Don Appétit: Savouring the flavours of celebrated chef Donovan Cooke’s life’s work

In the realm of gastronomy, there are chefs, and then there are culinary storytellers – those who, through their craft, weave together the flavours of their past, their journeys and their passion. Veteran chef Donovan Cooke, the creative genius behind the culinary magic at his new venture, Causeway Bay-based Donovan, is undoubtedly one such storyteller. His modern European menu has quickly captured the attention of the city’s foodies, making it a must-go-to restaurant for anybody looking for great food in the bustling heart of Hong Kong.

“The inspiration for the restaurant is basically being here in Hong Kong. I’m in the middle of the world with some of the best ingredients from around the world, and I have an opportunity to use and showcase the best of the ingredients following the seasons – and not so much following the seasons,” the chef laughs as he explains his ethos. “However, we are trying to maintain sustainability, and at the same time evolve classical combinations – which I’ve been doing for 40 years – in a more modern way.”

The roving Briton has been an instrumental figurehead in the fine- dining scene of wherever he has landed. At a young age, he was seasoned and nurtured in traditional French cuisine by the legendary, then-two-Michelin-starred Marco Pierre White at Harveys in London.

Embarking on his curious global journey, he headed first to France and then Australia, where his footprint was recognised by multiple accolades. Melbourne newspaper The Age’s Good Food Guide named him Chef of the Year in 2003 and 2004. He also made appearances on the reality TV show MasterChef Australia and co-authored the award-winning cookbook, Marriages. His dedication to innovation and new culinary excellence then won the hearts of local socialites and celebrities during a six-year stint at the helm of Derby Restaurant and Bar at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

With each step, he absorbed new techniques, flavours and inspirations, enriching his culinary palate and ultimately bringing him to a Hong Kong homecoming late last year. His self-titled restaurant artfully combines his own heritage with a global perspective – a testament to his eclectic journey, offering diners an experience that transcends borders.

“I want to showcase a vast array of dishes here in my new restaurant, and the best way to do that is to do a Japanese-style tasting menu,” he says. “It’s a journey of eight to 10-12 courses, starting with refreshing light and then moving on to a richer main course. In the past, when I did à la carte, people just go for the things that they’re safe or that they know, so I decided to do it omakase-style because I want people to taste lots of different things that they normally wouldn’t order.”

The dinner-tasting menu at the time of our review kicks off with an artistic ensemble of appetisers such as truffle macaron; parmesan tart with onions and flowers; chicken liver parfait, apple and prune; and the house signature soy-sauce brioche. These are followed by seared tuna belly decorated with spiced tartare, celeriac, truffle dashi and shiso; and the heady combination of the spiced roasted blue lobster with foie gras, fig, port wine, chocolate and coffee.

One of his standout dishes is smoked olive oil confit salmon, seasoned with leek, razor clam, bone broth, salmon roe and chive oil. It’s a culinary masterpiece that captures the essence of Chef Donovan on a plate.

A meat lover’s dream comes in the form of Pyrenees milk-fed baby lamb with girolles, gnocchi and thyme jus, and the cooked to a mouth-watering medium-rare, pepper-crusted wagyu 9+ sirloin atop onions, bone marrow and Bordelaise sauce.

Desserts of spiced roasted pineapple with pain d’épices ice cream and tonka bean panna cotta with rhubarb, honeycomb and Stone’s ginger wine jelly form a perfect palate cleanser to this savoury culinary adventure.

Amid the elegant ambience and the warm embrace of European hospitality, Donovan is a testament to the power of roots, the influence of loved ones and the fusion of global experiences into tantalising dishes that have earned the well-travelled chef countless plaudits for his unparalleled contributions to gastronomy.

Donovan, 16/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

Photos: DONOVAN Video: Jack Fontanilla

Asian Persuasion: Topped only by the harbour view, Cruise steers diners through a modern melting pot of cuisines

Those who have found themselves caught between two or more worlds know that matters of identity are never easy to explain. However, at Cruise Restaurant & Bar perched on the North Point waterfront it is all pretty straightforward. For both local foodies and astute tourists, this gorgeous location with a large outdoor terrace and panoramic views of Victoria Harbour puts a novel twist on rooftop dining. Chef de Cuisine Adisak Choksamritphon envisions the restaurant as a workshop or “studio” where various Asian cuisines can be explored and enjoyed in an upscale, modern setting.

Fun, unique and never one to take itself too seriously, Cruise has an independent attitude and upbeat music after dark. During the day, it is relaxed and informal. Delicious modern Asian food, inventive cocktails and breathtaking views provide the ideal environment for mingling.

