2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

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

11.29.2014


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

11.13.2014


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

11.11.2014


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

10.30.2014


"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

10.26.2014


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!

A Tale of Two Carbones

10.21.2014


Step into Carbone in Greenwich Village today and you are immediately transported back to New York in the 1950s. At the time, the city was flooded with Italian-American immigrants fleeing the atrocities of World War II a decade earlier. Prosperous times were coming, remarks chef and co-creator Mario Carbone - "you’re seeing more protein at the table now, because they can afford it."

Carbone is both a throwback and a celebration to that particular time and place; an unashamedly over the top revival of a red sauce neighbourhood restaurant that is hearty and warm. There are no half measures at this joint: the floors are tiled black and white as a homage to a pivotal moment at a Bronx restaurant in The Godfather; the wait staff wear burgundy tuxedos topped with wide grins; the soundtrack comprises songs you know but haven't heard in a while; the menu is literally larger than life; and the portions are generous to the point of ostentation. In the wrong hands, this combination could have overwhelmed diners and descended into a caricature of what it set out to be. However, the inspired concept, coupled with the execution of familiar dishes such as jumbo Italian meatballs, lobster fra diavolo and lemon cheesecake to an elevated standard, led to a Michelin star and being named one of 2013's top 10 restaurants in its first year of operation.


A few months after opening in New York, a chance meeting between Major Food Group - comprising chefs Carbone and Rich Torrisi plus business partner Jeff Zalaznick - and Black Sheep Restaurants - Asim Hussain and Christopher Mark - in Hong Kong set the wheels in motion for a second Carbone, which opened a couple of months ago on the 9th floor of LKF Tower. The essential components that made Carbone New York a success have been replicated here, from the the tiled floors and exuberant burgundy waiters (some of whom have been flown in from the original Carbone to oversee the opening months) to the retro music and several signature menu items, including the meatballs, rigatoni vodka, whole branzino and that remarkably creamy cheesecake. While not every dish is as strong as those just listed - the linguine vongole is comparatively unremarkable, for instance - the overall experience of chowing out at Carbone Hong Kong was every bit as satisfying as it was in NYC, and I don't doubt that it will soon gain the same critical and popular recognition.


Being me, I couldn't resist delving further into the story of how Carbone Hong Kong came about. Asim Hussain, whom I have interviewed previously, shares his take on both restaurants, from why Black Sheep Restaurants chose the concept to how they adapted it to suit Hong Kong...

What attracted you to the Carbone concept?

Black Sheep Restaurants are all about niche restaurant concepts that tell a story about a time, place, culture and cuisine. Carbone represents a special moment in Italian-American history - 1958 in New York City - along with a rich dining culture that we thought Hong Kong diners would enjoy. My business partner Chris[topher Mark] and I had also been talking about opening a red sauce concept for some time, so Carbone seemed like a natural fit after meeting with the Major Food Group guys.

Talk me through the process of adapting Carbone to Hong Kong.

We never wanted to open Carbone New York in Hong Kong - we wanted to open Carbone Hong Kong. While the restaurants are very similar, we have adapted much of the guest experience specifically with Hong Kong diners in mind.

First off, Carbone New York is on the ground floor, while in Hong Kong we are located on the 9th floor. This allows us to have that special moment when guests exit the lift and feel instantly transported to New York in 1958. Another example would be the back waiter uniforms - the Shanghainese jackets have Mandarin collars inspired by traditional Chinese garb, and represent the similarities that Carbone’s style of service has with those of Cantonese fine dining establishments.

When it comes to the food, chef Mario is committed to working with ingredients available locally, spending the entire summer prior to opening shopping the local wet markets. Many of the dishes in Hong Kong include chillies that are only found in Asia, and we use local fish and this excellent Australian Wagyu for the Ribeye Diana that they can’t get in New York.


How do you see Carbone fitting into Hong Kong's crowded dining scene? 
 
We opened Carbone because we knew that the guest experience would be at once familiar and entirely new to Hong Kong diners. The menu is not intimidating - dishes like rigatoni, Caesar salad and veal parm are not new, but are crafted with premium ingredients and modern cooking techniques. Like Cantonese cuisine, a meal at Carbone is enjoyed family style, and the quality of service is also comparable to that of high end Cantonese establishments like Lung King Heen and China Tang.

But despite these familiarities, the experience at Carbone is unprecedented in Hong Kong as it represents a specific era in New York-Italian culture that has, until now, not been represented in the local dining scene. The food, music, décor, service style and overall atmosphere come together to recreate 1958 New York in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, and this is what makes Carbone unique.


And tell me, what is your favourite dish and drink at Carbone?

