'I'll be in Hong Kong, Jamie Oliver won't': Battle of the chefs as Harlan Goldstein opens restaurant in same building

Fighting talk from restaurateur over competition from British chef

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 11:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 6:00pm

Harlan Goldstein is not sleeping too well or seeing so much of his wife at the moment. He's also gained a little extra weight.

Even wearing blue jeans and his signature black chef's jacket, he looks a little stressed. These are not the symptoms of depression but the result of putting his efforts into opening two large new restaurants in Causeway Bay.

They happen to be in the same building as Jamie Oliver's new restaurant.

"The difference between me and Jamie Oliver is that I'll be here, he won't," says Goldstein.

Contemporary Japanese venue Sushi To by Harlan Goldstein soft opened last week, while the second venture, Penthouse, is set to open next week.

The openings double the number of Goldstein's restaurants, while a planned fifth restaurant focusing on Italian food has been shelved. The expansion is something of a turn around for the New Yorker. After he fell out with his previous employers and established Gold by Harlan Goldstein, he said it was unlikely he would run multiple restaurants or expand his number of venues quickly as he would find it difficult to maintain quality.

"The philosophy is still the same. I'm going to lock down right now so I can focus on quality," he says.

The justification for expanding now is that he feels he has trained the teams in his existing outlets to the point that he can rely on them to work to his standards even when he's not there. But he plans to spend time at each venue.

Goldstein is determined to "not just be a name on a door".

The space is contemporary and muted and, as with Penthouse, has impressive views over Causeway Bay, the harbour and Tsim Sha Tsui.

While Sushi To is named for business partner Simon To, who is a big fan of Japanese cuisine, and the menu is the work of Japanese executive chef Norihisa Maeda, dishes definitely have some Goldsteinesque twists. If you've read a Goldstein menu before you'll recognise the distinct approach to language and food in the BLT maki, which incorporates crispy bacon, tomato, lettuce, cheddar cheese and mustard mayonnaise for an unusual but satisfying piece of sushi. Ditto the Magic Mushrooms roll with its porcini and shiitake mushrooms, tempura flakes and white truffle mayonnaise.

Even the panko crusted deep-fried Hiroshima oyster comes with one of Goldstein's favourite ingredients - a miso sauce infused with black truffle.

Although restaurants in Japan tend to focus on one area of the country's cuisine, Sushi To offers not only the obvious sushi and sashimi but also robatayaki, teppanyaki, tempura and stone pot rice.

Goldstein stresses that it is Maeda and not he who will be the chef.

"I'm his backbone, his shoulder to lean on. I taught him a few tricks and techniques, and I've been the flavour tester and the ideas man, but he's the chef."

Maeda, from Osaka, has been a chef since 1986, working mainly in Japan but also in Singapore and for the Aqua group here and in London.

Goldstein says the menu prices are friendly, but surely the rent on two 6,800 sq ft premises and a 5,000 sq ft rooftop can't be so friendly?

"Rent's not friendly anywhere, but what I can tell you is that the landlord wanted us here. They headhunted us, they approached us. They wanted my brand. I am probably the number one local chef recognised as a Westerner who is independent, without wanting to blow my own trumpet."

A floor above Sushi To in Soundwill Plaza is Penthouse. The restaurant, which seats 100, will be more recognisably in the Goldstein style, featuring dishes influenced by Spain and Italy.

Goldstein has bought a charcoal-fired Josper grill for roasting beef, lamb, chicken and fish. There will be three types of paella and Goldstein says the entrance will be dominated by a five-metre-long dessert table piled with European pastries and desserts made with liquid nitrogen.

The space has a New York loft look, with bare walls and muted tones. A "sound designer" has also been brought in to create an ambient soundtrack.

Penthouse's bar, called Harlan Goldstein's Midtown Rooftop Bar, will be smoker friendly and offer cocktails, including the bourbon-based Wall St After 5pm, which sounds like a possible antidote to Goldstein's own tensions.