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Hong Kong Dining

by Walter & Cherie Glaser

Here is a city of enormous energy and activity -- perhaps the only one that beats Singapore as a bridge between East and West. Businessmen converge on this city from major capitals as well as distant, dusty and unheard-of backwaters. And all want to impress their local counterparts by staying at the best hotels and dining at the finest restaurants. Not surprising then, that surveys of business travellers and tourists alike rate Hong Kong's finest hotels in the very top ranking of the world's best. Hotels like the Peninsula, the Regent, the Grand Hyatt and the Mandarin lead a parade of other, perhaps younger hotels that are striving to achieve the incredibly high standard of the ones mentioned.

The result is sizzling competition that drives each hotel to jockey for positions in the excellence stakes. And if then it costs a minor king's ransom for one of these hotels to set up a restaurant that is so good that the whole town talks about it for a while, never mind the balance sheet. It's the glory that matters. The hoteliers will spend any amount of money without batting an eyelid. No wonder then that private restaurateurs have a hard time keeping up with some of those truly splendiferous hotel restaurants that are quite happy to operate at a loss for the greater glory of their 5-star hostelry's image.

So it not surprising that a huge proportion of the top 20 restaurants listed in the Hong Kong Fine Dining Guide are located in Hong Kong's great hotels. Here are some of the city's great dining experiences. If you are headed for the harbour city and try these, you'll be dining exceedingly well.

(at The Peninsula Hotel)
Salisbury Road, Kowloon
Ph: (852) 2366-6251

The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong was my first love, dating back to the days of ceiling fans and louvered doors. At that time the Peninsula had just been refurbished after being the headquarters of the Japanese occupation forces during WW2, and was, even then, the best address in Hong Kong. In those days Gaddi's was the only place of any real style in that city, and if you were a tad social and wanted to celebrate a birthday or an engagement, it was unthinkable to go anywhere else.

Forty-odd years have passed and today's Gaddi's is as good, if not better, than ever. Sure, it's the sort of grand dining that many of the younger, yuppier crowd consider just a little passe, but for a special celebration, or a trip down memory lane, Gaddi's is still a hard act to beat. This is a truly grand French restaurant in the traditional manner, and the premises have recently been redesigned to bring out the hotel's original 1928 neo-classical look.

You might like to try the lightly crusted Canelloni with herbs, bitter greens and saut»ed baby artichokes, or traditionally roasted milk-fed Veal Chop on a ragout of baby potatoes, carrots, pearl onions and roasted jus with Italian parsley, or spit-roasted Scottish Lamb on a medley of gnocchi, piquillos, sun-dried tomatoes and chorizo. Leave room for desserts. They are an art form here, as is the wine list.

This offers superb vintages from every corner of the globe. Swiss wines from Geneva, to Neuchatel, Italian vintages from Tuscany and Veneto, Spanish whites from Miguel Torres and reds from Bodegas Vega Sicilia, a whole range of United States wines as well as from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile, and, for the man who wants to try everything, even Chinese Dynasty and Sing Tao Riesling from Hua Dong are found on the wine list.

Not only is the food, now under the direction of Executive Chef Florian Trento, superb, but the service and decor of this restaurant is also now better than ever.

One Harbour Road
(at the Grand Hyatt)
1 Harbour Road, Hong Kong
(852) 588-1234

Hong Kong has no shortage of small, excellent, family oriented Cantonese restaurants. Yet these have one big drawback. If they're any good they're generally crowded to the point that, should you pick your teeth the chances are that you'll poke your neighbor in the eye with your toothpick. And as for quiet business conversations, or a touch of finesse, forget it. The food will be delicious but you won't be able to hear yourself speak, and the sight of 25 people standing in the doorway staring at you and willing you to give up your table quickly are also off-putting to many a discerning diner.

And that's where, by contrast, One Harbour Road is pure heaven. Not only are the surroundings elegant and quiet, but there is a sense of tranquility and style rarely found elsewhere. The waiters hover, waiting for your every request, and the view across the harbour to Kowloon is something to remember six months afterwards when you are having a bad day at the office. But most importantly, the food is nothing short of sensational.

