Restaurant trends: Was 2013 the year the city's dining scene went casual?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 7:16pm

When even as staid a lady as the JW Marriott Hotel can hoist its skirts on a restaurant with the industrial chic of Flint Grill & Bar, its latest venue, then exciting times may lie ahead for Hong Kong diners.

The menu offers grill classics but the look is pure New York, a city that lent its attitude to many venues last year.

Other culinary influences came from as far and wide as Reunion island off the coast of Africa (Upper Modern Bistro), Peru (Mayta) and Greece (Souvla).

Let's hope restaurateurs also develop influences closer to home. Last year saw the opening of more regional Japanese restaurants, one of the city's few northeastern Thai outlets and the latest branch of The Night Market, which offers more than the standard Taiwanese dumplings.

Dining continues its long trend of becoming increasingly casual, especially when it comes to French food. In Wan Chai, Serge et le Phoque took casual to new heights - it was still being built around the diners on the opening night. The two chefs behind the restaurant have Michelin-star status restaurants in Paris but are determined to keep their offerings simple here.

The menu changes daily, as it does at Le Port Parfumé in Central. This restaurant's extensive use of a charcoal-fired Josper grill means it is arguably not the simple bistro it claims to be, but it does offer bistro staples such as Basque omelettes, crème caramel and its own take on the meringue and custard dessert île flottante.

Madam S'ate, sister restaurant to Madam Sixty Ate, offers French provincial cooking. But if the truffled cheese toastie we sampled is typical, this provincial cooking is hardly rustic fare.

Even fine dining paragon Caprice has made part of its space more casual with the opening of a cheese bar, offering a wide selection of one of its signature items with interesting drinks pairings, including beer.

It's not all casual, though - one of the first openings of this year is a fine dining French restaurant, La Saison, in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Spain continues to spread its culinary influence - even Coloane island in Macau now has a tapas bar. Elite Concepts boss Paul Hsu tells us he is on a mission to promote pairing the country's wines with Chinese cuisines.

Hong Kong imports many trends, but there are some we should be happy not to see here.

Take, for example, the "beauty apartheid" that emerged in Europe. French restaurant group Costes is alleged to have a hiring policy that rules out unattractive staff. Worse, its Paris outlets are rumoured to seat patrons who are considered good looking in the best seats. Ugly eaters find themselves banished to corners.

While Hong Kong diners have a poor reputation among restaurateurs for not showing up to booked tables, the industry still remains reluctant to ask customers to divulge their credit card details and charge a cancellation fee, a practice common in other world cities.

Not having much of a celebrity chef culture, we are also spared the accompanying melodrama. "Higella" - need we say more?