The steaks and the lamb chops are by far my favourite indulgences, and they are absolutely worth saving room for.* As for drinks, I’d recommend kicking off the meal with a cocktail before moving on to wine. I’ve been drinking a lot of Americanos lately, but I am also a big fan of the Whiskey Sour.

*He fails to mention the incredible cheesecake, which by now, I'm sure you've ascertained that I am a fangirl of. This is an absolute must-try when you visit either Carbone!

Carbone 181 Thompson Street, New York / 212 254 3000 / carbonenewyork.com 
Carbone 9/F LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, Hong Kong / 2593 2593 / carbone.com.hk

Images 3, 4 and 5 are courtesy of Black Sheep Restaurants. Valerie was a guest of Black Sheep at Carbone Hong Kong and a paying customer at Carbone NY; all views are independent.

Weekly Chow

10.17.2014


We are coming into the third week of protests in Hong Kong, and emotions continue to run high as a resolution seems very far away still. In such times, I've found myself looking for little sparks of inspiration to keep positive. From the simple act of reciprocating sign lettering for food to adding conversation prompters to table settings, I hope this dose of Weekly Chow keeps you ticking along for another week! Failing that, the video of primary school kids dining at a fancy New York restaurant is bound to bring a smile to your face...

What happens when you treat 7 year olds to a 7 course tasting menu at Daniel... (NYT Magazine)

Why you should cook at home more often, by Mark Bittman. (TIME)

This talented lady offers beautiful hand-lettered signs in exchange for lunches in NYC. What a brilliantly enterprising idea! (Will Letter for Lunch)

Keeping it simple - the only 4 spice mixes you'll ever need for curry. (The Times)

On top of faux luxury goods, copycat branded restaurants are now springing up in China. (CNN)

Ever been sat next to someone at a dinner party and had nothing to say to each other? These conversation prompting napkins are here to help! (Cup of Jo)

Homemade Chow: Farmhouse Jam Mocktail

10.15.2014


This has been a year of many "firsts" for me, and I ticked another one off the list recently with my first solo photoshoot! The shoot was part of an interview for Baccarat, where I dished on where I like to eat (my neighbourhood of Tai Hang, with its myriad of cuisines and late night dessert shops), local causes I support (Feeding Hong Kong is great for ad hoc volunteering) and my junk food of choice (anything from Haribo). If you want to find out a bit more about the girl behind the blog, check out the October issue of Baccarat magazine on newsstands now in Hong Kong.

We were hosted by Fish & Meat, who were also kind enough to supply me with my favourite - and very photogenic - drink during the shoot and interview. For those of you who aren't in Hong Kong, or have yet to try their Farmhouse Jam mocktail - because I genuinely prefer the alcohol-free version! - here's how to recreate it at home. Serve this easy drink at your next dinner party as something that is delicious and Instagram-worthy in equal parts.


Farmhouse Jam Mocktail

Ingredients:
Blueberry jam (they use homemade stuff at Fish and Meat, but store bought is fine too)
Fresh lemon juice
Soda water
Ice
Fresh thyme and blueberries, to garnish

& Mason jars, if you have them handy!

Steps:
1. Add a heaped teaspoon of jam to the bottom of the mason jar, and squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. I like a sharp citrus kick with my drinks, so I added in the juice of half a lemon.

2. Fill the jar with ice.

3. Add in soda water and stir well. Finish off with a sprig of fresh thyme and a couple of blueberries.

P.S. For those of you who want the recipe for the Farmhouse Jam cocktail (perfect for weekend brunches), head over to A Pair and a Spare for the spiked version.

Images by Samantha Sin for Baccarat.

Weekly Chow

10.10.2014


As I'm sure you've noticed, it's been an incredibly significant two weeks in Hong Kong. The topics of universal suffrage, student protestors, and how Mainland China will react to the recent events have taken over general topics of discussion, and rightly so, as this is likely to be a significant turning point for the city. We are all waiting with baited breath for the resolution of these demonstrations, but in the meantime, here are some light reads to tuck into. Have a good weekend, and to my Hong Kong readers - stay safe out there.

Dominique Ansel's fiendish cronut recipe has been released. Will you try it out?  (ABC News)

Go behind the scenes and check out these bloggers' food photography set ups! (Handle the Heat)

As we come to the end of another stellar season of the Great British Bake Off, check out some Great British artisan bakers to support... (Great British Chefs)

Behold: the world's most expensive burger, with edible gold, Kobe beef and more! (Telegraph)

How do you make your tea? Do you put the hot water in first, or the milk? Surprisingly, science is on the side of milk first... (Guardian)

A fascinating look at 72 ways that food can change the world #longread (Eater)

P.S. In love with these creative food and cooking illustrations in new cookbook Plenty More. 

