The Top 20 Restaurants In Hong Kong And Macau 2018
One of the most talked about topics in the dining industry this year was the curious case of the chef swap. In April 2017, Frenchmen Fabrice Vulin and Guillaume Galliot officially took up the post of executive chef—at the other’s restaurant. After the initial bemusement and speculation, it has become apparent that the unintentional exchange has done both a world of good. We find Galliot’s cuisine at his new home Caprice to be even more refined than before—as befitting this bastion of fine French gastronomy, Galliot brings a confidence to the Four Seasons with creations such as crab laksa with confit egg—a thoroughly contemporary dish that defies all expectations of what should be served at a French restaurant.
Caprice, 6/F, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
2/20 The Tasting Room
Meanwhile, Vulin—our 2016 Best New Chef award recipient—has found his own rhythm at The Tasting Room in Macau’s City of Dreams. A staunch supporter of French produce and classic techniques, Vulin nevertheless champions a new way for Gallic gastronomy with his bold flavour pairings born from an international resumé. For example: Gillardeau oysters, usually perfect as they are, are enlivened with rice espuma, yuzu-scented vegetables and lardo di Colonnata. But don’t be mistaken—the Frenchman knows exactly what to do with a premium Alexandre Pomard beef tenderloin, simply served with delicate soufflés potatoes and classic French Riviera condiments.
The Tasting Room, 3/F, Crown Towers, City of Dreams, Estrada do Istmo, Macau
In the same vein, Nicolas Boutin of Epure continues to fine-tune his dishes that astound with their surface simplicity—a piece of foie gras comes burnished and caramelised and, in Boutin’s eyes, needs nothing more than a razor-thin slice of the most pristine pear as its bedfellow, the fruit’s gentle sweetness and whisper of acidity calmly tackling the richness of the liver. It’s hard not to be enamoured by the the restraint shown in the plates here, and the rather exceptional desserts by pastry chef Ken Thomas drive the obsession home. Like Boutin, Thomas’ creations are modest in design, but innovative in execution.
Épure, Shop 403, 4/F, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
4/20 Serge Et Le Phoque
The evolution of French cuisine has played out in a fascinating way in Hong Kong, with venues such as Serge et le Phoque, which has just opened a second branch in London, reminiscent of the bistronomy movement in Paris—with approachable dining that doesn’t sacrifice creativity, and speaks of its time and place. At Serge, few diners escape without the obligatory dacquoise for dessert, which has become a delicious constant in a world of waxing and waning trends—the rest of the menu is where you can exercise your adventurous side, with dishes ranging from sea bass with mangosteen and wakame to Challandais duck with cloud ear mushrooms and sakura (quite often, ingredients are sourced from Wan Chai market across the road), done with aplomb by chef Nicholas Chew.
Serge Et Le Phoque, Shop B2, G/F, The Zenith, 3 Wan Chai Road, Hong Kong
We’re hoping that more chefs will find inspiration from Hong Kong, creating a new kind of gastronomy—and Daniel Calvert’s use of a locally-grown corn to create his fresh polenta with Australian black truffle comes to mind. The chef’s inspired neo-bistro cooking is reason why Belon is back in the top 20 list for the second time since it opened. Since taking over from James Henry, Calvert has swerved the menu to portray his own individual point of view. Expect refined takes on French favourites (the pigeon pithivier is ethreal), and stay open-minded about esoteric and distinctly un-French creations such as Merguez sausage sandwich with salsa verde.
Belon, G/F, 41 Elgin Street, Soho, Central, Hong Kong
6/20 Ta Vie
Another chef who has carved his own style of cuisine with classical training is Hideaki Sato of Ta Vie, who has successfully parlayed his understanding of French and Japanese techniques into dishes that are visually stunning and highly original. Sato is the kind of chef who will readily nerd out when it comes to the ingredients at his disposal—each item on the plate tasting distinct and somehow more than itself. He’s also a fan of using creative techniques to fashion culinary surprises, such as using flour, water and squid ink to create realistic looking abalone shells. The enthusiasm for produce both local and foreign translates into dishes that truly speak of the season, and in turn speak to us.
Ta Vie, 2/F, The Pottinger, 74 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
7/20 Tate Dining Room & Bar
When it comes to the language of food, Vicky Lau’s fluency in the art manifests in a menu she calls “All The Odes”—a serious tasting menu at Tate, her split-level restaurant on the quieter end of Hollywood Road. Each course is inspired by a significant ingredient or memory, from the flavour of Chiu Chow marinade to the scent of osmanthus. The lyrical quality of Lau’s food is neatly matched with the picture perfect setting that betrays her past as a graphic designer; the procession of dishes are each contained pieces of art, rendered in brilliant hues, shapes and textures.