“The idea of Cruise came about because of our location overlooking the city’s iconic harbour, which has historically been a key ‘lifeline’ in connecting local cultures and global communities,” explains Chef Choksamritphon. “In this regard, our food offers a modern and flavourful take on Asian cuisine to celebrate the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of Hong Kong’s foodie scene.”

Asian cuisine has far deeper roots than one may think, with influences from cultures all around the world. As presented here, it is consistently flavourful, sophisticated and tells the tale of at least a thousand distinct towns as well as a thousand more forgotten traditions. A native of Thailand but calling Hong Kong his second home for more than two decades, Chef Choksamritphon is best known for his contemporary takes on classics. In developing the Cruise menu, he made some adjustments to favourite recipes in order to suit local tastes. He achieves this by playing with sourness and saltiness, and fully honing in on his Thai roots.

He assures: “We are guided by Hyatt’s ‘Food; Thoughtfully-sourced. Carefully served’ philosophy, and do our best to practice ethical sourcing, using organic and sustainable ingredients wherever possible. I also like to think of our approach as being similar to home cooking – I aim to use items that are of the best quality, and use only natural ingredients, like spices, to enhance the flavours of my dishes.”

Creating dishes packed with flavour, executed with flair and served with a generous dose of spice, he offers carb-loaded comfort food – a pick-me-up to enjoy when having a bad day, or to fill you up while and after drinking. Enter the ‘Sharing is Caring’ section of the à la carte menu. On a huge hot plate, Westholme M4/M5 Australian wagyu Tomahawk steak rests on a bed of sizzling gochujang butter with dipping sauces and okra tempura on the side.

In a similar vein, grilled M6 Striploin comes with shishito peppers, green chilli salsa and yakiniku dipping sauce. Another crowd favourite for sharing is chilli lobster Singapore-style, incorporating tomato, chilli, ginger and egg. The homemade roti makes a good sauce scraper, ensuring each smattering of spice is appreciated and devoured.

For those favouring milder spice infusions, wok- fried sea bass makes a perfect choice. Green mango, Thai basil and tamarind help to elevate and balance the crispness of the fleshy fried fish.

“We always have special menus and events at Cruise, so guests can come any day of the week and have a great time,” enthuses the chef. “We have promotions like Lobster Night on Wednesdays and Tomahawk Night on Thursdays, and have just launched a new Hot Pot Night on Tuesdays. We also regularly bring in special guest chefs and mixologists for pop-ups.”

As a city built by immigrants, Hong Kong is ultimately a major hub for cultural diversity, and its cuisine followed suit. In that way, it shares a similar profile to the divine melting pot that is Cruise – sailing grandly through the multicultural hustle and bustle that marks the city’s eclectic dining scene.

Cruise, 23/F, Hyatt Centric Victoria Harbour Hong Kong, North Point

Photos: Cruise Restaurant & Bar Video: Jack Fontanilla

Hummus Hurrah: A home away from Beirut, Maison Libanaise brings epicurean joy to the heart of Hong Kong

The hubbub of laughter and feasting echoes against wood- block and salmon-pink painted walls and zellige tiles. Fine, dainty lamps suspended from the ceiling and no-fuss green wooden stools at the bar, while doing little to absorb the thrum, add lustre. Just these elements alone conjure an inviting haven for a long, slow nightcap after a long, frantic day.

Occupying a three-storey walk-up in the bustling SoHo district of Central, Maison Libanaise stands as a culinary oasis, offering a captivating escape to the vibrant flavours and rich traditions of Lebanon. With its warm ambience, friendly service and an extensive menu that showcases the best of the country’s cuisine, it has become a go-to destination for food enthusiasts seeking an authentic Middle Eastern experience – transporting diners to the streets of Beirut, or as Chef Teya Mikhael would have it, her childhood memory lane.

“My recipes are very home-inspired rather than restaurant-inspired,” she says. “We try to provide a real home experience. It’s a female-dominant kitchen, just like it is back home. It’s all mothers and ladies who give out dishes with so much love and so much beauty.” The exuberant chef bursts into laughter: “But I am not a mom – yet!”

Stepping inside Maison Libanaise is to be greeted by an inviting, cosy atmosphere, reminiscent of a traditional Lebanese home. It makes for an intimate experience – though perhaps a little too snug at times, depending on the size of the dining crowd. Just as personal is the service. Chef Mikhael chats to diners like she would to friends, sharing her personal recommendations from the drinks list which runs from Middle Eastern-inspired contemporary cocktails to largely familiar and beautiful wines.

“Lebanon has a really big wine scene with over 60 to 70 wineries’” she says. “Here, we have the biggest Lebanese wine list, which we really try to emphasise. The Lebanese way is best spent with wine in hand, over long and leisurely meals shared with friends and family. It’s so ingrained in me that I try to sneak a couple of bottles home whenever I can,” she adds, with a cheeky wink.