10 Tips for Creating a Successful Restaurant in Hong Kong

9.26.2014


Passion. Resilience. Working with the right people. These are the words that were mentioned again and again during the General Assembly x Sassy HK panel session I chaired last month on how to create a successful restaurant business. It was a rare opportunity to hear not one but three restaurateurs recount their humble beginnings, and offer advice on how to do well in the highly competitive world of F&B.

Whilst there is no singular magic formula that can be applied to ensure that your restaurant or food business will triumph, here are the top 10 tips that were shared over the course of the evening...


General advice

1. You've got to absolutely love and believe in what you do. All the panellists agreed that success in the restaurant industry is contingent upon being passionate about what you do. One must also completely buy into the product they are creating - if you don't believe in your restaurant and idea, it's impossible to convince paying customers to do so.

2. It's never too late to get in the game. Andrew Li, COO at Privé Group, didn't set out to oversee multiple restaurant operations in Hong Kong. Rather, he read a degree in Psychology and worked his way around several hotels in Europe and Asia before being recruited to his current position. 

3. That being said, hands on experience is absolutely vital. You've got to get your hands dirty! There's no shortcut to acquiring the skills you need to become a successful restaurateur, and the learning process is far from glamorous. Asim Hussain, co-founder of Black Sheep Restaurants, recounted some of his earlier jobs in the food and beverage industry: dishwasher; toilet cleaner; food runner's assistant...

4. Be clear about your vision and what you want your operation to achieve. Make sure you know what you want your restaurant to be, counsels Hussain. "With Black Sheep, we specialise in niche concepts. So Motorino isn't just a pizza joint - it's a Neapolitan pizzeria. And La Vache! isn't just another French brasserie, but focuses on steak frites and serving the best steak frites in town." Having that focus and clarity in your concept is key to creating a quality operation.

5. There are as many good days as mind-numbingly long ones. "Running a restaurant is like surfing," muses Tony Cheng, founder and CEO at Drawing Room Concepts. "There are the waves that hit you hard and make you fall, but all of that is worth it when you catch that perfect wave." Persevering through the hard days is part and parcel of leading and running a good food business.


Tips specific to Hong Kong (but most likely applicable elsewhere too!)

6. Know your market. Hong Kong boasts one of the highest per capita concentrations of restaurants and cafés in the world, with more than 11,000 dining outlets competing against you for business. HK diners are also fairly vocal with their opinions (Exhibit A: OpenRice), so do your research on what people like and dislike about service, décor, and which cuisines are trending at the moment.  

7. It's all about location, though this is easier said than done! The location must match the intended patrons, even if it's not necessarily in the most central of areas. Privé Group's portfolio includes restaurants and nightclubs with different client profiles, hence Li's strategy must adapt to match each concept. "It's important to think about 24/7 taxi access when opening a club. With a restaurant, this is less important; it's more about if someone would want to make the journey."

8. Choose the right property and landlord. This one is a biggie for Hong Kong, as the city is renowned for its tough landlords and their unfavourable lease terms. "The best locations are going to cost you," says Hussain, "but always, always, negotiate a longer lease." Five years is the minimum term he will sign for Black Sheep Restaurants, and it should ideally be longer.

9. Be smart about your staff. The panel all touched on how tough it was to source and retain top talent in Hong Kong, as there are restaurants aplenty and few quality staffers to be found. Cheng is incredibly proud to still be working with several of his core team from their first operation, and reflects that luck played a huge part in getting it right the first time. However, constantly checking in on staff at all levels is also extremely important, so you are in touch with the people that are on the floor and know how they are feeling. 

10. Don't get complacent. Perhaps because they are spoilt for choice, Hong Kong diners are an extremely fickle lot. It is very common to see a restaurant or bar open to much fanfare but lose momentum swiftly when they are no longer the new kids on the block. The panel advised to strategise from Day One about the inevitable decline, and do not be tempted to rest on your laurels. Play the long game on this one, and your restaurant will hopefully stand the test of time.


All images courtesy of Black Sheep Restaurants. Valerie is grateful to General Assembly Hong Kong for the kind invitation to moderate.

P.S. Has the above piqued your interest in starting a food business? Head over to Foodie HK for their series on F&B startups for more inspiration.

Weekly Chow

9.19.2014


The Weekly Chow is back in a brand new Friday slot! To make up for my holiday from the digital world, I've got a great series of posts lined up in the coming weeks, as well as few changes and updates to the site. For now, here are my top reads over the past week - from how to write like a terrible but popular food blogger (this one's NSFW, but worth the laugh I promise) to the grains you could try next to stay ahead of the food trend curve. Enjoy - and cheers to the weekend!

