Restaurant trends for 2015: Hong Kong professionals give predictions
On-trend, a term once applied more to fashion than food, is now regularly used by culinary critics, the media and restaurateurs.
In Hong Kong, if a restaurant concept is on-trend, if it is now, if it is hip, if it has worked overseas, then the chances of it being successful increase.
This is because diners, including even the most savvy of Hong Kong gourmands, tend to be drawn to the latest "it" restaurants.
This fashionability of new openings plays its own role in the creation of a culinary trend, as do celebrity chef involvement and diner response.
So what is going to be on-trend or trend creating in Hong Kong this year?
Four culinary professionals share their thoughts on key trends of the past year that they feel will carry through this year, identify some news ones, and clearly communicate those they hope remain behind.
David Lai, chef and partner of restaurants On Lot 10 and Neighborhood, says one trend that became prominent in 2014, and that he predicts will continue in 2015, is evolved Chinese/Asian cuisine. This type of cuisine can be found in Fatty Crab, Fu Lu Shou, Ho Lee Fook, Duddell's, Mott 32 and Sohofama, for example.
"As opulent as some dim sum palaces can be, many Asian restaurants in Hong Kong, especially Chinese restaurants, lack the sophistication, user friendliness and innovation one finds in their Western counterparts," he says.
"But these restaurants are changing that. Besides the superficial aesthetic elements, many of these new places also strive to reimagine traditional cuisine by experimenting with modernist techniques, non-traditional ingredients and original combinations".
Culinary blogger Daniel Haddad (hungryhk. blogspot.com thinks Caribbean cuisine could take off in the city this year. "Rummin' Tings has been very popular since it opened late last year, and I can see the Caribbean trend taking off in Hong Kong, with its lively atmosphere and fiery foods."
He also predicts that Taiwanese cuisine will become more popular. "I have noticed that many Hong Kong foodies are obsessed with Taiwan and have seen a few Taiwanese hotspots, such as Check-In Taipei, opening around the city. I think this could be a future trend with more prominent Taiwanese restaurants opening."
In terms of Japanese cuisine, Hideaki Sato, chef de cuisine at Ryu Gin, says there will be a continuation of one-aspect restaurants opening. "We will see even more speciality restaurants opening, those that focus only on one aspect of Japanese cuisine; for example, serving only tempura, or only yakitori."
Yenn Wong, restaurateur (including 22 Ships, Aberdeen Street Social and Chachawan) believes "hidden restaurants" will become a trend in 2015 and are a perfect fit for Hong Kong with its shortage of space, yet where many areas such as back alleys aren't being utilised to their full potential, she says. "Not only does this make it mysterious and fun, it's a good way to create curiosity."
These restaurants will build on the 2014 trend of "out-of-the-box" concepts.
"Entrepreneurs are becoming more daring in trying something new and more focused that has not been tested here before." She feels that Mrs Pound and Sohofama fit this description.
Hong Kong will continue to attract famous chefs in 2015, says Wong. "I believe more and more named chefs will continue to come to Hong Kong as the city has such a buzzing market." Lai agrees, saying: "A continuation of imported chefs is going to be a dominant trend."
So does Haddad: "I think celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver importing their restaurants to Hong Kong is only the beginning of this trend, and foresee an influx of overseas celebrity chefs expanding to the city."
Sato goes so far as to say Ramsay and Oliver have started a two-way (Britain and Hong Kong) trend. "We will see enough new openings in 2015 by more noted British chefs to make it a key trend for the year."
Lai also feels that locally based, chef-driven restaurants such as those by Philippe Orrico (Upper Modern Bistro and On), Shane Osborn (Arcane), Erik Idos (Chino), Olivier Elzer (Seasons) and Frederic Chabbert (Mano) will flourish in 2015.
"With the exception of Seasons, most of these relatively new openings are smaller restaurants. And with the exception of Shane [Osborn], who already has a world-class reputation, all of these were chefs from local flagship hotel restaurants," he says.
"Chefs are becoming more confident about exploring the freedom that comes from putting their names on the title bill. With this trend, hopefully, we will see dishes that are unique and more personal."
Sato believes smaller restaurants will be big in 2015.
Lai feels "lower end" restaurants will dominate this year, citing Bread Street Kitchen and Jamie's Italian as examples. Both chefs behind these restaurants could have introduced a high-end concept but chose not to, he adds.
"The restaurant industry will likely gravitate towards the lower end of the market due to the economy. Maybe we could even see a period of consolidation because of the sheer quantity of [new] restaurants and the changing nature of the industry."
Wong agrees: "I also think more established restaurateurs will tap the mass market because the potential economy of scale is huge."
This trend is also driven by the current restaurant scene in Hong Kong. "At the fine-dining level there is very little breathing room. Those restaurants, of which we have seen more than a few additions in the past year, are expensive to open and labour intensive to run. Meanwhile, the middle part of the market is also becoming saturated," says Lai.
Wong hopes the "fusion" trend doesn't continue this year. "Nothing compares to authentic cuisine," she says.
Wong also hopes to see an end to "restaurateurs making use of famous chefs or brands and bringing them to Hong Kong, but not making an effort to deliver the quality. It's so unfair to the customers, chefs and the industry."
Meanwhile, Lai says: "One trend I hope not to see continue this year is half-arsed celebrity imports. When done right, celebrity imports truly benefit the city by bringing their world-class knowledge, experience, standards and perspective. When done wrong, they become cynical money-making scams to prey on the unsophisticated."
Haddad is more generous. "I love all food and am open to anything so I'm generally happy for any trend to continue."