The dining scene in Hong Kong – like the city itself – is the ultimate expression of East meets West. Driven by homegrown chefs and European-trained expats alike, restaurants here combine a potent mix of old and new, of roasted goose and barbecue pork, dry-aged steak and crab fried rice. The epicenter of all this deliciousness is the historic neighborhood of Central, the island’s financial and cultural capital and home of last year’s Occupy Central protests against Beijing. No matter the politics, or perhaps in spite of them, Hong Kong’s dining scene has never been hotter than it is right now.
One of the toughest tables at the moment is Sohofama (PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St, Central, +852 2858 8238), a pan-Chinese gastropub that pulls as much from modern-day Taiwan and 1920s Shanghai as it does from San Francisco’s Chinatown circa 1960, an homage to a particular history of Chinese cuisine that has long challenged the notion of authenticity – but with a 21st-century, farm-to-table twist that shuns MSG. Spring rolls are stuffed with wild-caught crab and black truffles. Chicken soup is boiled for 10 hours and served with slippery wontons.
In similar whipsaw fashion, chef Jowett Yu’s cheekily named Ho Lee Fook (1-5 Elgin St., Central, +852 2810 0860) blends traditional Hong Kong dai pai dong (open-air street food) with the flair of a classically trained chef. You are guaranteed to encounter a long wait for a table, but you’ll be rewarded with succulent roast goose or prawn toast with MSG-intensive Kewpie mayonnaise.
Of course, Hong Kong’s real dai pai dong are just around the corner, massed along Graham Street, a must-stop for barbecue pork buns and stir-fried noodles well into the night.
Another highly exclusive new table is chef Que Vinh Dang’s Quest (byob, 239 Hennessy Road, 28th floor, Wan Chai, +852-2554-0888), in which a residential 28th-floor apartment has been transformed into a semi-secret dining room that seats 30 people a night. The fixed 10-course menu is never revealed in advance and includes surprises like “beef pho” tartare with shaved foie gras or yellowtail sashimi in a bath of tomato water with basil seeds and sea grapes – every bite an absolute delight.
Hong Kong has seen an influx of international celebrity chefs lately, and the one that’s definitely worth a look is Brit Jason Atherton whose Aberdeen Street Social (PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St., Central, +852 2866 0300) is located in the same complex as Sohofama. Atherton opened two restaurants in one: Downstairs is a casual pub, serving hand-chopped beef tartare and the cutest Bloody Mary you’ll ever see. Upstairs is more serious.
About half a block away is Steak Frites from the Butchers Club. The Butchers Club is a chefs collective, butcher shop and “deli” that debuted last year in Hong Kong’s up-and-coming Southside neighborhood of Tin Wan (worth a visit). Steak Frites brings those same steaks to Central (52-56 Staunton St., Central, enter on Aberdeen, +852-2858-9800). The menu is simple: nothing but a little salad, a great steak and hand-cut fries thrice-cooked in duck fat.
Hong Kong residents worship Italian cuisine. And they revere longtime transplant Giovanni Greggio, who rose to fame as chef at the city’s Nicholini’s before retiring. He was coaxed out of retirement in October to open Gradini Ristorante (21 Stanley St., Central, +852-2308-3088), a 50-seat charmer inside the new Pottinger hotel. The whole-roasted branzino is exquisite, filleted tableside with flair by manager and head waiter Eddie Young, himself nearly as famous as the chef.
Meanwhile, it’s also worth mentioning Lung King Heen, the luxury Chinese restaurant inside the Four Seasons, overlooking Victoria Harbor. When Lung King Heen earned three Michelin stars in 2009, it was the first restaurant in Hong Kong – and the first Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world – to win Michelin’s highest honor. If anything, it’s only gotten better since then. You certainly won’t find a Chinese dining experience more impeccable than the chef’s tasting menu here.
This article originally appeared in Coast Magazine. To view more of my work for Coast and the Orange County Register, check out the archives. I also invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.