Taking inspiration from both their native culinary traditions and the city they call home, chefs Alvin Leung, Hiroki Nakanoue and Simon Rogan are putting their own unique spin on Hong Kong cuisine. Tracey Furniss gets a taste
It’s a well-known fact that Hong Kong is one of the world’s foodie capitals. Its streets brimming with restaurants that offer a multitude of international cuisines, the city has something for every taste and budget. It also boasts a number of chefs who are putting their own mark on traditional fare, creating exciting tastes and textures that are deliciously unique but hard to place in any distinct category.
The godfather of unique Chinese cuisine is Alvin Leung. The self-taught “Demon Chef” actually trained as an engineer but bought a restaurant in 2005 and went on to create Bo Innovation. The Michelin two-star restaurant, which has moved to H Code in Pottinger Street from its long-time home on Ship Street, is the birthplace of Xtreme Chinese Cuisine – described as “a combination of fusion cuisine and molecular gastronomy”.
For shock factor in the early days, Leung created a Sex on the Beach dish that involved an edible condom made from konjac and kappa, and filled with a mix of honey and ham on a beach of mushroom. More recently, he conjured up Hong Kong nostalgia with dishes such as Child’s Play – featuring miniature versions of chess and Chinese chess games with bite-sized twists on street food, such as pineapple bun, curry fish balls and braised pork belly with preserved vegetables.
Other recent dishes have been inspired by art, such as Cyril Maza’s Dogs Playing Mahjong, with ingredients of geoduck, smoked abalone, Indian lettuce stem, green pea, shiso plum and horseradish; and Edvard Munch’s Scream with abalone, caviar and mung bean. Bo Innovation was once described as the El Bulli of the East, and the restaurant has been up there on the World’s Best Restaurants list over the years. Leung’s creativity keeps evolving and never gets boring.
Michelin two-star Japanese restaurant Sushiyoshi, by chef Hiroki Nakanoue, has its flagship in Osaka and opened its second restaurant in Hong Kong in 2018. The self-taught Nakanoue admits there is no other restaurant like his in Osaka and the same could be said of Hong Kong, thanks to his fusion of traditional Japanese dishes with Western techniques while using the freshest ingredients.
“We’re not a pure Edomae-style sushi restaurant, we offer an omakase which is a holistic experience,” says the chef, who recently opened Sushiyoshi in Taipei and Bangkok. “I have no boundaries in terms of creativity. When an ingredient touches me in some way or a real-life experience inspires me, I like to experiment more deeply with it to create a new dish. French culinary tradition, especially, runs parallel to Japanese in terms of the focus on creativity, provenance and quality of ingredients. I have drawn inspiration from their art and food culture to create my dishes.”
Chef Nakanoue uses fresh seasonal ingredients and sources locally in each city to create unique dishes, as well as using Japanese ingredients. “Each city has its unique characteristics and inspiration. In Hong Kong, I can create an eel sushi wrapped in leaves to look like a dumpling to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival – using local ingredients, or creating a dish using daikon and caviar which tastes like the local turnip cake,” he says.
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A new executive chef in Hong Kong is international sushi master Kazunari Araki. The former chef at Nobu New York and Hong Kong has collaborated with Chef Nakanoue to create a spectacular summer menu which includes Nakanoue’s horse mackerel with cucumber and Muscat grapes, sweet shrimp with mozzarella panna cotta and innovative abalone soufflé as well as Araki’s signature sushi.
“I am where I am today because I’m passionate about what I do and making people happy with my omakase,” Nakanoue says. “I love to see people’s eyes light up when they discover a new flavour combination I’ve created or are just enjoying a great meal with friends and family.”
Simon Rogan made his name in the UK when his L’Enclume restaurant in the Lake District became the best restaurant in Britain for four consecutive years. “My cooking philosophy has changed over the years. Originally I wanted to open a restaurant which only used the best ingredients, sourced from local farms. And when the opportunity came to take over some land close to L’Enclume, I took it. That changed everything,” says Rogan.
“My philosophy is completely centred around nature and the environment. Our farm in the Cartmel Valley is at the beating heart of it. We put so much time and effort into growing our herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers, so my aim is to make them shine.”
Rogan’s restaurants in Hong Kong, Roganic and Aulis, follow the chef’s farm-to-table philosophy. Inspiration is taken from local dishes and flavours, bringing familiarity to the plate for local diners. A popular dish is Hong Kong-style milk. “We use a blend of three black teas for the custard base infusion, served alongside condensed milk ice cream for the delicious sweet kick local milk tea is fondly known for,” Rogan says.
Then there’s Hokkaido scallop lightly poached in an aromatic broth of oolong tea, topped with pike roe and whey foam, and pumpkin prepared three ways – roasted discs, pumpkin hot sauce and caramelised pumpkin seeds – and finished with brown butter, maple and Marmite dressing. A perfect example of local and British flavours, and the uniqueness that is Hong Kong.