But what has seen the restaurant boom is the food – with guests returning many times to explore the broad menu designed around a charcoal and wood grill. Spices are sourced directly from Lebanon, with sumac, in particular, standing out. Enhancing the natural flavours of the food it is cooked with, deep- red sumac features in almost every dish in this vibrant restaurant. There are specific seasons for sumac berries and the tart, acidic spice is prepared and used in the traditional way. Like pomegranate molasses, which the culinary team also applies liberally, it is at the heart of Lebanese cuisine.

The new a la carte menu is inspired by dishes the chef made with her mother and grandmother when she was growing up. Each dish is an edible memoir of cherished recipes from her childhood in Lebanon, carefully curated and reimagined from her unique perspective. Exhibit A: Sujuk Bel Banadoura, a symphony of spicy, tangy and sweet notes showcasing grilled beef sausages with matbucha (Moroccan tomato salad) and pomegranate molasses.

Another crowd favourite, Hummus Araydis is a testament to the chef’s creative spirit, marrying her love for hummus with the fond memories of prawns she orders at her favourite beachside haunt. In this dish, the creamy chickpea purée dances with chives, coriander, lemon and chilli, and is crowned with prawns sautéed in Aleppo chilli oil.

Of course, Lebanese cuisine is entirely about the shared table, a balance of flavours and dishes, and the moment of bringing people together. The Mashewe Mshakal platter does just that, embracing beef kafta, beef skewers, shish taouk (chicken kebab), lamb chops and vegetable skewers accompanied with hearth-baked pita bread, sumac-roasted tomato, grilled onion and the holy trinity of harissa, toum and tahini (red chilli-, garlic- and sesame-based relishes) for dipping.

Maison Libanaise is all about celebration, food and fun, and as home to three layers of indoor and outdoor drinking and dining salons, the merry hubbub will only intensify.

Maison Libanaise, 10 Shelley Street, SoHo, Central. Tel: 2111 2284.

Photos: Maison Libanaise Video: Jack Fontanilla

Dame and Fame: Classicism meets contemporary excellence at the timeless culinary haven of Gaddi’s in the Peninsula

As it marks 70 glorious years, Gaddi’s in The Peninsula Hong Kong stands as a testament to time and elegance. The peerless dining room of the ‘Grande Dame of the Far East’ has long been revered as a culinary gem. With a rich heritage spanning seven decades, it continues to captivate diners with its impeccable service and outstanding French cuisine.

The Peninsula opened its lavish restaurant in 1953, and it was named for General Manager Leo Gaddi, who had started the hotel’s new era of flawless service and attention to detail.

It quickly gained recognition as one of the top continental dining venues in the region, in addition to being the best restaurant in the city. Weeks in advance, its two dinner seatings a night were fully reserved, drawing foreign heads of state and celebrities.

“Gaddi’s sets itself apart from other restaurants through its unique combination of factors,” says Albin Gobil, Executive Sous Chef of The Peninsula Hong Kong. “Collectively, these elements – the first fine dining restaurant in the Far East to offer European cuisine, the city’s oldest dining establishment and exceptional service – contribute to Gaddi’s positioning as a highly sought-after Michelin-starred French fine dining restaurant in Hong Kong.”

Kaviari Daurikus caviar with Tsar Nikolai balik salmon and potato blinis

Stepping into the restaurant is like taking a stroll back in time. The interior exudes a classic charm, characterised by two suspended, retro crystal chandeliers, plush velvet upholstery and carpet and ornate woodwork. The soft lighting adds a touch of romance, creating an intimate atmosphere. The live music, featuring a talented pianist, further enhances the ambience, transporting guests to an era of sophistication and refinement.

The rest of the space is equally as pleasing to the eye. Large windows look out into the city streets and Victoria Harbour, the high ceilings offer grandeur and the walls replicate an Italian faux finish. Modern light fixtures rest against the walls and cast a bewitching glow, spotlighting the wall covering’s idiosyncrasies.

Just as the interior aims to seduce the old and new guards, the menu too succeeds in pleasing both. Gaddi’s has reached even greater heights recently, earning a Michelin star for the last four years in a row. Bringing the level of energy and enthusiasm expected from a fine seasoned restaurant, it ticks all of today’s essential boxes for a satisfying dining experience: fine food, cool and lavish interiors, consummate cocktails, an accessible wine list and agreeable service.

Bresse Chicken Parfait, White Piedmont Truffle, Crayfish, Nantua Sauce

Under the direction of Executive Sous Chef Albin Gobil, the restaurant’s elite culinary team created a stunning seven-course menu for a 70th-anniversary gala dinner that paid delectable homage to the establishment’s past through archive research and contemporary techniques.

