A short visit to Hong Kong

Saturday, July 28th , 2012

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Hong Kong is a bustling, vibrant city with an active food scene. In 2012 the erratic Michelin Hong Kong guide awarded three stars to two further restaurants, Otto e Mezzo and Atelier Robuchon. Atelier Robuchon here is, unsurprisingly, like other Atelier Robuchons around the world, with the same signature decor and the same technically highly competent, somewhat formulaic French cooking. The highlight of the meal was the pastry section of the meal (and the bread), and certainly the lunch we had here was very pleasant, but a long way from three star level.

It was a similar story with Otto e Mezzo, a very nice Italian restaurant that served up a very enjoyable fettuccine dish and was consistently good throughout the meal. The issue is that it was consistently one star cooking, not three star, but that is the fault of Michelin Hong Kong, not of Otto e Mezzo, who are producing good food. The Michelin Hong Kong guide really has been something of a lottery since its inception. To give the same star rating to the Atelier Robuchon here as to the genuinely world class Robuchon Galera seems to me baffling. However if you go to Otto e Mezze with appropriately set expectations then you will enjoy yourself.

It was nice to catch up briefly with Shane Osborn, formerly head chef of Pied a Terre. He has been brought in to turn around Alan Yau venture St Betty, which unlike Mr Yau's earlier ventures (Wagamama, Hakkasan, Busaba Eathai) served European food. I was rather confused by what St Betty was aiming for, as it was based in a shopping mall and had a large, casual dining feel, yet with fairly ambitious dishes. Shane had only been there a few weeks and clearly has some work to do, as in amongst some nice dishes were one overcooked fish dish, and some really poor bread. Still, given his track record he will doubtless have an impact.

A restaurant not even listed in Michelin but which delivered an excellent meal was Liberty Private Works. This was a French restaurant but serving food in a Japanese style, with diners sitting around a counter and all eating the same no-choice menu (rather like Brooklyn Fare without the attitude). The meal was very enjoyable, with some genuinely classy dishes and friendly service. It was fun watching the chefs work directly in front of you, and it has become one of the toughest reservations to get in the city.

A disappointment for me was Celebrity Cuisine, a traditional Cantonese restaurant. Given that it has a good reputation I suspect that I just didn't see the best of this place, but the food that I tried was very ordinary, and the service was absolutely abysmal, even by the hardly demanding standards of Hong Kong.

New to the city is Ryugin, sister to the wonderful restaurant of the same name in Tokyo. Five chefs have been brought over from the original Ryugin, and pretty much all the ingredients are flown in from Japan. The restaurant is in a striking location, on the 101st floor of the ICC tower (pictured), at the time of writing the fourth tallest building in the world. As one might imagine, the views over the Hong Kong skyline are impressive. The cooking matches the view, and Ryugin delivered easily the best meal of the visit, with dish after superb dish of the highest quality. The level of the cooking seemed to me to match that of the Roppongi original, and that is quite a complement. This was all the more remarkable given that it had only been open just over three months.

At the end of this trip I had been to 104 of the 109  three star Michelin restaurants in the world.