What top restaurateurs the Roca brothers think of Hong Kong dim sum and Chinese tea
WATCH: Mooncakes, steamed shrimp dumplings and barbecue pork puffs on menu for trio behind one of world’s best restaurants – who reveal to us the places they ate at on recent trip to Hong Kong
Every summer, the three brothers who run one of the world’s best restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, shut up shop and go on an extended five-week tour sponsored by a Spanish financial institution.
This year, after eight days in London, Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca landed in Hong Kong, and we had an opportunity to meet them at Spring Moon in The Peninsula Hong Kong.
Joan is the executive chef of the restaurant, currently rated No. 2 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and previously No.1, youngest brother Jordi looks after desserts, and Josep is the sommelier. He has a keen interest in Chinese teas, which is why we arranged a Chinese tea tasting and food pairing for the trio.
Josep was excited to try the teas, taking pictures of the many clay teapots on the tea counter and smelling the dry leaves of the teas we would be sampling, prepared by Daniel Yeung, tea master at Spring Moon.
His brothers also enjoyed the teas, but took particular interest in how they paired with different dishes.
First up was oolong tea from Chaoan Mountain, paired with Spring Moon’s famous egg custard mooncakes. As the desserts man for El Celler de Can Roca, Jordi really enjoyed the mooncake, with its flaky pastry and custard centre.
The second tea was puer, from Yunnan province, which Jordi observed had a woody, earthy smell and taste. Yeung explained that because it was fermented and aged for several years, people who drink this tea in the evenings won’t have as much trouble getting to sleep as they would if they drank green tea.
The dark tea was paired with baked barbecue pork puffs, another signature dim sum. Josep asked for a second cup of the tea.
The third tea was longjin, or dragon well tea, a fresh green tea from Hangzhou in eastern China. Because it is delicate and fragrant, it was paired with steamed shrimp dumplings to complement the sweetness of the seafood, said Yeung. The three praised Yeung for what they felt was an excellent pairing.
Keen to sample as much Chinese food as they could during their visit, the brothers told us they had visited restaurants including Little Bao, Din Tai Fung, Bo Innovation, Amber, and The Chairman.
The Rocas weren’t in Hong Kong just to eat and drink. They were also to choose two young Hong Kong chefs for a four-month apprenticeship at El Celler de Can Roca.
“We want them to learn our techniques, our philosophy, our way of cooking, how we treat food products, and our culture,” Joan says. “We want to integrate them into our family so that they feel more comfortable and feel at home.”
A Hong Kong friend of mine who visited their restaurant in June raved about the warm hospitality the three brothers show their guests.
“Behind the successful restaurant is hard work, generosity, hospitality, commitment and authenticity,” says Joan. Middle brother Josep adds: “What’s important for us is hospitality. Joan visited many restaurants in France in the 1990s and we learned it ourselves, but we also understand we have a lot to learn.”
We’ve previously spoken to Joan and Josep about how El Celler de Can Roca came about and the philosophy of the restaurant, but this was the first time we’d met Jordi.
“I didn’t know anything when I was young. I worked with Josep in the dining room, and started preparing meals in the kitchen with Joan,” he recalls. He found his calling after meeting the restaurant’s then pastry chef, he says.
With three brothers running a top restaurant, one might think arguments would spark about, say, what dishes to put on the menu, the flavours of a dish not being quite right, or whether the right wine was paired with the dish. However, Josep says: “Because of the generosity of my brothers, we share our suggestions and that brings inspiration to me when choosing wines.” And Joan adds: “Every dish we build together from dialogue, from the three of us.
“And it’s not only us – we expand the dialogue of creativity with our team. It’s not only cooks, but a botanist, scientist, agronomist, the industrial engineer who designs our crockery.”
“And plumbers and electricians,” adds Jordi. “If we don’t have electricity we can’t open the restaurant.”