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Chowing Out: Tatler Top 20 Restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau


This time last year, I'd recently relocated back to Hong Kong and literally had no clue about the city's dining scene. Over the ensuing 12 months, I've tried to navigate my way around HK's myriad of wonderful eateries, from street-side BBQ pork buns to multiple Michelin-starred fine dining establishments, in a valiant attempt to sample the whole range of food to be found here. This has been no easy feat, given that dining establishments are constantly closing, re-opening, re-furbing and re-branding in order to stay ahead of their competitors and to make rent - but is all part of the fun of trying to decode Hong Kong's food scene.

One of my go-to resources for staying on top of what's going on has been Hong Kong Tatler Dining - an online portal detailing new openings and reviews and as well as interviews and opinion pieces to boot. They are also known for producing a longstanding annual Best Restaurants Guide, because many, if not all, foodies secretly love a masterlist that tells us where we should be chowing out!

The Tatler editorial team and their foodie contributors reviewed 200+ restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, and announced the shortlist and the Top 20 Restaurants at an awards cocktail earlier in the week. Although there are notable absentees from the list - Otto e Mezzo and NUR, among a few others - this is a good starting point if you're looking for a list of restaurants to work through, and have a hearty appetite and paycheck! "Best of" Awards were also dished out, for categories such as Best New Restaurant (Mott32), Best Front of House (Carbone), Best Brunch (Catalunya), and several more. If you were looking for an excuse to expand your dining horizons in Hong Kong, now's your chance...

Image 5 courtesy of Hong Kong Tatler Dining; all others shot at the Best Restaurants Guide 2015 Awards Cocktail on November 27th, 2014.

The Chowdown on Harbour Artisanal


Growing up in London, one of my favourite pastimes was getting up and going on a mid-morning Saturday wander around one of the city's many gourmet food markets. While these have been a long-time weekend staple across towns in the UK, they are a relatively new phenomenon in Hong Kong - with the exception of small but established farmers' markets in Tai Po and Tuen Mun, far from the bustling centre of Hong Kong island. Since the establishment of Island East Markets in late 2012, artisanal markets - with an emphasis on local produce and independent businesses - have grown in numbers, and are now popping up in venues all around Hong Kong, from Handmade Hong Kong in Discovery Bay to the recently established PMQ Night Markets in heart of Central.

Among these is Harbour Artisanal, an indie street food fair in Tai Hang founded and funded by Joseph Chaney and Timothy Bush. The duo held their first event earlier this year in February, and after a second round of feasting on the street in June, they are back with their largest event yet, which kicks off on Friday night with a street party and continues throughout the weekend! From local foodie staples The Butcher's Club and Little Burro to gourmet Nice Pops and a casual pint (or three!) from Young Master Ales, be sure to stop by and support some independents this weekend.

I sat down with Joseph in advance of the event and quizzed him about the fair, how it got started, and what's next. Enjoy The Chowdown on Harbour Artisanal, and I hope to see you eating and partying your way down Fire Dragon Path this weekend!

Walk me through the process of how you came to set up Harbour Artisanal. 

I'd been living in Hong Kong for a couple of years, and had come to realise that the city and its people were completely obsessed with food. However, I also noticed the strong corporate culture of Hong Kong, where there was a comparative lack of festivals championing small and independent businesses.

I saw interesting small businesses in every trade go out of business simply because their could not afford the ever-escalating rents in Hong Kong. As a result, I wanted to give a platform to small businesses from which to trade. We deliberately chose to start off with a focus on food, as it was felt that a food festival would have popular appeal - plus, who doesn't want to run a foodie event? My aspiration was to create and curate a demand for quality food that was produced by independents - good food that isn't part of a corporate conglomerate.

It took about 18 months from when I conceived of the idea to when we held our first event in February of this year. There were aspects of setting up Harbour Artisanal that was incredibly time consuming - because we conceived of our event on a public road, much of my time in the early days was spent speaking to various people at the FEHD [Hong Kong's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department), fire department, the police, etc. to gain the appropriate licenses to temporarily lease a bit of public land. It took well over a year to obtain our first license. To some extent, what began as a hobby ended up taking over my life!

What kept you going with the idea until it became a reality?

