Shane Osborn's latest venture emphasises the food over the chef
Chef bucks the trend of restaurants trading on a famous name
Arcane might seem an obscure name for a restaurant but chef Shane Osborn can shed some light on the darkness.
Saying "the culture of the celebrity chef doesn't sit well with me", Osborn wants the focus at his new restaurant - which launches formally on November 24 - to be on food, service and hospitality rather than the chef.
It might seem incongruous that Osborn would then consent to an interview in a major newspaper but his past speaks to his sincerity. In London his first restaurant Pied à Terre had two Michelin stars for eight years and his second, L'Autre Pied had one star for four years but Osborn gave it all up to take his family on a trip round the world.
Osborn's origins are in Perth, Australia, where he became an apprentice chef at the age of 15. Although working in the city's British and French restaurants in the 1980s gave him plenty of ideas of how kitchens should be run, he says, "the food was not very good quality. That made me want to leave."
He pitched up in London aged 20 in 1990 and pretty much stayed there until 2011. Aside, that is, from a break in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he worked in different Michelin rated restaurants in 1993 and 1994 and came to have a high regard for Scandinavian food.
"There is a lightness there. It's about quality, lushness, the crispy texture - they love their raw onions," says Osborn. Although the modern Scandinavian food movement, as exemplified by the award-winning Noma, hadn't yet evolved, chefs there had started moving towards using local and organic produce.
Osborn returned to London and started Pied à Terre, going with a modern French-based cuisine. Not coincidentally, the chef is a big fan of the pinot noir red wines of Burgundy and wanted to create a menu of "light, fresh food" that would match the wines. "I like Bordeaux as well, but I definitely prefer Burgundy," he says.
Osborn used his limited holiday opportunities to explore Europe with his family, travelling extensively in Spain, France, Italy and Germany.
"They weren't food holidays but places with a great food cultures. We went to Brittany, Normandy and Paris," says Osborn. An ideal day in France started with good coffee and canelé cakes, followed by a good wine with lunch and then cooking in the evening. "I just love good food," he says.
Eventually those short breaks would prove inadequate. After 25 years in the restaurant industry, including "13 very, very long years" at Pied à Terre, he sold up to travel with his family.
This seemed an odd move for a chef at the top of his game, but Osborn says, "It's the best thing I have ever done apart from having a family." He attended a World's 50 Best Restaurants' event just before he left and many of his colleagues were extremely jealous, he says
The two-year trip took the Osborns through Africa to Australia and New Zealand and then South America to Asia.
Highlights were Peru for its "phenomenal" food culture and Argentina for its asados (barbecues). "I learnt so much," he says.
When Osborn arrived in Hong Kong he took over the struggling St Betty's and turned it around.
Celebrity restaurateur Alan Yau's venture had met a lacklustre response, but Osborn revamped the menu and introduced the first Josper grill to Hong Kong. The charcoal-fired oven meant he could introduce a range of roast dishes that have really taken off. He left in July to start Arcane, taking some of the St Betty's team with him.
The idea of a restaurant that plugged great food, wine and service but left the chef as an obscure figure is one that Osborn first had as a young chef. "The chef should be under the radar. We should enjoy what we would do and be humble about it," says Osborn.
The menu will feature six starters, six mains and five desserts, which will change regularly to keep customers coming back and prevent the staff from getting bored. The wine list is predominantly from Burgundy.
The cooking style will be modern European, with plenty of seafood and pasta, although much of the produce will come from Japan. Osborn looked at getting supplies from the New Territories but said the supply wasn't consistent. Instead he will be using a farm called Kubota that produces European-style vegetables and herbs. All the fish will be from the southern islands of Japan and line-caught.
Osborn promises there will be no froths and airs on the plates but the food will be "elegant and refined".
A taste of inspiration
Since Shane Osborn introduced the Josper grill here, it's become flavour of the month at restaurants such as Le Port Parfumé, Bread Street Kitchen and Penthouse.
It's also a key element in the kitchen at The Continental in Pacific Place, where we recently tried a flavoursome Dingley Dell pork chop from a menu of modern European, brasserie-style food. Complete with a seafood bar, the restaurant also has a menu featuring pastas and risottos, some house-made charcuterie and a trendy burger - although they might want to rethink the bun, which disintegrated towards the end.
If you're looking to explore Osborn's Scandinavian influences, the only game in town is Finds at The Luxe Manor and Jaakko Sorsa's Nordic Express menu. This culinary tour of the Nordic countries is getting a revamp as the restaurant turns 10, with new wine pairings from Cottage Vineyards. For the weekend of November 28 to 30 there's no more beer and schnapps - the 12-course menu will be matched with eight wines, including fruit wines from Belgium and magnums of Santa Sofia Amarone. A standout is the match of the latter with the Swedish classic venison Rydberg.
Osborn's love of Japanese ingredients is shared by many in the city. Slightly different and worth a try is the rich, creamy Brie cheese from Hokkaido, served on the weekend afternoon tea set at Nobu.