The gastronomic parade moved from Kaviari Daurikus caviar with Tsar Nikolai balik salmon and potato blinis and Double-boiled Aubrac oxtail consommé in the crust with bone marrow and black Périgord truffle to Bresse chicken parfait with white Piedmont truffle, crayfish and Nantua sauce, before fish and meat mains of Dover sole filet à la Dieppoise with Bouchot mussels, prawns and celeriac and Rhug Estate roe deer saddle with caramelised shallots, soufflé potatoes and Bordelaise sauce. Mandarin raviolo with Champagne emulsion, and Apple tarte tatin with Avallen calvados and Tahitian vanilla crème fraiche sealed a sweet finale. Gobil’s masterpieces were showcased in both vintage and newly designed collections of tableware and glassware by Bernardaud.

Apple tarte tatin with Avallen calvados and Tahitian vanilla crème fraiche

In honour of Gaddi’s opening year, the exceptional dinner was combined with the best French wines and Champagnes, including a 1953 Domaine Remoissenet Père & Fils Vosne-Romanée. The wine list is extensive but not intimidating and takes diners around all the key wine-producing regions of France.

The restaurant’s elegant ambience, coupled with a menu of exquisite French cuisine, creates an unforgettable dining experience. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or seeking a refined evening of gastronomy, Gaddi’s is a destination that promises to transport you to a world of refined indulgence.

Gaddi’s, 1/F, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, The Peninsula Hong Kong.

Tel: +852 2696 6763,

Sparkling Water: An Architect of flavours, Chef Ilaria Zamperlin showcases her passion for culinary artistry

The majority of us will, of course, prioritise the food when choosing a place for dinner. For some, though, the locale plays an equally important role in the overall dining experience; hence these restaurants frequently become attractions unto themselves. In the bustling city of Hong Kong, where culinary experiences abound, Aqua stands tall as an iconic destination – letting diners not only savour artistic dishes but also drink in exceptional sceneries.

At this awe-inspiring 17th-floor haven nestled almost atop H Zentre on the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui, diners are immersed in the unparalleled elegance of Italian cuisine, with its rich heritage and sophisticated flavours, while simultaneously meandering into the captivating realm of Japanese gastronomy, where tradition and innovation harmoniously coexist.

Aqua – Main Dining Room

Aqua recently made waves in gastronomic circles with the announcement of a new Executive Chef, Ilaria Zamperlin. With her arrival, the storied Hong Kong culinary landmark embarks on a new chapter, blending Italian and Japanese cuisines under the watchful eyes of separate master chefs. As the first female chef to helm the Italian kitchen, Zamperlin brings her architectural background and two decades of culinary expertise to Aqua with the promise of a compelling dining experience.

“I think that cooking is very much like architecture; it’s all about laying down the perfect foundation,” she says. “At school, I would study different designs and prepare a series of sketches just for one project. I still do that with cooking. Precision and attention to detail are very important because my kitchen needs to replicate the same dishes every day. We need to make sure the foundations of the dish are there every time.”

Confit Suckling Pig, Carrots & Tropea Red Onion Puree and Balsamic Glazed Pear

Known for her ‘elevated Italian simplicity’, the chef has introduced a collection of Italian dishes on a new à la carte menu that moves from Rome to Tokyo. Among the many edible arts are appetisers of sweet Alaskan king crab dressed with caviar and green apple, and Sicilian red prawn carpaccio married with sea urchin and egg yolk emulsion.

Dover Sole Mugniaia Style, Carrot Puree, Crispy Leeks, Lemon and Caper Sauce

Pasta highlights include Braised duck ravioli and the Sicilian classic Tortelli ‘norma’, stuffed with creamy eggplant and served with the holy tricolour of Italy’s flag expressed through basil, aged ricotta and date tomato confit. Awash with deep flavours of the sea is the vibrant Champagne and lobster bisque risotto served tableside with baby squid, scallops and red prawns. A main of Dover sole, prepared in the mugnaia manner, is accompanied by crispy leeks, carrot purée and an enticing sauce of lemon and capers.

Tortelli ‘Norma’ with Eggplant, Aged Ricotta Sauce, Confit Date Tomatoes and Basil

With new creations like seared squid with prawn tempura roll; salmon, yellowtail, tuna and cream cheese roll with caviar; and homemade Abalone isoyaki with sea grape and tiger prawn sushi, Aqua’s Japanese kitchen, led by Executive Chef Iwahashi Tastuya, also offers a refreshing take on seafood.

The intimate low-lighting and laid-back atmosphere of the restaurant calls out for cocktails and thankfully, Aqua Spirit’s glamorous rooftop bar is happy to supply. There’s also something about the mirrored glass foyer, embellished with modern light fixtures, that feels very titillating, and the dining hall, full of pomp, buzzes with energy until closing. All these factors are reflected in this new Aqua menu.