My stubbornness! For the most part, anyway. Also, I was at a point where I'd just left the comfortable corporate world where I hadn't felt challenged in a good few years. I departed the office vowing that I never wanted to be bored again, which goes a long way to explaining my persistence with kicking off Harbour Artisanal.

Is there a particular reason that you chose Tai Hang to hold Harbour Artisanal?

I like Tai Hang - it's where I live, and in the last few years, the area has transformed itself into a real foodie neighbourhood. When I go running in the morning, I head down Fire Dragon Path, and I thought it was a great spot that nobody was using for events [editor's note: aside from the annual Tai Hang Fire Dragon dance during the Mid-Autumn Festival!].

How do you manage Harbour Artisanal now that is more established?

I co-manage the business with Tim, whom I'd met back in 1998 when we were both foreign exchange students in China. As it stands now, Tim does the heavy lifting with sales, registrations and vendor contracts, while I focus on the branding, media and sponsorship side of things.

In your opinion, what sets Harbour Artisanal apart from other Hong Kong foodie events?

I want Harbour Artisanal to be a foodie event for adults, rather than being something that tries to please everybody. People come here to eat, drink and hang out - I always want to maintain that thematic integrity. You can't please everybody. If you try to, you end up with an event that lacks spirit and purpose.

What's next for Harbour Artisanal?

We'll be partnering with a few like-minded businesses to run events in different locations next year, which is really exciting for us. The trouble with leasing public space is that the process is long, arduous, and unpredictable, meaning that we previously couldn't tell people when our next event was going to be! With the prospect of a permanent location on the horizon, we're going to continue focusing on building the brand, and also try and reach beyond food vendors into crafts, jewellery and other independents.

You've had quite an experience setting up and running Harbour Artisanal. What's your single biggest lesson that you would like to pass onto budding food entrepreneurs? 

Get good at saying no! We get a lot of enquiries every time we hold Harbour Artisanal, and we have to turn down more than half of these because they're not the right fit for us, or we're not the right set up for them. We do of course need to sell booths to fill the street and generate income, but at the end of the day, the success of an event like Harbour Artisanal is down to how well you curate your vendors. The organisers behind Brooklyn Flea in New York City interview their vendors before signing them up as part of their quality control - that is how they transcended the basic flea markets to become a must-visit attraction.

Harbour Artisanal Fire Dragon Path, Tai Hang / www.harbourartisanal.com / 14-16 November, 2014

Image 1 courtesy of Sybil Kot; all other images courtesy of Harbour Artisanal

14.11.14 Update: A small number of revisions were made to the transcript at the request of the interviewee due to business sensitivities.

Weekly Chow


It's quite incredible to think that we're almost at the end of another year! I don't know about you, but work is piling up as we come up to the holiday season, and I've barely had time to keep up with foodie news! Here's a long overdue Catch-Up Chow for you to chew over, whilst I gear up for another foodie feature later this week...

Egg-free mayonnaise and lab-made burgers that taste like meat. Are you ready for food 2.0? (FT)

Author by day, waitress by night - meet Stephanie Danler and her debut novel, Sweetbitter. (NYT)

What happens when you pair a disappointed diner on Yelp with a disgruntled chef #nsfw (Mashable)

What happens to a pro orchestra when you feed them chillies and ask them to play! (Open Culture)

Find out what's really in packaged foods with EWG's Food Scores database and App, plus see how they stack up against one another! (EWG)

London's best new ramen joints, as chowed and reviewed by the inimitable Jay Rayner. (Guardian)

Chowing Out: NUR Development Kitchen


"Light" and "nourishing" are not words I would generally associate with a ten course tasting menu, but NUR defies expectations in that respect, and in many others also.

The clue is in the the name - nur literally means light in Arabic. It also references the brainchild behind the concept, British Chef Nurdin Topham, whose culinary CV is anything but light. The food offering at NUR draws inspiration from Topham's decade with master chef Raymond Blanc, at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and his eponymous cookery school, but also carries a distinctively innovative Nordic touch - no doubt influenced by his time at Rene Redzepi's NOMA (widely acknowledged to be the best restaurant in the world) and at Redzepi's food research institution Nordic Food Lab. With that collective work experience, plus the fact that Topham is also a qualified nutritional therapist, it's a safe bet that you're in the hands of someone who knows his ingredients, and how to get the best from them.

