WHAT kind of a menu is this? No pasta. No category for vegetarians. No $250 slabs of protein. No tome of showy entrees garnished with hyperbole and bound in leather? Welcome to Felix and David Abella. The menu for the Peninsula's new restaurant has the scope of a happy hour bill of fare - Oriental nachos with fish jerky, roasted char siu pot-stickers with green curry butter sauce, polenta and wild mushroom salad, grilled swordfish with choi sum and sticky rice, an entree of grilled vegetables. Culinary heresy? Sorry. When asked to describe his style of food, the 33-year-old chef from Hawaii, shrugs: 'Real simple.' The protege of Roy Yamaguchi, the chef/restaurateur in Hawaii credited with shaping Euro-Asia cuisine, Abella was recently voted one of the top young chefs in America. In person, he is small and dark. And today, somewhat agitated. 'A lot is going on in there,' he points to the kitchen. 'I'm not much of a talker,' he says as the interview begins. His easy demeanour refreshes. 'I'm not here to bowl anyone over, or turn Hong Kong upside down. I'm going slow.' He was selected to create the food for Felix after a week-long tryout last February. The Pen flew him in, his first time ever in Asia, and he cooked for the executives. His menu of seven appetisers, three salads, six entrees and six desserts is deceptively simple. But the combinations of easily recognisable ingredients are set-off by intensely-flavoured herbs, spices and condiments. 'People expect formal food because the Pen is formal. But Felix isn't. The average check runs $300 per person, without drinks.' Though he and his cooking may be low key, nothing about the 120-seat restaurant is. Felix is the Pen's trump card to attract a younger, hipper crowd. The answer to 'cheap and cheerful', casual, informal, the dress code keeps ties and sport-coats at home. Designed by Frenchman Philippe Starck, it has the feel of a theatre with tables and chairs. The circular Wine Room revives memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A pair of balcony bars overlook the dining room. Patrons who want privacy can settle for the salon where a dozen aluminum chairs in boudoir pink velvet stand under a hulking Baccarat chandelier. Table reservations for grazers are not necessary at the oyster bar, a high-tech refectory-style table that glows in the dark and can be used as a catwalk. For weary disco-devotees, there are crystal stools in the padded tunnel-like disco. The Felix experience begins with a ride in the teak-panelled lifts and ends when you sit up against Starck's face. Each of the dining chairs has a slip-cover bearing the facial likeness of Starck and members of his entourage. As Abella points out a sculptural detail, he becomes a star-gazed visitor, a beaming new employee. 'Have I made trade-offs? Okay, so I don't live in a beach house on Maui. But here, I have freedom and unbelievable equipment. The best slicers and scales, a state-of-the-art combi oven. My staff [of seven] are great, and I am not easy to work for. I don't come from a hotel environment. I am used to making the decisions.' In July, he and his then-girlfriend Tracy got married at City Hall. She now works as the spa manager at the Regent. What little free time they have is spent at home in Mid-Levels. Dining out is rare, but so far, Grissini's, Michelle's and Capriccio get high marks. Ditto for the dai pai dongs along Jordan Road. Hong Kong is more stunning than San Francisco or New York. He gave up the position of executive chef at Restaurant Roy's Kahana in Hawaii because Felix gave him the opportunity to move out from Roy's shadow and create something of his own. 'In the end it was chemistry between the people here and me. This hotel is probably the most conservative in the world. To hire a guy like Starck then an American, when they usually hire Europeans, that was something. I liked that kind of risk-taking.' He considers Yamaguchi, his former boss for five years, his only teacher. The others don't count. 'There is nothing subtle about Roy's food. It was about freshness and powerful flavours. He could take any ethnic food and make it taste better. 'He believed good food was just common sense and passion. I've never seen anyone get so excited about food, even something like pig's feet. 'He was the hardest boss, but the fairest. He promised nothing. He said this work was tough and the money, lousy. There were no golden carrots. 'That's my philosophy. Some people think I am easy and flexible. Others think I'm an SOB. 'If one of my staff has a good idea, and it works, it goes on the menu. I have no ego about it.'