Aqua – Garden Terrace

“The ingredients, the shape, the texture – honestly, there are so many components that go into one dish,” expounds Zamperlin. “For me, sparking curiosity is key when it comes to making the perfect dish. Sometimes, it can be a simple recipe, but the aroma of fresh ingredients and the presentation can spark intrigue and surprise from the moment it touches the table to the first bite, leading to satisfaction.”

Boundaries fade away on a gastronomic journey that transcends borders and cultures. Seamlessly blending Eastern and Western, Aqua allows diners the freedom to curate their own culinary adventure, where each bite tells a story of harmonious fusion.

Aqua, 17/F, H Zentre, 15 Middle Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 3427 2288.

Ones to Remember: Award-Winning Interiors and Divine Dishes Ensure a Blissful Evening at 1111 Ones

Upscale Italian and French food becomes the food of the angels at 1111 Ones, the Central restaurant that checks off all the requirements for a pleasurable modern European dining experience – superb cuisine, chic and opulent interiors, top-notch beverages and more – then daringly elevates them to a higher plane.

Named for an angel number that celebrates new beginnings in life’s journey, 1111 Ones draws on the vision and direction of Chef Chris Chan, a culinary specialist with more than two decades of expertise and a prestigious background at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. The unhurried interiors are reminiscent of the much-photographed Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Undulating waves of the high vaulted ceiling and warm, rusty colour tones are further highlighted by a wooden floor, straightforward wooden chairs and tables and accents of grey rock formations.

A bar with a marble countertop grounds the area, and its line-up of Italian liqueurs waiting to be served is another of the many unique touches in this dining room. All of these elements made the restaurant an overall winner of the 2022 International Restaurant & Bar Design Awards.

“It is said that those who continuously see this angel-number sequence will have great things coming their way. We are dedicated to providing a tranquil environment with divine food, where guests can forget about their life qualms and truly feel at peace,” proclaims Chef Chan.

Just as the interior features aim to seduce the old and new guard, the menu also succeeds in pleasing both. A fresh ingredients plate presenting the key elements of the tasting menu is provided before diners start their culinary trip so the mind can be primed for the gastronomic offerings ahead.

Chan personally selected the French Oscietra caviar for the first course. The second appetiser sees toro – the fatty underbelly of Japanese bluefin tuna – uniting with Hokkaido sea urchin and the fresh tomato consommé jelly.

The next dish features monkfish liver, cooked using the same technique as foie gras to achieve a similar texture and flavour. Morel is another luxurious creation, with the prized scented French mushrooms prepared in a method borrowed from Asian-style kitchens. It is stuffed with cuttlefish paste and served with squid on the side.

Amadai urokoyaki – tilefish grilled with its scales intact – is a standout among the main courses. The flavour of the fish is enhanced by the crispy scales and further highlighted by the accompanying onion chutney. African yellow croaker fish maw is another prominent dish, presented on top of a French-style lobster soup and rice crispies, giving the combination of tastes a distinctive twist.

The meat main of Hida beef – a supreme wagyu from Japan’s Gifu prefecture – is served with fresh parsnip and asparagus as well as a purée of pumpkin and black garlic. Alternatively, the Spanish deep-sea red treasure of carabinero is grilled on binchotan (Japanese white charcoal), presented with tom yum- infused puntine and augmented by roasted straw mushrooms, dried lime slices and Thai basil emulsion.

Desserts, of course, are not to be missed. The beetroot sweet is served with Granny Smith apple chunks and jam and topped by a French-style baked meringue. The second dessert melds chestnut and chrysanthemum – rich chestnut paste wrapped around vanilla mousse and served with smooth and sweet chrysanthemum ice cream and tangy dried fruit.

The chef will offer guests a yuzu sake jelly that resembles a Daruma doll at the conclusion of the meal, in a nod to the angel number.

While those of us who venture here for a rare night of dizzying culinary bliss will return back to earth to our go-to comfort food, whenever we sit down to a European meal, we will be reminded of 1111 Ones and all we have been missing.

1111 Ones Restaurant & Lounge, 11/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2910 1128,

Text: Joseff Musa Photos: 1111 Ones Video: Jack Fontanilla

Rice Rhapsody: In a city where rice is life, Sushi Haru’s Chef Hirokuni Shiga orchestrates a masterful omakase

As Asians, we tend to gravitate to a bowl of piping hot rice to satisfy our hunger at any time of the day. But there’s the undeniable draw of something more, for which sushi, Japan’s heart of culinary offerings, sparks an entirely new love affair. The presence of countless establishments paying homage to the intricacies and revelations of Japan’s heart of culinary offerings underscores the Hong Kong craving for raw fish atop vinegared rice.