The theme of this development kitchen dinner was sourcing, and its difficulties in this part of the world. Topham was the first to comment on the challenge he faced with trying to source as locally as possible while retaining the quality of the ingredients used. The sourcing perimeter has been reduced significantly since the restaurant first opened in April of this year, and much of the produce we sampled came from local Hong Kong farms - including NUR's own herb garden - and Japan; course 7, the pigeon, originated from Guangdong, to my surprise! In his own words, Topham's struggle to further eliminate the carbon footprint of his ingredients lies mainly with sourcing protein, but his ongoing efforts to look locally as much as possible is to be admired. Says Salma Gaj, NUR's Creative Director and Topham's partner, "one of our first investments in the restaurant was to hire a good Sourcing Manager" - an unusual request by Hong Kong standards, but one that was absolutely necessary for NUR. Topham's insistence in understanding the local flora and fauna, and how and where things are grown, was first instilled in him by Blanc; he now views sourcing and purchasing as political decisions, and chooses to support responsible, local producers who share in his respect for the food chain. 

This is all well and good in theory, but is the end result truly satisfying? I'll admit I was somewhat sceptical about Topham's brand of nourishing gastronomy when I sat down at the start of dinner, but he had me converted even before the first course with his appetisers of beetroot tacos and dehydrated carrot with cumin infused cream. The first course of lightly pickled heirloom tomatoes served with herb flavoured water was a marvel - a little dish packed with an astonishing amount of flavour. With this dish, Topham is evidently throwing back to the moment when he tried his first Raymond Blanc tomato creation, taking his diners to the point where he realised all those years ago that fine dining could be light and balanced. 

The flavour profiles of each of the courses to follow is much the same - the ingredients are interfered with as little as possible, allowing the raw ingredients to speak for themselves. The Maitake mushroom, served simply with a little mushroom jus, was quite remarkable, as were the onsen egg with sweetcorn and crisp chicken skin and the aforementioned medium poached pigeon, accompanied by charred pear, radicchio and béchamel sauce. I'm yet to be convinced by onion ice cream with pickled radishes as pudding; the standout among the dessert offerings was the fruit salad - comprising jackfruit and guava and served with a baba. It is also worth noting that every dish emerging from the open kitchen was beautifully presented, with the different colours and textures of each plate or bowl adding to the overall aesthetic. We were all pleasantly surprised that Chef Nurdin managed to successfully run the pass and stop to talk us through each course!

I emerged from NUR feeling unusually comfortable - without any feeling of having overindulged in spite of eating Topham's ten+ courses. NUR is to be congratulated not only for pulling off this light and nourishing fare, but also for introducing a new and holistic pseudo-Nordic dining experience to the Hong Kong restaurant scene. As a true gem in Privé Group's restaurant portfolio (NUR was today given 1* Michelin status), I can't wait to see more from this talented chef and his ambitious restaurant.

NUR 3/F, 1 Lyndhurst Terrace / 2871 9993 / www.nur.hk

Valerie was a guest of Privé Group; all views are independent. The tasting menu sampled will be available at NUR from Saturday, November 1.

10.11.14 Update: I returned to NUR with Mr. Chowdown for our anniversary, and the dining experience certainly didn't disappoint! I was, however, saddened that the fruit salad had been axed from the new 9 course Feast menu. At HK$988 a pop, NUR is definitely a treat for pay day or special occasions - but one that is well worth it for the quality and quantity of chow they dish out.

Weekly Chow


As I continue to write this blog week on week, I've become more curious about what exactly it takes to forge a career out of food writing. Having the conviction to write what you believe and think (as opposed to regurgitating what you know people want you to publish) is of paramount importance, but so is being knowledgeable about your subject matter, and truly enjoying what you are doing are also key. If you've ever considered going pro and working in the world of food and beverages, check out some of my finds from this week...

Have you thought about becoming a food writer? It's tougher than it seems! (HK Magazine)

Should food critics be able to tell the difference between McDonald's and independent fast food? Not always, it seems... (Telegraph)

10 choice excerpts from the brilliant review of Beast by Jay Rayner. (Grub Street)

The chowdown on Anna Jones, and what it's like to be a chef and food stylist. (About Time)

London is fast becoming the world's cocktail capital, with 8 of the world's top 50 bars! (Telegraph)

Research indicates that tipped workers are twice as likely to live in poverty... (Eater)

P.S. 20 thoughts that all stress eaters have. #18 sums me up!