How not to make a restaurant reservation. Hint: Name-dropping ain't cool. (British GQ)

Hey, quinoa - teff, sorghum and millet are the up and coming gluten-free grains on the block. (FWx)

Have we moved on from the burger boom? (Guardian)

From savoury to barrel-aged, here are 7 of London's must-try cocktails. (Condé Nast Traveler)

A hilarious guide on how to write like a terrible but popular food blogger: Part 1 and Part 2. (FYN)

Re-create Hollywood hotspot's The Ivy Gimlet for your next party. (Cupcakes and Cashmere)

Oh sugar! When it comes to desserts, sugar is so much more than a sweetener. (Eater)

Image courtesy of Village East

Weekly Chow

8.14.2014




Did you know that most of the experience of eating takes place in your brain? (Nat Geo)

These days, coconut water's biggest rival is simply water; check out how they compare! (NYT)

What's the difference between jam and marmalade? Here's a comprehensive cheat sheet on all the soft fruit spreads. (The Kitchn)

So, it turns out that people prefer buying from healthier vending machines... (Time)

How to make pickled watermelon, as taught to you by a GIF recipe! (Bon Appétit)

Planning a trip to Southeast Asia? Read these tips on Asian food etiquette to avoid any major faux pas along the way. (Granturismo)

Spotlight: The Chowdown on Matt Reid

8.01.2014


"A good restaurant unfolds itself to you over time - there's a journey to getting to know a place."

This is how Matt Reid details the philosophy behind the creation of new F&B concepts as part of his role as Creative Director at Maximal Concepts, but he could just as well be talking about his circuitous route to becoming a restaurateur with one of Hong Kong's most successful boutique restaurant groups. While there is no standard formula for how restauranteurs get to where they are, few will have gone on a journey comparable to Reid's, spanning events, hospitality, consultancy, real estate and product management across three continents before landing in restaurants. 

Over a glass of wine tucked away in a quiet corner of Stockton, Reid shares his personal journey from party boy to restaurant group co-owner, the creative process behind the birth of a Maximal Concept, and dishes his thoughts on the Hong Kong food scene.


Reid got his first taste of running a business during his time as an undergrad at Bristol University, where he and his fellow dorm mates used to host lavish events for a discerning student population. "I was known as Van Wilder on campus", recalls Reid, "and I found that even then, I took pleasure in creating ideas and delivering experiences that people would remember". He continued his exploits in events in London while gaining a masters in marketing before "growing up" and making the switch to management consultancy with Reed Elsevier. Little did he know that he would eventually return to the hospitality sphere and become business partners with one of his college buddies.

After a short-lived stint in consultancy, Reid was soon after a new challenge, setting off for China with a view to exploring the difficult but exciting business environment that was the Mainland in the early noughties. "I fell in love with Asia as I went about learning Mandarin and working odd jobs in law and real estate", Reid explains as he recounts his years in the Mainland. It was during this period that Reid first got involved with the world of F&B, through the brand and product management of a premium Polish vodka with Nigerian entrepreneur Ladi Delano. Among other projects, Delano and Reid went on to launch The Collection in 2007, an ambitious entertainment and dining establishment encompassing multiple food, drink and club concepts, in Shanghai's trendy Xintiandi district. Upon reflection, Reid concedes that the venture was "too avant garde for its time", and the economic downturn of 2008 did not help matters for the operation and his other investments. After the worst of the financial crisis, he packed his bags and left for sunny Los Angeles.

By sheer serendipity, Asia came calling again in the form of an ex-university dorm mate - one Malcolm Wood. Wood and business partner Xuan Mu had spotted a gap in the Hong Kong market in the early 2010s for more original, quality lifestyle concepts, and were in the process of opening up a new nightclub called Play. Wood wanted to bring Reid on board for his creative eye and marketing nous; Reid declined at first, but came on board in 2012 after the club and subsequent launches of Maximal's first two restaurants, Blue Butcher and Brickhouse. Since his joining, Reid has helped develop and open three other F&B operations (Fish & Meat, Stockton and Mott32), and fondly refers to his team at Maximal as "family".



When asked about the process behind creating a "Maximal Concept", Reid refers to Wood and their complementary roles within the company. Says Reid, "when we walk into a new space, [Malcolm] and I see it from totally different perspectives" - Reid acts the 'right' brain who visualises the look and feel of each concept, whilst Wood is the 'left' brain that breaks down a potential restaurant space into floor plans and service flows in addition to being the group Culinary Director. "We pick holes in each others' viewpoints, then try and see things from the other person's perspective. In that way, we cover each others' weaknesses and create interesting concepts that will last [in Hong Kong's competitive market]".

