Australian actor-singer Gregory Rivers revels in the flavours at the Seafood Room in Causeway Bay
We've just sat down when Gregory Rivers drops a bomb: "I don't like seafood."
And yet here we are, about to have lunch at the newly opened Seafood Room in Causeway Bay. As the name suggests, this restaurant specialises in seafood and offers more than 50 different types of dishes, making us wonder if we'd made a terrible faux pas in agreeing to meet him here for lunch.
But he's game for anything. "I like just about everything if it's cooked well with fresh ingredients," he says. So we settle down, forgo the lunch set menu, and instead opt to go on a food adventure and sample as many recommended dishes as we can fit on our table.
Soon, three large plates of generously portioned appetisers arrive: fresh tuna carpaccio with foie gras and truffle; juicy prawn langoustine tartare with avocado, truffle and caviar; and salmon tataki with jalapeno and avocado that bursts with flavour.
He starts by trying the tuna carpaccio, and, after taking a moment to mull over his first bite, he announces: "This is really good."
Born and raised in Australia, Rivers was surrounded by fresh seafood, which explains his initially sceptical attitude towards seafood in Hong Kong.
"It's fresher in Australia," he says. "A lot of seafood in Hong Kong has a really strong fishy flavour to it, and in Australia, it doesn't."
But today, throughout the meal, he's even reaching for seconds. We're almost finished the first course when all of a sudden, Rivers quips: "You can tell from eating the food that this place must be really expensive."
Gesturing to the dishes, he elaborates: "The way they blend the flavours is not standard. They're not just depending on really strong sauces or burning the food to give it flavour. They're using subtle combinations of different flavours and they're trying to balance [the dish]."
It's not just food that Rivers is willing to take a chance on; his love of adventure also extends to the wide range of projects that the actor-singer has done and is planning on doing soon. Right now, Rivers is busy filming Storage Storeys, a 12-episode TV series produced by RTHK. In it, he plays a delivery man who, in the latest episode, delivered pig-head skin across the border from Sheung Shui to the mainland. Though the role isn't glamorous, Rivers is pretty excited. "It's really cool. I don't have to be a policeman or a supervisor or a boss," he says, poking fun at the majority of the roles he used to play.
As busy as he is now, he's about to get even busier. Before he can finish wrapping up filming for Storage Stories , he'll be busy preparing for a retelling of Journey to the West in dance form.
Spearheaded by the City Contemporary Dance Company, the production is set to be an exciting rendition of the classic. Luckily for Rivers, he'll be the narrator and won't have to dance much because, as he confesses: "I'm a really, really bad dancer."
Then in September, Rivers will rehearse for a new Cantonese opera based on Mao's personal life. Fictional and without a hint of politics, the opera is so novel that a script doesn't even exist yet. Even so, Rivers is looking forward to the challenges of performing a Cantonese opera.
"It's like doing Shakespeare," he says. "Shakespeare's a different kind of English, it's an old English and the Cantonese opera uses old Cantonese, so it's a lot harder to remember."
Next, we are served our mains: rib-eye with chimichurri sauce, miso salmon with lime, and abalone with asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and black pepper sauce cooked Chinese-style. The rib-eye is moist and juicy, the salmon melts in your mouth, and the abalone dish perfectly mixes the chewy abalone with crunchy asparagus.
When Rivers cuts himself a piece of salmon, he says: "This one's going to be good."
"When you put your fork into it and you don't need to cut - you just pull the meat away, then usually it's pretty good." He's also taken by how the chefs have controlled the amount of ginger they've added into the dish.
"You see that? That's cool how they've got just enough, so [when] you taste it, it comes as a surprise," he says. "It's more fun [that way]."
Rivers says he likes it "when they use just enough [seasoning] to taste [all] the ingredients" and reveals that he's a sucker for dishes that bring out the subtle flavours of each ingredient. "I don't like it when they give you so much [of one ingredient] that all you can taste is that ingredient, nothing else," he explains.
In the middle of the meal, his friend arrives, and he starts chatting with her in flawless Cantonese, which he learned while singing along to Canto-pop when he was at the University of New South Wales. We've been conversing in English for so long that if it wasn't for a couple of instances - like when Rivers would forget a word in English but know it in Cantonese - you'd forget that Rivers is better known to the public as "Ho Kwok-wing".
He's lived seven more years in Hong Kong than in Australia. "I consider myself a local, unless I'm looking in the mirror," he says. "It's one of those things when you speak the language and everyone around you is Chinese, you forget that they are looking at a Caucasian."
Even his favourite place to eat out is just "a store" that serves simple yet filling dishes that are popular with locals.
"I have lunch there every day and I have the same thing every day: satay beef rice with half a slice of spam and one fried egg," he says.
When our colourful desserts come out, an Instagram-worthy yuzu tart with toasted meringue with green tea ice-cream on the side and soft, flavourful baked vanilla cheesecake with strawberries, Rivers digs right in.
"There's one good thing about this table being so high," he says to his friend. "They can't see my tummy."