Tate Dining Room & Bar, 210 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
From one Vicky to another, we arrive at VEA, Vicky Cheng and Antonio Lai’s bijou Central restaurant, where both the tiny details (the velveteen rest pad to keep your mobile phone from sliding off the marble tabletop, for example) to the overarching storyline of the food combine to become more than the sum of their parts. Staunchy proud of his Hong Kong and Shanghainese heritage, Cheng’s menu is filled with thrilling spins on tradition, from the superlative roasted sea cucumber with langoustine and cordyceps to a beautifully cooked local yellow chicken paired with Chinese cabbage, scallions, and Iberico lardo.
VEA, 30/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Another new addition to the Top 20 list this year is just one street away but, gastronomically speaking, worlds apart. Goshima Shinya’s Godenya is not the kind of restaurant you stumble across—but make purposeful strides toward, despite it being hidden down a dark and narrow alleyway. Beyond the doors, you’ll find a peaceful shrine to the art of sake. Shinya’s menu of genre-skirting creations (a delicate scampi tom yum goong is one of his specialties) feature dishes each skilfully paired with a sake, chilled or warmed to the optimum temperature. A meal here is more than just about eating and drinking—we learn much from this master of gastronomy.
Godenya, G/F, 182 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Also in the area is modern Japanese izakaya Ronin, the modish follow up restaurant by the team behind Yardbird (which, by time of going to press, was about to move to its new location in Sheung Wan). Behind the cool, slate-coloured sliding door is a lengthy room that wouldn’t look out of place in the trendier part of Ginza, where diners sip thin glass tumblers of premium, small batch sake paired with highly inventive, seafood-focused small plates. This is the kind of place where ingredients are handled just enough to coax maximum flavour, without obscuring their essence: the grilled pike mackerel with a zingy parsley, onion and mugi miso topping is one of the best mouthfuls we’ve had this year.
Ronin, G/F, 8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
11/20 Okra Bar
In the same vein of respecting Japanese ingredients and techniques, we’re enthused by the unique creations by Max Levy over at Okra in Sai Ying Pun—and it’s his hideaway Okra Bar, situated on the upper floor of the building, that has a well earned place on this year’s Top 20. The omakase-only restaurant is quite unlike any sushi bar you may have been to—not only due to its slightly clinical, white-tiled counters, but the original combinations that flank the expertly crafted nigiri. Levy’s silky chawanmushi with Carabinero prawn and the titular okra is a true signature, and the masterfully aged fish that tops much of his sushi is a gastronomic lesson in themselves.
Okra Bar, G/F, 110 Queen's Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
12/20 Shinji By Kanesaka
When a more classic sushi-ya experience is what we’re after, we would cross the seas to Macau in a instant—at Shinji by Kanesaka, here on the list for the second year in a row. Chef de cuisine Toru Osumi is a true master of the craft, and the omakase menu here is a must. Osumi’s pacing is impeccable, with each diner’s journey perfectly judged so that every morsel that lands in front of you is perfectly timed—the hours flow by gently, like a trail of rich honey. What we also appreciate about the Shinji experience is the utter lack of pretension—Osumi and his comrades are warm and welcoming, dissolving any fears of an intimidating atmosphere that can often pervade high-end sushi bars.
Shinji By Kanesaka, Level 1, Crown Towers, City of Dreams, Estrada do Istmo, Macau
The disappearance of stilted, formal service can only be welcomed with open arms—it’s a suggestion of the changing of the tides, where serious gastronomy is no longer synonymous with strict rules of behaviour. At Haku, helmed by Agustin Balbi (our Best New Chef awardee in 2015) the atmosphere is akin to that of a lively izakaya—chefs banter with diners from across the handsome wood counter, the semi-open kitchen offers culinary theatrics, and drinks flow freely. Balbi, who previously trained at Tokyo’s Cuisines Michel Troisgros, has come into his own since helming seafood-centric restaurant The Ocean; his preparation of ingredients from simple sweetcorn to luxurious Kagoshima A4 wagyu are nothing short of extraordinary, presented on beautiful handcrafted crockery. Not only this, we appreciate that this is the kind of place where diners can feel as comfortable ordering a beer as they would a glass of finest Burgundy—both of which are on offer.
