Good food need not break bank
To enjoy a gourmet delight, the Hong Kong gastronome does not have to struggle to reach ridiculous heights of culinary pretension. Some of the finest restaurants in the city do not hark after formal business wear; most of them don't even insist on the tyranny of a necktie.
Fine dining has climbed down from its social peak, with the realisation that good food does not depend on expensive garb.
The notion of 'silver service' is, it seems, a thing of the past. The folly of a series of white-gloved waiters emerging from the kitchen with huge platters of steaming food rapidly getting cold as guests served themselves is now never seen.
Over the years, while fine dining has become more casual, standards have continued to rise.
It is no joke that we pride ourselves on being the culinary capital of Asia (although I have to admit Singapore gives us a close run). We take our food seriously. So do our chefs.
Trends over the past decade have seen dining in style, especially at lunch, becoming a lot more affordable. The array of executive lunches at Hong Kong's five-star hotels offer splendid value.
It is one of the oddities of Hong Kong that our glorious harbour view is not used to greater advantage by architects, with a few exceptions like the billion-dollar vista from Petrus in the Island Shangri- La.
That allows you to concentrate more on what is on your plate, which, in a restaurant as distinguished as Gaddi's in The Peninsula, is always a pleasure. No view, but the food is spectacular.
This is one of the truly memorable restaurants on earth. For 31 years, the maitre d', Rolf Heiniger, has been as much a part of the Hong Kong hotel scene as The Peninsula's facade. To experience the full pleasure of a great meal, the service has to be equally as distinguished as what great chefs produce in the kitchen.
As you would expect, that is what you find in Gaddi's, named after a former demanding Swiss perfectionist who was general manager of the hotel.
It is an anomaly of the Hong Kong dining scene that so many of the greatest restaurants are in hotels. One reason for that is the ferocious rents for free-standing independent restaurants.
Outside hotels, establishments like Papillion and Va Bene among the clustered eateries in Lan Kwai Fong can compete with the best in Paris or Rome.
Over the past decade, wine has really arrived in Hong Kong and knowledgeable sommeliers now guide diners skilfully through lists that would be the envy of diners in Europe.
With the praiseworthy reduction in duties on wines, prices have stabilised at high, but affordable, rates.
Every fine dining establishment in Hong Kong vies for grand cru labels, but for those seeking gems of value at reasonable prices, turn to the back to the wine list and scan the Chilean, New Zealand and South African sections.
Les Celebrites at Hotel Nikko is often overlooked, maybe because of its location.
Dedicated to fine dining by a French gourmet who is general manager, value is impressed.
First, visit the buffet and load up on salmon and oysters and cold cuts and salad.
Then there is a choice of seven main dishes - poached sole with chive sauce, grilled veal loin with oyster mushroom sauce - and a very Gallic dessert trolley.
One favourite for many years has been the Taipan Grill in the Hong Kong Hotel. A five-course set dinner offers choices in every course, from tuna carpaccio through to oyster risotto to brandy lobster stew and mango tart.
My philosophy is simple. If a talented chef has gone to the trouble to offer a dish like grilled duck breast on braised cabbage with sour cherry broth, then there is a good reason for the choice.
Maybe a consignment of wonderful duck has arrived from Guangxi, where the best birds are grown on the mainland. Whatever, the kitchen has put its heart and minds into this dish and, unless you hate duck, you would be foolish not to try it.
Lunch at the Furama's Rotisserie restaurant starts with a stunning appetiser selection, soup and then a choice of five main courses. Typically, these include a couple of seafood selections, (poached sea bass in watercress or marinate prawns in citrus dressing last time I was there), veal, chicken and a vegetarian course.
As usual in most fine dining rooms, there is a dessert buffet selection that would drive weight watchers to despair.
Margaux at Island Shangri-La is exquisite and offers choices of one, two, or three-course lunches. Pan- fried rib-eye steak with shallot sauce, eggplant, zucchini and tomato gratin? Are we on the Left Bank of the Seine or the northern shore of Fragrant Harbour? Hong Kong gourmets in their endless gastronomic odyssey for something new sometimes overlook the culinary landmarks which create the high standards of which we can be proud.