Eat like the Tsangs once did at ex-Government House chef's restaurant

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 January, 2015, 6:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2015, 5:52pm

A nervous Chung Kin-leung enters the private dining room of the high-end Lai Bun Fu Chinese restaurant in Central.

He looks restive, uncomfortable, lost even, as he pulls up a chair, briefly touching the silver spoon that's poking out of his top pocket. "We've asked him if he wants to remove the spoon, but he loves it. It's sort of become his signature," says one of the public relations representatives who is acting as translator.

Chung, who looks much younger than his 54 years, is, I'm informed, "very shy" and more at home in the kitchen that schmoozing with guests. His passion for his craft was ignited 40 years ago when he cooked for his family in Guangzhou.

He has carved an interesting career path, one which included a decade as a chef at Government House. Lai Bun Fu is his first foray into the restaurant business.

"I'm happy and excited about the challenge of working in a restaurant," he says. "I was very comfortable working at Government House, but I think this new role will allow me more freedom. I can visit the markets every day, and source fresh produce," Chung says.

Lai Bun Fu is located in a nondescript building in On Lan Street, an area being hyped as the city's new culinary hub. The first thing guests see as they emerge from the lift is a gong, similar to the one that would announce dinner at Government House. It's one of many design nods to the city's colonial past.

The menu is born of a corporate social responsibility mindset, and includes vegetarian shark's fin soup. Vivien Shek, the restaurant's director, worked with Chung to develop the dishes, and says Lai Bun Fu is following the government's lead by refusing to serve shark fin.

Abalone is added to the soup to give it a more complex texture, which puts it in the "flexitarian" category, says Shek.

"Older customers still request real shark fin, but when we explain that we don't serve the real thing they are happy to try it. We've had plenty of positive feedback," says Shek.

The menu includes many of the dishes Chung prepared at Government House, such as crispy chicken. "We have given this dish our own twist by adding the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water," Shek says.

Foie gras prawn cutlets on toast is also taken from the menu at the former governor's residence. To showcase Hong Kong's fine dried seafood, Lai Bun Fu extra special hotpot combines fish maw, abalone, sea cucumber and goose web. Those ingredients don't come cheap - the clay pot dish costs HK$1,200.

Traditional Cantonese double-boiled soups also feature, with combinations such as fish maw with Chinese cabbage and shiitake mushroom, and bird's nest with minced chicken.

The latter was a recipe developed by Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, wife of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. "She would taste test the dishes and approve every menu," Chung says.

Lai Bun Fu has recently completed a series of soft openings, but Chung is already thinking big. "I would love to open more restaurants and enter the China market," he says.

Lai Bun Fu, 5/F, 18 On Lan St, Central, tel: 2564 3868