Hong Kong gets its fair share of dining pop-ups and visiting guest chefs every month, and while it’s impossible to hit them all, some are simply too good to miss. This week, one of Melbourne’s best-loved Asian fusion restaurants is landing in Hong Kong for a 3-day pop-up from 12–14 October, and if you’re a fan of hawker fare and Southeast Asian–style street eats, it’s one pop-up dinner you won’t want to miss. (Tickets are going fast, but you can still book your spot here.)

Launched in 2013, Rice Paper Scissors has been lauded as Melbourne’s best Asian fusion restaurant by many, and it consistently ranks amongst the top five restaurants in the city on TripAdvisor. For visitors to Australia’s food capital, the casual eatery is a must-try for its unique fusion of Southeast Asian hawker fare with local Australian ingredients, as well as its approachable and fun approaching to eating.

The team — led by head chef Ross Magnaye and owner Rahmie Clowes — are headed to Hong Kong this week to prep for their pop-up in partnership with Test Kitchen, giving Hong Kongers a unique opportunity to taste the Filipino-influenced hawker fare. Modelled off the restaurant’s philosophy of #useyourhands, the sharing–style experience is all about communing over delicious food and drinks, with a heavy focus on the food of Magnaye’s birthplace, the Philippines. Ahead of the pop-up, Magnaye and Clowes take a moment to chat to us about the inspiration behind RPS, the dishes we can expect (think kangaroo tartare, pork belly roasted in Cebu spices and Filipino–style ceviche), and the growth of Filipino cuisine worldwide.

Tell us a bit about your individual backgrounds and how you got into F&B. What drew you to Southeast Asian food?  

Ross Magnaye: My background is Filipino–Spanish and I spent my younger years in the Philippines at a place called Davao City. Food is always at the core for any gatherings, events and celebrations in a Filipino family. My grandma Carol used to have a popular restaurant in Cagayan De Oro City called Carol’s. She used to cook a lot of Filipino–Spanish dishes such as lengua estofada and tripe cooked in a rich tomato sauce. I obviously love eating and I’m always around food so it’s always been a huge part of my life growing up. 

Rahmie Clowes: My father is from Dubai and my mum is Aussie. I grew up in Manly and most of my food influences were Italian and Chinese. My mum was an amazing cook and used to host private dinner parties where she cooked restaurant-quality food. My first job in F&B was as a 16-year-old kitchenhand in an extremely busy Chinese restaurant. I learnt a very valuable lesson very early on: CONSISTENCY. My boss used to tell me “It doesn’t matter how shit my honey prawns are as long as they taste the same every time.” I started my first restaurant at 23 serving pizza. Thai and Asian food is very popular in Sydney, so it was very early on in my life that I was exposed to the flavours. I have travelled extensively throughout Asia and India and am obsessed with their flavours. I love watching young chefs try and intertwine them with French techniques to make new and interesting dishes.

Rice Paper Scissors
Rice Paper Scissors is one of Melbourne’s most popular Southeast Asian eateries.
What is your core cooking philosophy and how would you describe the food at Rice Paper Scissors?

RM: My cooking philosophy is really simple. Besides using the best produce, I like to play with a lot of Southeast Asian flavours. Flavours that I impart in the dishes are based on experiences and memories growing up. I believe in cooking in the moment and being spontaneous rather than planning ahead too much, and that for me is better than technique. I use a lot of Filipino flavours in the dishes especially at our new restaurant, Sister.

RC: I like to learn. More importantly I like to help others learn and impart the knowledge I have to see them grow. RPS is meant to be fresh and fun, the idea is traditional street food dishes made to be served in restaurant surroundings. The flavours are the same but the presentation is new.

Tell us a bit more about the Hong Kong pop-up. Why is the sharing, family-style concept so central to the experience?

RM: We are doing dishes like Filipino caldereta, which is slow-cooked Filipino goat shoulder in a beautiful, rich tomato sauce; and a dish called lechon kawali, which is like a pork belly marinated in a lot of spices and fried to perfection. We are also bringing a bit of an Aussie vibe with our kangaroo tartare dish with burnt eggplant and nahm jim sauce.

Kangaroo tartare
Get a taste of Down Under with Rice Paper Scissors’ kangaroo tartare.