Haku, Shop OT G04B, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Hong Kong
14/20 Frantzén's Kitchen
This mix of high-end gastronomy with a more convivial environment reminds us of new addition Frantzén’s Kitchen, the casual offshoot of Stockholm’s two Michelin-starred Restaurant Frantzén. Located at the top of Upper Station Street, the diminutive venue offers warm Swedish hospitality combined with seriously complex cooking. Chef Jim Löfdahl has worked with Björn Frantzén since the early days of the restaurant in Sweden, and he brings forth a distinct interpretation of modern Nordic gastronomy, incorporating uncommon ingredients such as fermented lingonberries, crispy white moss, and vendace roe into highly original dishes.
Frantzén's Kitchen, G/F, 11 Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
David Lai’s Neighborhood has become something of a cult favourite among food lovers. You could say Lai is the chef’s chef, a respected peer that has carved his own way following his classical training under the tutelage of Alain Ducasse. At this small hideaway restaurant, the daily changing menu encompasses seriously good ingredients and time-old techniques, spun with a little bit of Lai’s culinary whimsy and a Mediterranean slant—you end up with awe-inspiring dishes such as runny quails’ eggs cooked with butter and herbs like classic escargot, or salt-baked local chicken with black truffle and giblet rice.
Neighborhood, Basement, 61-63 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong
This humble dedication to respecting ingredients reminds us of another chef—Shane Osborn of Arcane, a truly unsung hero of Hong Kong’s culinary scene. His modestly sized restaurant on the 3rd floor of a Central skyscraper may not have the pizzazz of flashier addresses, but the level of cooking is top of class—and Osborn is always in the kitchen, not being the type to simply splash his name on the menu and reap the rewards. His contemporary blend of European traditions and seasonal, flavour-forward produce (a mix of Australian, British and Japanese mainly) creates a cuisine that is individual and distinctive.
Arcane, 3/F 18 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong
The same can be said of Amber, a stalwart on the dining scene with chef Richard Ekkebus at the helm for more than 10 years since its opening. The continual evolution of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental restaurant has been intriguing, and the menu is as exciting and accomplished as ever. Ekkebus has pared down slightly, decreasing the menu options from six main courses to four, showcasing the very best—the Miyazaki wagyu is heftily priced, but second-to-none, the beef’s natural umami enhanced by the addition of dried red onion skin and seaweed powder. A meal at Amber is often top of list for many visitors, but remains firmly a favourite among Hongkongers as well.
Amber, 7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, The Landmark, 15 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong
18/20 Jade Dragon
While the level of Chinese cookery is high in this city, we implore you to cross over once again to Macau, where Tam Kwok-fung’s Jade Dragon remains one of the region’s best restaurants for modern Cantonese cuisine. As one of the most long-standing members of the Top 20 list, the team have proven time and time again that both remaining consistent and challenging the status quo are both skills they possess. From delicate dim sum to roasted meats imbued with lychee wood smoke, Tam’s gastronomic offerings are deeply informed by decades of knowledge and experience of one of the world’s greatest culinary traditions.
Jade Dragon, Level 2,The Boulevard at City of Dreas Estrada do Istmo, Macau
19/20 Golden Flower
An inspiring experience can be found at Golden Flower, another longstanding Top 20 awardee that continues to impress with its profound execution of highly intricate and obscure regional Chinese cuisine. Liu Guozhu’s dramatic Wynn Macau restaurant is a paean to China’s great gastronomic traditions, focusing on imperial Tan cuisine and its extremely labor-intensive preparations; traditional Cantonese, Sichuan and Shandong dishes are also respectfully rendered to great effect.
Golden Flower, G/F, Wynn Macau, Rua Cidade de Sintra, Nape, Macau
Spending time to perfect age-honoured recipes also plays out in our final Top 20 entrant, which appears on the list for the first time. Tiny Wan Chai restaurant Samsen surprised us with its immense dedication to something as simple as a bowl of soup noodles. Adam Cliff, a dedicated disciple of Thai cookery for 15 years, spent a whole year tweaking his recipe for the restaurant’s signature wagyu beef noodles—a labor-intensive dish that sees his team making the pig’s blood-enriched broth every day from scratch, simmering each batch for at least two to three hours. Despite being a casual, no-reservations restaurant with paper placemats and a drinks list that is more lager than Lafite, it’s living proof that the definition of great dining is no longer so rigid—and thank goodness for that.
Samsen, 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai, Hong Kong