Taking over the hinoki wood dining counter of just exactly eight seats, Chef Hirokuni Shiga is flexing his faultless sense of taste at the intimate setting of Sushi Haru, at the top of Wyndham Street in Central. This humble master of Edomae sushi began his career at his family’s kappo-style restaurant and it wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that, at the invitation of his father’s friend, he had his first encounter with omakase sushi. He began an apprenticeship, and from then on, his imaginative culinary creations have captivated diners.

”What I think makes us stand out is that I am able to incorporate everything I have learned in kappo and kaiseki dining into the dishes I serve,” says Shiga, who doesn’t shy from sharing his own story from behind the counter. “For example, depending on the piece of fish I am serving, I use different types of rice and details like this help to shape the guest’s experience.”

Both Hong Kong and Japan are known for wearing their history as a badge of honour. Although it may seem that tradition and modernity are forever in flux, Sushi Haru manages to pay homage to the past while expressing a contemporary vibe. The Zen aesthetic is further enhanced by a display of minimal-themed, charcoal- based framed drawings and a grey and brown colour combination – the only two hues evident throughout the restaurant.

But of course, there’s the sushi, the main star of the show, as well as the chef showing off his knife skills while finely slicing a selection of seafood. His kitchen balances flavour and subtlety without coming off at all gimmicky and then splashes of vivid, varied colour are served dish after dish. Think akami (lean red tuna), shiromi (white fish), nimono (simmered fish), kai (shellfish), ika (squid), tako (octopus), ebi (shrimp), kani (crab) and gyoran (fish roe).

But of all these sensational toppings, it’s the hikarimono (silver-skinned fish) that Shiga names as his personal favourite. “I am most proud of our kohada [gizzard shad] and kasugo [young sea bream] because, although they are the most labour- intensive, the hard work can be tasted in the result,” he says. “Oftentimes, in the world of sushi, a true test of a sushi chef is in how they prepare kohada.”

There’s also good news for newcomers to East Asia who have yet to master chopsticks. “You can eat with your fingers or you can use chopsticks,” he adds, smiling. The dexterous chef also beguiles his audience with his step-by-step method of assembling a perfectly shaped sushi, which involves gently pressing the fish onto the rice.

In between exquisite bites, sake and beer add a smooth, subtle sweetness to the night’s bouquet of flavours. Shiga, who is often caught raising a glass or two with his audience, also brings a citrusy kick via a fruit-infused sake to the table.

“Sushi, if you are to just look at it, is not too complicated, but the amount of care that is put into it should always be reflected on the faces of your guests,” he emphasises. “That is when you know you have succeeded.”

The looks of joyous satisfaction around the table as our omakase feast concludes is a testament to both Sushi Haru and Chef Hirokuni Shiga’s triumph. Rice will always be appealing anywhere on this side of the world, but Sushi Haru truly goes far beyond satisfying a craving.

Sushi Haru, Mezzanine, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2111 1450

Photos: Jack Fontanilla / Sushi Haru Video: Jack Fontanilla

Bleu De France: Belon shifts the epicentre of Hong Kong’s French food a little closer to the 10th arrondissement

There are grand French fine dining rooms, and then there is Belon. The path it has travelled has taken many detours. When the restaurant opened, its goal was to be a French bistro, not a Michelin starred establishment, however, it quickly developed a following.

Cut to 2020, Chef de Cuisine Jacob Zuidervliet and the rest of the gastronomic geniuses behind Belon’s highly praised reputation extended the rustic luxe interior design, the ingredient provenance, and the preparation-focused dishes that have graced the pages of many publications and social media to a dining destination accessed via Elgin Street in SoHo.

Given the hip neighbourhood locale, Belon still exudes a surprisingly exuberating fine-dining aesthetic with plaster artwork revealing a history of the fleur-de-lis motif. At the same time, it pegs itself as a homey, unhurried restaurant with an easygoing vibe – courtesy of the ’90s and early noughties hip-hop music in the background – that hides the greater ambitions of the chefs.

“I like to think that we are introducing guests to something they would expect in the grand restaurants of France, both in terms of culinary execution and service in our intimate SoHo dining room,” says Chef Jacob, “We are focused on building a restaurant experience where there is no sleight of hand or showmanship; it is about providing solid, friendly service and food that is prepared with excellence and presented in a way that is sincere to its origin.”

Dungeness Crab with White Asparagus and Caviar

With month-on-month menu updates, the cascading a la carte supports this endless dedication, smoothly flowing from apéro or predinner, to a tasting menu and latenight drinks while featuring distinctive and modern French staples.