A good concept in Reid's opinion must have "depth, detail and dialogue". With Stockton, the concept was designed to transport the visitor back to a London social club in the 1890s - a period of decadence not only in terms of the food and drink, but also of time. The bar-restaurant space is full of hidden nooks and corners that are perfect for wiling the hours away with classic cocktails and bites; a  good conversation plus the whisky sour and egg soldiers (re-invented with duck egg and accompanied by sea urchin) can happily see you through a few hours, or well into the night. The sense of inertia when at Stockton is heightened by its dark interior and the details that are dotted around the place, from the guide to colloquialisms of the 1800s in the menu to the stylised silverware cutlery that accompanies your food. 

The dialogue component mentioned by Reid is particularly prominent at Stockton, as one is challenged to actively engage with the concept to understand it. Accessing the venue involves following a lightbulb down a corridor and up some dark but innocuous stairs, paralleling the secretive nature of the clubs of Victorian London, and the restaurant concept is inspired by a writer whose name is hidden in the Stockton logo but not openly revealed. In a market that is saturated with fast casual dining chains and one-note restaurants and bars, the intricacies behind the Stockton concept and location are a welcome change. 


Reid notes with pleasure that Hong Kong food scene and a decent proportion of its diners are developing a greater demand for "artisanal products, niche concepts, focused cooking and authenticity". Creating homegrown restaurant concepts that are run by "real people with a healthy respect for their ingredients" is therefore the onward focus of Maximal's F&B portfolio; we have much to look forward to, by the sounds of it.

Stockton 1/F, 32 Wyndham Street / 2565 5268 / www.stockton.com.hk

All images courtesy of Maximal Concepts.

Weekly Chow

7.28.2014


Solo dining is no longer for those abandoned on dates; eating out alone is a trend now! (BBC)

Who can kiss up to 200 women a day as part of their job? An old school maitre'd, apparently! (GQ)

7 staple sauce recipes you should try and make at home this summer. (NYT Mag)

The journey of how food photography became part of our zeitgeist... (WIRED)

Discerning consumers rate craft beer over the regular stuff. Why? (Market Realist)

From Chinese dumplings to global warming - a long (but worthwhile) read on the phenomenon of refrigeration in Mainland China. (NYT Mag)

P.S. Why restaurants should stop serving food on slates...

Homemade Chow: Gluten-Free Scones

7.24.2014



I tried my hand at gluten-free baking for the first time a few weeks back, joining a GF baking evening class at a recently opened studio called The Mixing Bowl in Sheung Wan. A couple of reasons for signing up: I needed a hump day treat; I craved baking with an actual oven (a rarity in Hong Kong apartments); but most importantly, I wanted to find out more about going gluten-free and how to make palatable GF baked goods!

So, what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite mainly found in wheat, barley and rye, and is a common component in breads and baked goods, pasta, cereal, sauces, beer, malt and more. Gluten is what gives elasticity - aka that chewy texture - to dough, helping it rise when baked and keep its shape.

Why go gluten-free?
Besides those who are gluten intolerant, advocates of GF living say that limiting one's intake of gluten can lead to an increase in energy levels and a healthier digestive system. However, just because something is gluten-free doesn't mean that it's inherently healthier for you or contains fewer calories.

Since moving to Hong Kong, I've met several people who are or have developed an intolerance to gluten, and it was high time I learned about gluten and what it means to live without it. The demand for GF baking classes in HK was so high that Victor Lo and Kyle Giesbrecht, the couple behind The Mixing Bowl, have designed a specific workshop with original recipes to meet the needs of their students. My taste testers and I were particularly impressed with the results of the GF scones from class, which were unexpectedly fluffy and crumbly in equal parts. Do give these a try if you are going GF, know someone who's gluten intolerant, or just want a new scone recipe in your arsenal.


Gluten-Free Scones
Makes 12 

Ingredients:
210g All purpose flour (gluten-free)
35g Caster sugar
2tsp Baking powder (gluten-free)
55g Unsalted butter (cold and cubed)
60ml Whole milk
60ml Heavy cream
Clotted cream and Jam to serve

Steps:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

2. Mix the flour, sugar and baking powder in a generous bowl. Gradually add the butter cubes into the flour mixture, using your fingertips to "rub" in the butter until the texture of the overall mixture is of a consistency comparable to that of breadcrumbs.

