British nose-to-tail chefs praise Hong Kong’s eat-it-all culture as they join Rhoda’s Nate Green to serve up a meat lover’s dream
Fergus Henderson, Richard Turner and Trevor Gulliver join hands with Hong Kong acolyte Nate Green to cook up a week’s worth of feasts. From ox tripe and cheek gratin to a salad of crispy pig’s cheek and chicory, nothing was wasted
It would be hard to find four more committed carnivores than the chefs and restaurateurs holding court in Rhoda, Sai Ying Pun, last week. Between them, they are responsible for some of London and Hong Kong’s most renowned meat alchemy, with their restaurants turning often humble produce into dishes which at times border on the legendary.
The quartet boast more than a century of experience between them, not to mention a simple, shared love of “bloody good food and wine”.
There’s the stocky, tattooed Nate Green, sporting a magnificent moustache in support of Movember, one of his favourite causes. Rhoda – the restaurant named after his grandmother – is where the 35-year-old Briton has added to his burgeoning reputation as one of the most gutsy, honest and talented chefs in Hong Kong, running a kitchen where almost all the dishes are cooked over wood fire and charcoal.
If there was a discernible sense of nervous excitement on his face, it wasn’t surprising, given the meat royalty who had joined him for last week’s five-night residency. There was Richard Turner, a former British paratrooper turned chef, responsible for the hugely successful and popular Hawksmoor steakhouses, the annual London celebration of flesh on fire called Meatopia, as well as arguably the British capital’s best barbecue restaurant, Pitt Cue Co.
Green once worked under Turner at a gastropub in Surrey, a county south of London, and the compliment was returned with interest last week.
Then there was the esteemed – in some eyes, almost venerable – chef and owner of St John Bread and Wine in London, Fergus Henderson MBE, alongside his business partner, long-time friend and wine guru, Trevor Gulliver.
No mention of Henderson could avoid reference to his history with – and love of – nose-to-tail cooking, and his belief that the whole beast should be consumed.
That could mean duck hearts, calves’ brains or even squirrel on the menu within the simple, whitewashed walls of St John Bread & Wine, a stone’s throw from London’s ancient Smithfield meat market.
While Henderson has been anointed by many in the Western culinary tradition as the godfather of nose-to-tail, in Hong Kong he was keen to point out that he had only championed something that had been done the world over for millennia – especially so in Cantonese cuisine, where squeamishness or avoidance of “difficult” cuts of meat would be unfathomable.
Tall, and dressed in a trademark pinstripe suit made from traditional butcher’s aprons, Henderson is the physical embodiment of Britishness, with his ruddy face and always inquisitive eyes peering behind small round glasses. He has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for more than two decades, one symptom of which is that he is very softly spoken.
“Cantonese is the spiritual home of nose-to-tail,” he says gently, with a smile on his face. “They really know it here, it’s the only way it is.”
Green agrees: “If you’re a good chef, you know how to use everything. In London, a lot of people cook the same way we do – there’s a generation of chefs coming through stepping away from fine dining, just wanting to cook good, tasty food. It’s nice to be doing something with the old guard.”
“‘The ‘old guard’? What did he just say?” Gulliver interjects with mock horror. “We change our menu twice a day.”
The exchange was typical of the warmth and humour between the men, clearly kindred spirits. When asked about their responsibility for a rise in the use of offal in British dining, Henderson replies with a clear twinkle in his eye: “Undoubtedly there are fewer puns, the sort of ‘offaly good’ comments have all gone.”
Henderson is a culinary icon to many, someone often called “a chef’s chef”, and the dish of his that carries almost cult status is his roasted bone marrow, served with grilled sourdough, parsley salad and salt. It was chosen by his good friend Anthony Bourdain as his hypothetical “death row” final meal, not a bad accolade from a man who has had more than his fair share of memorable things to eat.
So it was surprising it didn’t feature over the five-night residency at Rhoda. It did make an appearance of sorts, in a decadent ox tripe and cheek gratin, albeit with the marrow mixed into the parsley crumb that topped it, alongside simple but delicious buttered Savoy cabbage with sage.
Indeed, Gulliver is quick to dispel the notion that St John is all about meat. “We have lots of vegetarian customers. We cook vegetables,” he exclaims.
They have also championed otherwise unexpected ingredients, such as Henderson’s use of parsley to make a salad, or their seasonal love of sprout tops, which used to be thrown away but are now considered a special find.
The menu at Rhoda was a medley of favourites from each chef’s restaurant as well as interpretations of one chef’s dish by another.
A beautifully executed celebration of a simple British classic was devilled kidneys.
First dusted in cayenne, flour and English mustard powder, they were fried and served in a delicious sauce made mainly from Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock and butter, the whole glorious ensemble then heaped over hot buttered toast.
Another stand-out was a salad of crispy pig’s cheek and chicory, with the slightly bitter notes of the leaves contrasting with the snap of crackling, the tender meat and the sharp dressing.
The hallmark of all the plates was stripped-back presentation which left the ingredients as the focus, with no smear or foam in sight.
Turner and Henderson have been to Hong Kong many times, but each clearly delighted again in checking out the city’s restaurant scene, visiting old favourites and new haunts. Among the places on their itinerary was The Peninsula’s fine-dining Cantonese restaurant Spring Moon and Rainbow Seafood on Lamma Island. Dim sum star Tim Ho Wan was another, as was that perennial favourite of visiting chefs, Yardbird, for its yakitori and cocktails.
All the courses at Rhoda were matched with wines from St John’s winery in the Minervois region of southwest France, where taste, technique and terroir all come together. The same could be said of St John, Rhoda and Hawksmoor.
Rhoda, Upton, 345 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan, tel: 2177 5050
St John Bread and Wine, 94-96 Commercial St, London E1 6LZ, tel: +44 20 7251 0848
Hawksmoor, branches across London, thehawksmoor.com