Favourite Hong Kong restaurants of David Lai, culinary director, Fish School, and chef/owner of Neighborhood
The one place I eat at more often than any other is Mak’s Noodle (77 Wellington Street, Central, tel: 2854 3810), which is near my restaurant, Neighborhood.
I order the same thing: beef tendon noodle with soup served on the side, gai lan and a bowl of wonton. I consider this a perfect meal – simple, light, and well done. It is expensive compared to other noodle shops but their soup is clean and complex, unlike the MSG shortcuts you’d find at other cheap places in town. You don’t need to be fancy to do something properly.
Hong Kong was once a late-night dining paradise but, for a number of reasons, late-night dining options have largely dried up. Therefore I was thrilled to find a Japanese gem called Hidden (room D, 3/F Prosperous Commercial Building, 54 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay, tel: 2504 1511) earlier this year, where chef Suzuki prepares kushiage (fried skewers) and other izakaya fare. It is open until 4am. Apparently it’s also an industry hangout and on any given night after 11pm you may find a few chefs eating at the counter.
For special occasions there is Amber (7/F Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 2132 0066). Few restaurants in town devote such consistent effort to improve and execute fine dining so dynamically. I nearly worked for chef Ekkebus at Amber 10 years ago and now he’s a good friend. Besides the normal menu, he also prepares updated versions of labour-intensive classics such as lievre à la royale (wild hare in blood sauce) or poulet en vessie (chicken poached in pig’s bladder with truffle).
Another venue I enjoy is Ta Vie (2/F The Pottinger, 74 Queen's Road Central, tel: 2351 5808), where chef Sato cooks a personal cuisine that reflects multicultural influences. He came from a Western cooking background, then became head chef at Tenku Ryu Gin (101/F ICC, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2302 0222), one of the best Japanese restaurants. Until recently, restaurants and chefs had to fit into conveniently defined categories – French, Italian, molecular, Nordic, etc – and any deviation would be panned or misunderstood as “fusion”. I think the restaurant scene has reached a point where chefs have more freedom to explore personal visions.
Another place that I think does a fantastic job is Serge et le phoque (The Zenith, 3 Wanchai Road, Wan Chai, tel: 5465 2000). The food is contemporary French and it delivers in such an inventive, whimsical yet non-gimmicky manner. It is a place that makes serious food without taking itself too seriously. The restaurant is distantly related to Chateaubriand in Paris and I think it captures the same irreverent spirit.
I love Chiuchow-style cooking because of its clean flavours and Chong Fat (60-62 South Wall Road, Kowloon City, tel: 2383 3114) is one of the most authentic. It is located in Kowloon City, the old airport ghetto that is also one of Hong Kong’s most vibrant food neighbourhoods. While most Chiuchow restaurants have a display section of pre-cooked food – fish, crab, goose, pork, etc – the front of Chong Fat looks like a Chinese tapas bar. There must be dozens of choices of different dishes and I want to order everything every time. Another reason Chong Fat is so impressive is its fish selection. No other restaurant, regardless of how luxurious or expensive, has such a complete collection of hard-to-find local seafood. Some of my fish vendors also supply Chong Fat and I know for a fact that they are always willing to pay the most to get the best. Note to myself and those who want to try: bring lots of cash because the place can get expensive if you order their high-end seafood, and they don’t take cards – the ATM is a long walk away.
As told to Kylie Knott