3. Stir in the milk and cream by hand until all the ingredients combine to create a rough dough.

4. Dust your chosen worktop with some flour and transfer the dough onto the floured surface. Knead the dough very lightly for 20 seconds, then use a rolling pin (or floured wine bottle!) to roll out the dough to 1.5 inches thick.

5. Cut the scones using a round pastry or cookie cutter. Brush only the tops of the scones with a touch of milk, and bake for c.20 minutes, until the scones have risen and browned slightly on top. Serve with a hearty helping of clotted cream and jam - it's up to you whether you cream or jam first!

Weekly Chow

7.21.2014


Scarcity of food drives advertising success. Where's the beef? Got milk? (fastcocreate.com)

It's the rise of the multipurpose restaurant, as they are now doubling up as bookstores, bike shops and barbers. (theguardian.com)

There's a right way to organise your fridge. Find out how! (businessinsider.com)

Everyone needs to check out this formula for how to make a great salad! (impatientfoodie.com)

Where are the top food truck cities of the world? LA, NYC, London, and more... (cntraveler.com)

Restaurants in France are using pre-prepared food to the point where a new "homemade" sign is being introduced nationwide... (bbc.com)

P.S. The truth behind vodka - find out what's inside the drink of choice for "Russians, dieters and college freshmen"!

GA x Sassy presents: Building a Business People Love: Restaurants Edition

7.17.2014

The best part about working in the restaurant industry and simultaneously writing The Chowdown is that I've had the rare opportunity to meet some of Hong Kong's most inspiring F&B owners and operators. This materialises on the blog through the interviews, special events and features showcased in The Chowdown On, but will also go beyond the pages of the site in a few weeks when I am moderating an industry panel on how to design, build and run restaurants. Behold:


General Assembly and Sassy Hong Kong have teamed up once again to host a fun, informative panel event with three of HK's top restaurateurs: Syed Asim Hussain of Black Sheep Restaurants (La Vache!, Motorino); Tony Cheng of Drawing Room Concepts (AMMO, Drawing Room); and Andrew Li of Privé Group (Common Room, NUR). If you've ever been curious - even a little - about what it takes to create your own food business, or have a burning question about how to run a successful restaurant, sign up to the event and I'll see you there!

When: 7-9pm, Monday August 4th, 2014 
Where: Ho Lee Fuk, 1 Elgin Street, Soho
Cost: $150 for the session; includes drinks and nibbles

Update! Event recapped in this post.

Weekly Chow

7.14.2014

 
The crowdfunded potato salad that has become a global sensation. (kickstarter.com)

"Pomegranate juice cheats death", and other wild claims by food marketers! (theguardian.com)

Why you should put your phone away at dinner, and other dining pet peeves... (independent.co.uk)

Martha Stewart's latest obsession with...drones?! (forbes.com)

10 handy cooking conversions to speed up your meal prep. (food52.com)

The difference between "local" and "organic" food, clarified once and for all! (time.com)

P.S. Congratulations to Germany for their World Cup 2014 victory! Celebrate mit German beer...

Weekly Chow

7.07.2014


Chef-author Anthony Bourdain comments on the fetishisation of food, eating and cooking in this latest interview. A #longread but well worth it! (smithsonianmag.com)

Soft serve ice cream is the way to go this summer... (nytimes.com)

18-34 year old millennials are consuming YouTube food videos like nobody else! (clickz.com)

China now has a creepy vampire restaurant, where drinks are served in blood bags... (eater.com)

Bravo Burger King! Check out how a piece of fast food packaging can show support towards the LGBT community.  (peppergang.com)

These scantily clad male food bloggers are taking "foodporn" to the next level... (gigacircle.com)

P.S. Check out the Tipping Calculator - now you'll know exactly how much to tip when abroad!

Weekly Chow

6.23.2014


The tables have turned as Mario Batali interviews Bon Appetit's Adam Rapoport. (medium.com)

12 handy summer cooking tips, from how to grill to building stone beach grills... (saver.com)

New research suggests that artistically presented food tastes better! (guardian.co.uk)

When the French try to reinvent American fast food, they create Classic Chewy Chips... (eater.com)

Wine Intelligence CEO comments that modern consumers are looking for retro and feel-good products, plus "blended experiences". (thedrinksbusiness.com)

It's time to stop vilifying butter! (time.com)

PS How to cut a cake properly. Trust me, you'll only do it this way from now on! 