This splendid restaurant looks much more intimate than its 196 seat capacity suggests, mainly due to the fact that it is spread out over several levels. Tables are far enough apart not to be tempted to laugh at your table-neighbor's jokes, and the decor is an elegant recreation of a Taipan Peak Mansion's terrace in the 1930's.

The floor-to-ceiling windows offer a superb vista from each of the restaurant's several levels. Huge trees in classic Chinese pottery urns and hanging plants soften the bold architectural statement of the massive pillars and cantilevered floors. Tables have semi-European style settings for Chinese food, with Richard Genori plates and silver handled chopsticks.

Chef Law Yip Lam has a repertoire of Cantonese delicacies that include Pan-fried birds nest in scrambled eggs, double boiled Sharks Fin with bamboo piths, braised whole 'Ouma' Abalone with oyster sauce, braised Spare-ribs Wu Shek style, and many others.

Our Shark's Fin soup was quite outstanding -- clear, yet with an intense flavour. The next course, deep-fried Crab meat in shell, brought out the delicate flavour of the crab -- no wonder it is a house speciality. Then came Chili Prawns with lychees and tiny sugar peas, a perfect combination. We often judge Cantonese restaurants by their ability to make the best of vegetables, and here too One Harbour Road comes through with flying colours. Spinach with just a touch of garlic accompanied by sliced, crisp but tender asparagus. It would be hard to find better anywhere. All this was followed by a finale of Chilled Mango pudding. And as we left the restaurant we could not help backing those judges who consider this a jewel among Hong Kong's Cantonese establishments. It goes without saying that, as with the other restaurants mentioned here, the service is outstanding.

Yu Restaurant at the Regent
(at The Regent)
18 Salisbury Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Ph: (852) 2721-1211

There are some restaurants where you know, from the moment you enter, that they've got their Ying and Yang right. Well, the Yu Restaurant is one of these. Seafood is their forte, but the place is much more than that.

On entering you see a huge curved wall of glass behind which a ballet of bubbles dramatically dance to the surface at regular intervals, highlighting the two vast fishtanks which are somehow embedded in this piece of visual artistry. One contains river trout specially flown in from Australia, the other, spectacular, multi-hued ocean fish from the reefs of Malaysia and the Philippines. All this creates a visual poem of colour and movement. That's the Ying.

The Yang is the superb seafood served here. Oysters freshly flown in from France, USA, Scotland, Canada and the Netherlands join Boston lobster, Australian yabbies, Iranian caviar, New Zealand mussels, and Asian reef fish on Yu's outstanding menu. Most people seem to start with the Regent Seafood platter that is as spectacular as it is delicious, and we too happily succumbed to this splendid appetiser. Then we ordered Boston Lobster in black bean sauce. It was tasty, just spicy enough, and was served with fine egg noodles.

Then came The Paella. It was served in a silver dish and was studded with tender calamari and delicious scallops. If you order this here you will use it as a yardstick by which to judge all other paellas afterwards. Seagrass pasta with prawns and tiny baby octopus and vegetables with dill and a tomato based salsa could not be faulted. The dessert, Glazed Applecake with red fruit and ice-cream rounded off a truly splendid meal with the added bonus of the view across the harbour.

And no detail had been overlooked. Glass plates from California had a gold finish on the rim of the milky glass and the final touch were the chocolates that came with the coffee. They were in the shape of fishes.

(at The Grand Hyatt)
1 Harbour Road
Hong Kong
Ph. (852) 588-1234

I love Italy and go there frequently. And when it comes to fine dining in that country, my friends say that I'm certainly no slouch. So I know a good Italian restaurant when I see one. And Grissini hits the button in that regard. Mamma mia! Buonissimo!

When the Grand Hyatt decided to feature an Italian restaurant they wanted to bring in the very best. So they brought out Chef Gabriele Colombo to ensure its authenticity and its success. Milano-born Colombo worked in some of Europe's most prestigious hotels as well as the 3-Michelin star Gualtiero Marchesi and Antica Osteria Del Ponte. The restaurant specializes in Northern Italian food with the accent on pastas and salads and their Risottos are heavenly. Seafood is also well represented with dishes like Turbot with a compote of eggplant and zucchini, and Octopus in a Mediterranean stew with a polenta topping, or John Dory fillets poached with saffron and fried leeks. Meat dishes like Sliced Beef tenderloin with red radiccio, rosemary and extra-virgin olive oil are supplemented with the famous Venetian specialty, Fegato di Vitello con cipolle stufate -- sauteed calf's liver with onions if you want to put it more simply.

