It was just last December that Michelin awarded its first stars to Hong Kong and Macau dining establishments, the first in China. Only the second foray into Asia for Michelin (they released a Tokyo guide in 2007), Hong Kong presents a heady mix of dining options, including local Cantonese cuisine and global influences ranging from classic French to progressive Japanese fare. The rating system itself is based on five criteria: quality of the products, value for money, mastery of flavor and cooking, ‘personality’ of the cuisine and consistency between visits.
Since I was traveling through Hong Kong last week, I decided to check out a few of the recently-honored establishments to see how they stacked up. I opted to choose two very different restaurants, both recipients of two stars (three are the maximum awarded in Michelin’s system). One, Shang Palace, serves classic Cantonese dishes, while the other, Bo Innovation, stretches the boundaries of regional Chinese cooking to international dimensions.
Commonly seen in Hong Kong, some of the most popular and respected eateries are in luxury hotels like the venerable Shangri-la Kowloon, where Shang Palace is located. Entering the restaurant, opulent red and gold furnishings evoking the historic Sung Dynasty are a hint of what’s to come. Chef Ip Chi-cheung specializes in dishes that are contemporary takes on traditional specialities like Traditional Stewed Fresh Coral Trout with Garlic and Pork; Filet of Lobster sautéed with Dragon Fruit in Hawthorn Sauce and Sautéed Scallops and Fresh Milk with Crab Roe. Particular favorites were the light, savory scallops and rarities like a black bamboo fungus and abalone, all meticulously prepared and served by an attentive staff. A dessert of Chilled Sago Cream with Fresh Mango and Pomelo was a refreshing palate cleanser, while another memorable discovery of the evening was Maotai, a potent, 100-proof Chinese distilled spirit that is a type of “bai jiu,” or white liquor. Think of grappa-meets-rocket fuel and you get the idea.
Fairly hidden in its new location in the J Senses building in the Wan Chai district on the northern tip of Hong Kong Island, the two Michelin star Bo Innovation is all about, well, innovation. The only traditional things in this sleek and intimate 60-diner space are ingredients like quail egg and bok choy, which are then permuted into unexpected explorations of taste and texture. We had xiao long bao, traditionally a steamed soup dumpling, but here served on a spoon sans its doughy shell. There was also tuna sashimi with foie-gras powder and freeze-dried raspberries followed by thinly-sliced beef with black truffle soy sauce. All were delicious. Judging by the buzz in the room, the crowd of local “tai tais” (ladies who lunch) and smartly dressed business people also seemed to appreciate Chef Alvin Leung’s (aka “The Demon Chef”) self-proclaimed “X-treme cuisine.” The take-away─as a food capital, Hong Kong is definitely on the map to stay.