The team stretches the limits of a tiny kitchen, working the wood-fired oven over time. Precision is the driving force to their efficiency and everything must be timed so that the heat levels can quickly adjust.

A case in point is Cervelas en Brioche, smooth pork sausage cooked inside brioche dough, the chef’s personal favourite from his vast list of creations. The commitment to quality, though, starts long before anything is fired up. “It is a deceptively simple dish when it is served, but the amount of time, practice and technique that goes into preparing it is staggering. It is an excellent representation of our style of food, simple-looking but complex in flavour and technique.”

Cervelas en Brioche

Though French, Belon brings inventive Asian touches to a playful menu. On our visit, we begin with the unabashedly French starters of Smoked Saba (mackerel) with Shishito Pepper and Yellow Courgette; Dungeness Crab with White Asparagus and Caviar; and Canadian Spot Prawn with Ravioli and Champagne Sauce.

A medley of mains comes right after: the bistro inspired Kinmedai with Cassoulet and Lardo di Colonnata; Hokkaido Scallop with Morel Farci and Sauce Hollandaise; and Quercy Lamb Saddle with Walnut and Swiss Chard.

These are the temptations that will make first-timers and regulars return for more. However, the true highlights of Belon’s taste test come in the form of Whole Roasted Chicken with Petits Pois à la Française; and Miyazaki Wagyu Striploin with Pomme Aumônière and Sauce Barigoule.

Miyazaki Wagyu Striploin with Pomme Aumônière and Sauce Barigoule

We close with an assortment of decadent desserts such as Gâteau Basque with Sherry and Foie Gras; Rhum Baba with Mango; Honey and Passion Fruit Millefeuille; and Black Truffle Gâteau Marjolaine. A portfolio of wines and other tipples complete the culinary escapade.

Gâteau Basque with Sherry and Foie Gras

A faultless dinner recommendation, Belon is infused with a deep indigo hue and understated floral arrangements, while hints of underwater geometries of fish scales, coral and sponges recall found pieces from an abandoned shipwreck that serve as inspiration for its name and the dishes. More than good food and beyond a gateway to French cuisine, this restaurant proves that it is possible to give the level of attention palates deserve.

Belon, 1/F, 1-5 Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2152 2872

Text: Joseff Musa Photos: Belon Video: Jack Fontanilla

Thai & Mighty: Nuanced Niras presents powerful and exquisite fine dining from Asia’s number-one chef 

You might not find the go-to Pad Thai on the menu at Niras, but you will be rewarded with the finest seafood, meat and seasonal vegetables enlivened by Thai herbs, spices, paste and sauces. This is inventive modern Thai gastronomy. and while the ingredients are all locally sourced, the core essence comes from the heart of Thai cooking.

Niras is Thai for poetry that celebrates travel, adventure and romance; fittingly enough as this is the first time Thai culinary pioneer Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn and his team have left their native land. Chef Ton is the creative culinary mastermind behind Le Du and Nusara in Bangkok, which secured first and third spots respectively in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 rankings to reiterate his status as one of the most successful chefs in the region. After earning a degree in Economics and working in the banking industry for a short period of time, Chef Ton swapped his corporate suit and tie for his chef apron and uniform. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, by bringing his renowned modern and inventive cooking to Hong Kong, he aims to redefine Thai cuisine from fiery street food to refined, powerful and layered expressions of beloved flavours.

“While I must admit that Hong Kong has one of the best culinary offerings amongst the top cities in the world, it is missing a Thai fine-dining element,” says Chef Ton. “I want to fill that gap because I believe what we do here at Niras is a good introduction to what Thai food in an upscaled style is all about.”

Green and glass are the key interior statements of a chic yet relaxed restaurant where white tablecloths are eschewed in favour of sleek marble and granite tables. Witty framed artworks, created in collaboration with an artist from northern Thailand, also balance the refinement of Chef Ton’s culinary delights – one depicts a drunken Mickey Mouse in the shape of the Michelin mascot; another is a figure inspired by The Simpsons, Baht Sin Son.

A large oval bar is the focal point upon entering Niras. Given that Chef Ton is also a certified sommelier, wine pairings and beverages play a significant role in the dining experience. Whenever he is in town, the acclaimed chef is also the face of his own restaurant – often spotted serving food and talking to guests.

The tasting menu is a plated set of four or six courses. At one moment, you are being served River Prawn with Rice and Tom Yum and Duck with Potato in Massaman Curry, and the next, a fresh, palate-cleansing presentation of Beetroot Sorbet with Tiger Prawn alongside different types of seaweed.

Subtle and sophisticated, the tastes of each individual ingredient in every dish stand out in their own right rather than becoming one overpowering flavour. Case in point, the two follow-ups of Grouper with Thai Kale in Choo Chee Curry and Oyster with Pork Blood and Northern Spice.