Behind the Collaboration: Common Room x Lola's Ice Pops

6.20.2014


In today's highly competitive food and beverage scene, restaurants and food businesses must constantly conceptualise and deliver new ideas and creations - not only to keep the interest of their customers, but also to attract further interest towards their operation. Brand collaborations are an ever more popular way for food businesses to innovate, and even the largest companies have reaped the benefits of joining forces with a complementary brand. Food and fashion, for example, are two spheres that have regularly come together, from Coca Cola's collaboration with PLAY Commes des Garconnes to create fashionably artistic cans, to the co-branded éclairs by Fauchon to celebrate Lacoste's 80th anniversary and Evian's designer bottles by fashion powerhouses Diane von Furstenburg and Elie Saab.

On a more local scale, Common Room's recent collaboration with Lola's Ice Pops (this post) is reaching for the same goal: to jointly create an innovative new product that will surprise and delight their existing clientele whilst jointly raising the profile of both. I sat down with Janice Jann, Director of Communications at Privé Group, to get the chowdown on how the boozesicles collaboration came about; read on for how a brand collaboration idea becomes a reality.


The Idea

"Hong Kong is known for being a cutthroat market for F&B businesses", comments Jann. She adds, "To remain relevant and competitive, we have to always look out for creative ways to market our restaurants." Jann gets her inspiration in various forms, from regular visits to local food markets (she's a regular at Island East Markets) and new bars and restaurants, to keeping track of what's trending in English and local Chinese media ("Hong Kong Tatler Dining and Eat and Travel Weekly are two of my go-tos") as well as following local social media influencers ("Do you follow Little Meg Siu Meg on Instagram?"). It was through reading a food magazine that she first saw an image of a Pimms Cup popsicle, which she thought would be perfect for the fun and relaxed vibe of Common Room. Although boozy ice pops were not a new idea, they were relatively unheard of in Hong Kong, and Jann could not wait to explore the idea further.
 

The Partner

Jann saw the Pimms Cup popsicle in August of 2013, which meant they had to shelve the idea of boozy popsicles for a couple of months. In the interim, she began to notice Lola's Ice Pops popping up (excuse the pun!) around Hong Kong's food markets and gaining momentum on Instagram. When May 2014 came around, it was felt that Lola's were a good match for an alcoholic popsicle collaboration at Common Room. Not only were Lola's a local independent business, but their ethos is to create healthy ice pops using all natural ingredients. Finding a partner that had similar values to Common Room and Privé Group at large was incredibly important; however, after Privé approached and met with Lola's founders Julie Tuan and Sandra Wong, they felt convinced the chemistry was right and went straight to work devising exclusive flavours that would be sold on-site at Common Room.


The Collaboration

Once the partnership was formed, the process from concept to reality took only 2-3 weeks, recounts Jann. First, they discussed turning a few of Common Room's popular drinks into boozy popsicles; then, Sandra suggested dunking the ice pops into the drinks. Thus, the drunken boozesicle was born! The Bramble and Espresso Martini were given their own special boozy popsicles, and Common Room devised a new cocktail, the Strawberry Frangelico, to pair with a hazelnut-strawberry ice pop. Standalone alcoholic ice pops were also introduced to cater for those who wanted a light snack or dessert without a drink - the Saketini (green) and Strawberry Liski (pink) were both incredibly refreshing and barely tasted of alcohol, but definitely added some merriment to my evening.

"We are extremely happy with the collaboration, as we did not have the expertise to create top-notch popsicles. This is Lola's niche, and pairing their product with our drinks and restaurant has been a success for us so far," muses Jann. So there you have it - the story of how Common Room and Lola's Ice Pops came together to bring us devilishly delicious popsicle cocktails. Be sure to try one out if you are in Hong Kong this summer!


Common Room 1/F Wo On Building, 8-13 Wo On Lane / 2525 3599common-room.hk
Lola's Ice Pops lolasicepops.com

Image 4 courtesy of Janice Jann. All other images courtesy of Privé Group.

Weekly Chow

6.16.2014


It's World Cup season again! Here are some of the best "foodball" stories... (finedininglovers.com)

But it's not all good news; World Cup tourists are facing sky-high food prices in Brazil. (reuters.com)

Snacking is no longer just something you do when you're hungry; it's a way of living! (mintel.com)
Food and pharmaceutical packaging just got artsier courtesy of artist Ben Frost. (boingboing.net)

What happens to leftovers in restaurants? Chefs create daily specials, donate what they can, and throw away the rest... (huffingtonpost.com)

What's 250 calories in junk food? 6 scoops of ice cream or a portion of chips... (telegraph.co.uk)

Homemade Chow: Drunken Bramble Boozesicles

6.13.2014


Summer is almost upon us in Hong Kong, and anyone who has lived here will empathise with the fact that the heat and humidity get pretty unbearable as the summer months go on. My coping mechanisms mainly consist of consuming cold food and drink (and hiding indoors where the air-con keeps me happy!), so when I discovered that Common Room recently launched spiked ice lollies in cocktails for the coming months, I was almost too excited for words. 

