Net gains: a new wave of seafood spots
Shellfish types in for a treat as a number of Western-style seafood eateries open in the city, writes Vanessa Yung
WHEN IT COMES TO seafood, Hongkongers know what they like. Squid sashimi with wasabi and soy sauce, spicy wok-fried typhoon-shelter crab in crispy garlic, and steamed grouper drizzled with sweet soya sauce - the list goes on.
But while there's an abundance of good Cantonese-style cooking in the city, in the past there haven't been many affordable international outlets. Luckily, an army of seafood restaurants has opened across the city to fill the gap.
An extension of co-owners Leslie Li and Sandy Fletcher's home delivery business, Exotix Venue in Tai Kok Tsui serves produce that redefines freshness and cleanliness. The petite corner shop dishes up sashimi-grade goodies that are revived and depurated using an Australian-imported fish-farming system in their Sha Tin base.
"Basically we reclock the seafood that's been shipped live to Hong Kong back to zero, just like it's fresh out of water. It's to let them [excrete] all the stuff they withhold during transportation," says Fletcher, an accountant-turned-chef. "We adjust the temperature, lighting and salinity of each tank individually. Each system is separate from the others, so if there's any disease in one tank, there won't be any cross-contamination."
As many people are still reluctant to make purchases without seeing a shop front, says Fletcher, the eight-seater eatery that opened four months ago serves as an entry point for customers to get a taste of everything, from New Zealand Tua Tua clams to French blue mussels and Boston lobsters before ordering.
Their crunchy razor clam sashimi is good alone or when spiked up with a Thai spicy sauce. Mud crabs from the Philippines, which have pure white gills from depuration and plump roe from rehydration, is turned into an enticing Gejang (Korean marinated crab) dish using sake, soy sauce and fruit.
Li and Fletcher regularly hold lobster sashimi making or oyster shucking workshops and are happy to share their recipes. Their minimalistic kitchen, where costumers can see the chefs at work, is testimony to the fact that their ingredients require minimal washing and preparation.
"The small kitchen is intended so costumers won't feel intrusive - if we can do it here without a professional kitchen, you can do it at home too," says Li. "We want costumers to have the full experience of eating out while eating at home, but cheaper. We educate all our costumers, empowering them so they know what they're eating."
Le Port Parfumé
At Le Port Parfumé (Fragrant Harbour in French) in Sheung Wan, the freshness of the ingredients is all down to chef Kenny Ho's relationship with fishmongers in Aberdeen. He uses mainly local catches to control quality and cost. All produce is freshly caught every morning.
"Our ingredients are cheaper and fresher," he says. "I don't want people to think that dining at a seafood restaurant has to be very expensive - importing ingredients increases the cost considerably."
A sister restaurant of Les Amis Group's Bistro du Vin in Kennedy Town, this one-month-old restaurant has a nostalgic French and nautical theme. Ho describes the cuisine as French with a Spanish touch, courtesy of the Spanish-imported Josper charcoal oven, with which almost everything from the wild sea beam to bamboo clam, lobster and velvet shrimp are cooked.
"It cooks food quickly and prevents the release of too much liquid. Using higher temperatures and a shorter cooking time, locks moisture in," says Ho, who has worked at Robuchon in Central and the now-defunct Cépage in Wan Chai.
"I hope our guests like the extra smokiness of our dishes. We use Korean charcoal not only for a more even flame but also for its cleaner flavour."
Ho says there's nothing fancy about the way he prepares his dishes. He stuffs fish with fennel and lemon and grills them with the skin on. Before serving, the skin is removed and sea salt added to taste. The baby squid and chorizo omelette gets its intense flavour from the spicy pork sausage.
"There's nothing too complicated - I love the ingredients' original flavour," Ho adds.
Fish & Meat
When chef Russell Doctrove eats out, he seldom orders fish. "I'll order meat because I find fish dishes too unimaginative," he says. "That's probably one reason why most people don't appreciate fish as much. A lot of restaurants just stay with the tried and tested classic recipes."