The Hong Kong parade of Le Du’s iconic signature dishes is rounded off by Beef with Fennel and Holy Basil and Crab with Mushroom and Homemade Sriracha. The tasting menu, which casts Thai cuisine in an exquisite new light, changes regularly to reflect the local availability of seasonal ingredients. As if there are not enough reinventions, the divine Niras version of the all-time favourite Thai dessert Mango Sticky Rice appears as a final flourish – the perfect ending to the modern and polished Thai gastronomic experience.

Niras is the spot for locals who want their Thai flavour fix in a ritzy setting. Drawing in an eclectic crowd of creatives, foodies and wine connoisseurs as well as more casual diners, since opening in June, it has become the place to be for inspirational and social exchanges over bold, aromatic dishes and refreshing lime-infused gin and tonics. Chef Ton’s vision for Niras is full of character, from the food he serves to the art on his walls.

Niras, Shop 704, 7/F, K11 MUSEA Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Tel: +852 3905 3022.

Photos: Niras Video: Jack Fontanilla

Tapas Territory: The Spanish mains shine at Bayfare Social, where dining is a lively moving feast

Spanish food is a vibrant testament to the country’s diverse heritage. Hong Kongers just can’t seem to get enough of this spirited cuisine, as countless new concepts have come to join the fray, injecting the landscape with a fresh, youthful spirit. At Bayfare Social, the tapas-inspired neighbourhood bar-cum gastro market that is a part of Rosewood’s throng of restaurants, it is easy to overeat. Trays of flavourful and colourful dishes are continually carried about by servers. It has the same impact and effect as sushi served on a conveyor belt, mobile churrasco and dim-sum carts. Ensconced in tall chairs at the gleaming marble dining counters, you will continue to gather morsels and much more to munch on.

As far as culinary traditions go, Spain has plenty to offer. Known for being outgoing and sociable by nature, Spaniards have a deep affinity for centring joyous occasions around a table full of food. Many would agree that a celebratory feast is an integral part of Mediterranean culture. Safe to say, there are no restrictions here, besides perhaps your budget.

Yet, even with that particular concern, Head Chef Jor ge Ver a Gutiérrez’s offerings are as authentic as they can get without spending above one’s allotted budget. He says: “We assure our customers that the high quality of Spanish food we serve is value for money. People can really take a breather here, relax and enjoy the Spanish vibe.”

Gutiérrez has developed a dining experience unlike any other in his lively restaurant – as much about the food as it is an immersion into the simple, thoughtful, self-effacing temperament of his homeland. In their efforts to build a food commune in a bustling city location, let alone in a hotel adjacent to a shopping mall, Gutierrez and his team just happened to have also created the finest place to eat Spanish food.

This vibrant enclave is emphasised by the use of dangling ferns and wild leaves on the ceiling and the strategic placement of separate open preparation counters dedicated to wines, mains and other gastronomic offerings. It also plays with balance, from the traditional brown clay pot displays and the Machuca tiles to the edgy geometric accents and the quirky yet nostalgic menu.

In true Spanish dining style, the elaborate spread is sure to enliven every celebration. There is charcuterie, tapas and a variety of paella. Everything is as splashy as the restaurant itself and hits a level 10 on the flavour scale. The new brunch menu, for example, begins with a refreshing and decadent seafood platter with jet-fresh Boston lobster, oysters and tiger prawns. The juicy Hokkaido shellfish in Scallop Tiradito – a Peruvian-inspired preparation – are enhanced by Spanish-style escabeche dressing and avocado.

Even the lighter options make a bold impact. Starters are followed by traditional tapas of Ibérico Ham Croquetas with aioli, Padrón Peppers sprinkled with sea salt, and Chorizo a la Sidra, a classic appetiser of chorizo braised in cider.

Following this eminently intriguing preamble are the hearty mains. Cochinillo Asado, the chef’s famous crispy-skinned roasted Spanish suckling pig with fried potatoes and homemade pork sauce, is smartly paired with a pan of Seafood Paella laden with clams, prawns, squid and aioli.

The best finale to this exceptional weekend spread is an indulgent dessert, courtesy of the traditional Spanish treat of Churros dipped in chocolate or tart of the day.

In Spain, gathering with friends and family to share food is a way of life that keeps people connected and is regarded as beneficial to mental health. Without fail, at the core of each gathering is a delicious spread, a tradition that Bayfare Social is committed to upholding. It not only delivers an authentic Spanish dining experience to Hong Kong but also surprises and delights with innovative twists and a huge helping of national pride.

BAYFARE SOCIAL 5/F, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Rosewood – Hong Kong, +852 3981 8732

Photos: Bayfare Social

Video: Jack Fontanilla