Cafe Deco at the Peak
(at the Peak Galleria)
118 Peak Road
The Peak, Hong Kong
Ph: (852) 849-5111

I've often thought of writing an article about "Views to Dine by." But the only thing that has ever held me back (apart from the fact that Fodor published a book on the subject) is the extraordinary proportion of this that would be taken up by Hong Kong. There's a magic about the restaurants here that makes me split my concentration between what my eyes and my tastebuds are telling me. If you're the same way and want to experience a winner on both counts, take the cogwheel tram (sometimes referred to as a cablecar) that lifts you up from Hong Kong's Central Business District to the Peak. As the tram climbs up the steep slope, the panorama of Hong Kong, its harbour and Kowloon, unfolds below you. If that doesn't make your heart miss a beat and put you into a mood of romantic contentment, then give up. There's no hope for you.

When you get out of the tram, cross the road and walk up into the complex that is capped by the Cafe Deco. But it's a mistake to think of this fabulous avant garde establishment as a "cafe." It's a sensational pacific-rim-cuisine restaurant that no true gourmet should miss on a trip to Hong Kong.

There are marvelous Indian appetizers like Vegetarian Blochi Khumb -- champignons, green peas and potatoes and cottage cheese cooked in a blend of nuts, herbs and curry and Roasted Duck Tikka Mhakni -- succulent duckling cooked in mildly spiced tomato-cream sauce flavoured with orange blossom honey. Or try the Jalfra Yi, a spicy dry-cooked vegetable curry flavoured with fresh ginger, cumin and garam masala.

There are Asian noodles and rice dishes like "Udon Noodle soup flavoured with lemon grass," "Singapore Fried Noodles" and "Nasi Goreng."

If that's not enough, there are Tandoori specialities, roti Indian breads, Mexican, German, Chinese and Cajun entrees, soups, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, a "Create Your Own Pasta" program, and a fascinating range of pizzas that include Tandoori, Szechuan and Cajun pizzas as well as the more traditional varieties. We tried a Szechuan pizza that featured Roasted Duck, black beans, chilies, bean sprouts, peppers and shiitake mushrooms. Delicious! No wonder that all Hong Kong seems to turn up for meals here.

(at The Peninsula)
Salisbury Road, Kowloon
(852) 2366-6251

When the Peninsula Hotel Board decided to rebuild the stately old "Pen" (as it is known to its afficionados), the top of the high-rise tower block created a sensational opportunity for doing something about building a restaurant that would be truly spectacular. And the result certainly lives up to that expectation. When I walked into the restaurant I had previously been told that it was very special, but nothing could have prepared me for the huge impression that Felix created.

Designed by Philippe Starck, the whole effect is one of modern theatre. The long top table is a catwalk lit from within, and striking zinc cylinders house the wine bar and the American bar. A small disco adds a further dimension to the lively feel of Felix.

The cuisine, under the direction of chef David Abella is creatively Euro-Asian. It includes such delicacies as Lobster soup with thyme and Tuscan white beans, Crispy Oriental Nachos with Guacamole and roasted Tomato salsa. This was followed by a perfectly cooked piece of fish on a crisp taco with avocado and sour cream, with Japanese pickled ginger on the side. As I read my own description I know it sounds like far too many flavours. But Abella is an absolute artist with the way that he balances all the inputs so that none overpower the others. Few chefs could get away with it, but with him this dish, like the others we tried, was faultless.

Thai style lobster and foie gras salad with a kaffir lime and truffle dressing was yet another unlikely combination that simply worked perfectly. So did the seared Pacific Sea Bass with Madras curried potatoes and apple, fig and cabernet sauce. Anywhere else these dishes would probably be 'over the top', yet Abella had them under perfect control. The cuisine here is innovative, avant garde, and most importantly, absolutely delicious.

So there you have them -- my favourite Hong Kong restaurants. Lots of the others there are also excellent, but if you dine at any of the ones described here I'm certain that you will not be disappointed. And you will have sampled some of the best of Hong Kong's outstanding cuisine options

Walter and Cherie Glaser are a truly global writing and photography team based "Down Under" in Melbourne, Australia.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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