After trying a "Drunken Boozesicle" and falling in love with the concept, I convinced the powers be at Privé Group (the mastermind behind Common Room) to part with a recipe; behold the Drunken Bramble Boozesicle! There are two components to this glorious gin and blackberry concoction, but I guarantee you that the end result is well worth the extra effort...


Drunken Bramble Boozesicles

Part I. Common Room's Bramble Cocktail
Makes 1 drink

Ingredients:
2oz Gin (reduce to 1.5oz if too strong)
6 Blackberries
3/4oz Lemon juice
3/4oz Simple syrup
Drizzle of Crème de Mûre

Steps:
1.  First, create a basic Bramble by mixing the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup.

2. In a lowball glass, muddle 5 blackberries and add in some crushed ice and the Bramble mixture.

3. Drizzle with Crème de Mûre and garnish with the remaining blackberry.


Part II. Lola's Ice Pops' Bramble Ice Pops
Makes 8-10 ice pops

Ingredients:
2 small boxes of Blackberries (must be fresh)
100ml Water (distilled)
20ml Gin
20ml Crème de Mûre
Juice from 1/4 Lemon 
1/2tbsp Caster sugar

Steps:
1. Thoroughly soak and wash the blackberries. 

2. Place all the ingredients (blackberries. water, gin, crème de mûre, lemon juice and sugar) into a blender and blend well for c.20 seconds. Taste the mixture, adding more sugar and re-blending if necessary

3. Pour the mixture into popsicle moulds and place wooden sticks in each mould. Freeze for at least 6 hours before consuming. 

4. To unmould the ice pops, dip the frozen part of the moulds into room temperature water for 5-10 seconds before pulling them out.   


To create the Drunken Bramble Boozesicle, simply dunk the ice pop into the drink. These are best served at the start of a hot summers' night, as they are the perfect drinks to nurse over a long chat. 
 

Weekly Chow

6.09.2014


Apparently hungry men appreciate a fuller figure, so plan your dates before dinner! (thetimes.co.uk)

Worryingly, burgers and baby wipes share a common ingredient. (cnbc.com)

What does getting "tea drunk" mean? Take 10 minutes and find out... (foodcurated.com)

Are you supposed to pronounce the Ts in Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon? (guardian.com) 

14 tips for how to impress a foodie. #6 slays me! (tatler.com)

If you're stuck for a Fathers' Day gift for the weekend, try the Scotch flowchart to see which is the best fit for your pops. (wsj.com)

How To Coat a Ganache Like a Master Chocolatier

6.05.2014


Last week, I finally fulfilled a childhood dream and attended my first chocolate making workshop. It wasn't just any workshop either, mind - it was hosted by award-winning French chocolatier and La Maison du Chocolat Master Chef Nicolas Cloiseau! During an event at their Lee Gardens store, Chef Nicolas very graciously walked us through how to coat one of La Maison du Chocolat's timeless ganaches, the Quito. 


First, you create your interior ganache; we cheated a little and used the Quito interior, a blend of cocoa beans from Venezuela, Trinidad, Ecuador and Madagascar. Once the ganache is shaped and at room temperature, dip it into a fine, dark couverture (a chocolate that consists of over 32% cocoa and can be melted to a workable fluid state) using a two-pronged dipping fork. Immerse the interior ganache with a thin coating of couverture chocolate, using the fork to assist with coating the top of the ganache, and gently scrape off the excess at the base of the ganache.


Then, angle the dipping fork at 45° over a non-stick surface, and allow the coated ganache to slide off courtesy of Newton's law of gravitation. To finish off, Chef Nicolas applied an edible transfer sticker of the La Maison "M" on top of the ganache, and sent the chocolate off to the fridge for 15 minutes. Et voila! 


My attempt was not quite as perfect as those of Chef Nicolas', but I was reassured that it wasn't bad for a first timer! Frankly, I thought it was pretty delicious and scoffed my finished ganache whole; I only realised later that my greediness was being watched (and giggled at) by the MD of the company! Embarrassment aside, at least he knows his chocolates have a true fan in me.


The workshop was part of a promotional event for a choco-cocktail partnership between Chef Nicolas and Head Barman Maxime Hoerth of the famed Parisian hotel Le Bristol, who came together to launch a series of chocolate and cocktail/mocktail pairings. Find out more about the Summer Cocktail Collection here


Images 1, 4, 8 and 12 are courtesy of La Maison du Chocolat. Valerie was a guest of Lee Wolter.