Taking the helm of Fish & Meat in Central, after stints at Albert Roux's The Waterside Inn in Bray and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Doctrove is trying to prove otherwise. He recommends marinated raw Ahi tuna with compressed watermelon and roasted New Zealand langoustines with charred Sicilian lemon aioli.
"The former is literally only three ingredients - tuna, watermelon and quail eggs, while the latter - you don't find it on too many menus here due to the price, but we got a very good deal with one of our suppliers - you just need some lemon mayonnaise on top to bring out the freshness of the langoustines," he says.
"They sum up the style of food we do, focusing on honest ingredients, simplicity and freshness."
Other appealing dishes include sea urchin bruschetta and sautéed clams with chili flakes, garlic, white wine and clam emulsion.
After it opened in November, Fish & Meat created a buzz just like Maximal Concepts' two other popular spots Blue Butcher and Brickhouse. Its vibrant ambience, spiced up by the view of the action in the open kitchen and some interesting cocktails, helps make it a casual, cool place to eat.
"Over 70 per cent of our ingredients are certified sustainable," says restaurant manager Wong Tak-kong of Fishful Season in Tai Hang. "We pay attention to size and species and how fish are caught. Not many places are as insistent as we are, for us it's essential."
Sustainability is the motto of this one-year-old restaurant, not only because owner Leung Ka-shing wants to preserve natural resources for the next generation. He also thinks it tastes better.
"The treatment they get is different: imagine produce which is barely alive after trawling as opposed to line-caught fish that are treated with care," adds Leung.
Its seafood platter, which is served chilled or grilled, has rarer items sourced from around the globe. Before ordering, guests can see the Moroccan octopus, Irish sea whelk, Nigerian jumbo king prawn and Spanish scarlet shrimp all displayed behind a window in the kitchen.
Their US Oregon wild black cod baked with lemon grass is velvety without being too greasy. The rich and creamy mussel soup, which takes up to four hours to make, is another delight. The vongole is made from house-made pasta with Italian clams and white wine.
The Luxe Seafood Bar & Resto
With its curved bar at the entrance, high ceiling and mirror-studded interior, Sushi One Groups's latest venture, The Luxe Seafood Bar & Resto, is not the kind of restaurant you usually find in Mong Kok. Its Chinese-Canadian chef Leo Kam (who has worked at places such as Nobu and Gordon Ramsay's Maze) says guests can expect something a little different.
"The menu is all over the place. I have taken influences from my Korean travels, my time in Europe, and dishes I grew up with," says Kam, who comes from a Hong Kong family but was born and raised in Canada.
"For instance, the Chilean seabass with pomelo salad is a bit Thai style - I spent four months in Thailand carving food, looking after elephants and travelling."
Other innovative dishes include Kam's signature FOB [fresh off the boat] steamer, which he describes as a play on poon choi (a local potpourri dish of meat, seafood and vegetables in a large basin) and crab or clam boils from New Orleans or the US East Coast.
For their seafood platter, instead of the classic cocktail sauce, red wine vinaigrette and garlic aioli, Kam serves kimchi kewpie and garlic kewpie as well as a Chinese red vinegar infused with Sichuan peppercorn and a salsa verde made with mint, coriandar, shiso leaf and rice vinegar.
"Each platter comes with four sauces, so there's something for everyone. I've been getting requests for cocktail sauce and such, but there're a lot of seafood restaurants in Hong Kong that have that. I want stuff unique to The Luxe."
Time to shell out
BB’s Lobster & Seafood Specialist
6/F QRE Plaza, 202 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2838 3272
2/F Parekh House, 63 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 2810 9881
G/F, 6 Hoi King Street, Tai Kok Tsui, tel: 8100 6812
Fish & Meat
2/F, 32 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 2565 6788
23 Shepherd Street, Tai Hang, tel: 2590 0690
127 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 3106 3161
Le Port Parfumé
Shop C, 6-10 Kau U Fong, Central, tel: 2824 3018
The Luxe Seafood Bar & Resto
Shop 12, 12/F Langham Place, 8 Argyle Street, Mong Kok, tel: 3184 0088