RC: All my life the dinner table has been an important experience: You  learn more about each other when sharing food. Every restaurant I have owned follows along those lines and I am really excited to bring the fun RPS style to Hong Kong. Get ready for lots of laughs and smiles with some lovingly cooked food.

Filipino cuisine has been deemed by many as the next big food trend. Do you think that's true?

RM: Yes, I think it’s very true. I was in Manila in April this year to do a collaboration with a local chef named Jordy Navarra at Toyo, and I was blown away with the restaurant and how amazing it was. I also attended Madrid Fusion, which was held in the Philippines this year, and with that I can tell that Filipino food is growing rapidly around the world. Restaurants like Lasa in LA and Le Servan in Paris, which have a lot of Filipino influences, are leading the way for the cuisine globally.

RC: It is definitely pushing up as the new trend, but as we are seeing a bit lately the trend is more towards influence than tradition. There are a lot of Filipino chefs out there all over the world, I’m surprised it has taken this long. Italian and French food has been influential for decades and it will take a long time for Filipino food to catch up. On the other hand, Southeast Asian food as a whole is reaching out all over the world.

What do you personally love about Filipino cuisine?

RM: I could go on for days talking about Filipino food. Both sides of my parents’ family enjoy food a lot, so it has been a huge inspiration in my cooking and for me as a person.

Rice Paper Scissors
Davao-style BBQ chicken and ‘pinakbet’ vegetable stew with okra and pumpkin will feature on the menu at the upcoming Rice Paper Scissors pop-up.
Where are some of your favourite hawker centres and/or foods around Southeast Asia? Where do you take inspiration from?

RM: This year I’ve been super blessed to visit different countries to cook and do dinners. Major influences for me besides Filipino food would be different restaurants in Bali — especially Jimbaran Bay, where they have amazing seafood — different hawker stalls in Singapore and Malaysia, and street food in Thailand which is unbeatable.

RC: Bangkok is my favourite city in the world, I have been there over 20 times and still have seen and eaten a tiny fraction of what is on offer. It is our biggest influence for RPS and is really where it all began for [co-owner] Shane and me. The street food all over Thailand is amazing, and even in the tourist traps you can find gems. Ho Chi Minh City is also awesome — actually, all of Vietnam has amazing food. Singapore has some of the best hawker centres. Sri Lanka has some amazing food, as does India…now I’m getting off track. 

What's next for RPS? Do you have plans to expand or any other projects in the works? 

RC: Every time we open a new restaurant, we say never again — that usually lasts about three months. The three months is up and I can hear whispers; at the moment I have my ear muffs on. We have an RPS cookbook coming out in a couple of months and are very excited about it. We didn’t realise how much work it would take; it has been a very enlightening experience. At the moment, I am really looking forward to Hong Kong, then in the new year we will be looking to do some chef’s dinners at Sister.

Ross Magnaye
Ross Magnaye in the kitchen at Rice Paper Scissors.
Hong Kong's dining scene is notoriously competitive. Is it similarly challenging to open a restaurant in Melbourne?

RM: Melbourne is a very competitive place to open a restaurant or a hospitality place in general. I believe Melbourne is in the top five best places to eat in the world because of its cultural diversity. There are a lot of good cafés, wine bars and various restaurants opening and I think that is a great challenge for everyone. Another challenge would be hiring the right people for the job in the restaurants, as skilled workers are getting fewer and a lot of people don’t want to put in the hours.

RC: Melbourne is a hard place to open a restaurant, the competition is enormous, and around 80% fail in the first two years. That is a good thing for the punters: They have astounding choice and the competition keeps the prices down. Melbournians love to eat out all year round, even the suburbs have lots of hidden gems. I love eating out in Melbourne and still can’t possibly eat at all the places I want to. If you love food and haven’t been to Melbourne yet, you’re missing out.

The Rice Paper Scissors x Test Kitchen pop-up will run from 12–14 October with two seatings nightly at 7pm and 8:15pm. Price is HK$1,000 per person, including drink pairings. Book your tickets here

Leslie Yeh
Editor in Chief
Having worked as a lifestyle editor for almost 10 years, Leslie is thrilled to be writing about the topic she loves most: wining and dining. When she's not out pounding the pavement for the latest new restaurant opening or tracking food trends, Leslie can be found at home whipping up a plate of rigatoni vodka and binge-watching Netflix with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand.