, grab some ingredients for a mixed salad that I whip up quickly at home alongside carbonara made with leftover speck I bought on my last trip to Austria. Time to pop in a good movie, then it’s bedtime.
TUESDAY, 31 JULY
At 10:15am I leave my flat and head straight into the buzzing city. Arriving at work, my staff in charge of our lunch buffet is already fire-roasting eggplants, deep-frying delicious chicken nuggets and mixing a wide variety of salads — 24 to be exact. Slowly deliveries start to come in, including vegetables, meat, fish and chicken. I do a quick quality check and sneak in a cappuccino and then it’s showtime. Lunch is busy but smooth as the team is well-trained and everybody knows his/her job.
3pm rolls around and it’s lunchtime for us. I meet up with my fiancé and we decide to go to Butao Ramen on Wellington Street. The bowl arrives with super tender Kurobuta pork, a perfect soft-boiled egg, seaweed and noodles in a mildly spicy, flavour-packed broth with lots of fried garlic, togarashi and green onions. What a treat!
At 5pm I head back to work, check the reservations and spot a few regular customers on the list. I go over the special meat cuts of the night with the front-of-house staff. Then it’s time for quality control in the kitchen: tasting sauces, soups, dressings and so on, until we’re all set and ready for dinner service.
I didn’t expect a really busy night as it’s Tuesday but you never know, especially in Lan Kwai Fong. After a smooth and decent dinner service the team cleans down and it’s time to go home. On the way I realise that I’m actually quite hungry, so I make a quick stop in Wan Chai to visit a good friend of mine who happens to be the owner of the Thai Farmer Restaurant. I don’t even look at the menu and just order the chef’s special. What arrives is some delicious pork neck satay, green papaya salad and a Southern Thai-style tom yum soup. It’s a perfect end to the day.
WEDNESDAY, 1 AUGUST
Arriving at Bistecca this morning, my usual buffet lady is already busy prepping. As I didn’t have time for coffee this morning, I decide to grab some quick ham and eggs to go alongside my cappuccino for breakfast — which should tide me over for the morning. Lunch is fully booked but service runs smooth.
Early afternoon, we get a delivery of whole Wagyu short loins and bone-in ribeyes. Time to get the big meat slicer out. My grill chef slices the cuts, and we end up with some really nice-sized special cuts that we can sell by the ounce tonight. We save a piece of bone-in ribeye (for quality control, of course), which I pop on the grill and have for lunch with a nice kale salad.
In the afternoon I meet with a chef friend of mine over coffee and we share some ideas for new dishes and new products. After that it’s time to head back to the restaurant and get rolling. Wednesday nights are usually busy so I make sure everyone is ready to rock and roll. We sell out our special cuts in the first 1.5 hours (as expected) and people seem to be having a good time. Well done team!
It’s almost midnight on my way home so I grab some hot and sour soup with mushrooms and chicken from a street hawker in Sai Wan Ho and a beer from 7-11. I get home and relax watching my fishes in the aquarium and eating my still steaming soup. It’s been a great day.
THURSDAY, 2 AUGUST
I’m already up at 9am today so I decide to go for a little run on the Soho East waterfront. On my way back I stop at Das Gute, a German bakery, for a coffee and a freshly baked croissant.
At work I have a meeting with one of our meat suppliers and he introduces me to an M7 grade Wagyu rump they’ve just started to import. Note to self: might be good for the new menu. Then it’s time for lunch service, which is fully booked again this week. After service we all sit down for family meal, which is always really nice at Bistecca. Today my Indian chef has made lentil dal, fresh roti and an amazing chicken curry that I can NEVER refuse.
Dinner is busy and I put some of the Wagyu rump on the specials menu. The feedback from the guests is very promising. Before the day comes to an end, I decide to go to a secret apartment in our building — a Nepalese restaurant, in fact — where I order some of the nicest pork and chicken momos in town to share with the guys in the kitchen.
FRIDAY, 3 AUGUST
Friday is always a really busy day for us. At work I kick off the day with a peppermint tea (can’t drink coffee all the time) and finish some paperwork (definitely the more boring part of the job), sort out invoices, staff schedules and so on…
Lunch is actually over-booked, but there’s always a no-show table or a cancellation. In the end we can always squeeze people in somehow. Steakhouse burgers, ribeyes and sirloins are flying today. The pasta station is also under high voltage as lunch service always tends to be a bit hectic. Customers tend to come at the same time, have lunch and rush back to the office — typical Hong Kong-style.
In the afternoon I’m feeling pretty tired so I visit my fiancé at her workplace in Café Siam and we enjoy a Longan Cooler — their speciality drink — with some delicious pad Thai. After that I walk up to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Park and watch the monkeys jump around for a while (it helps to clear my mind from everything that’s going on).
Time to head back to the restaurant, and it’s a busy night as expected. After an espresso to wake me up and a quick meeting with the front of house, it’s service time. There are many regulars tonight so I swing by almost every table to greet my patrons and have a quick conversation here, take a couple of pictures there, and make sure everyone is happy and satisfied. Mission accomplished and it’s time to clean up and call it a day.
On my way home I decide I’ve had way too much food this week so I skip dinner/late-night snack for a couple glasses of ice-cold Asahi instead, which I savour slowly on my rooftop terrace overlooking Hong Kong.