With the recent release of a global Michelin guide devoted entirely to Cantonese cuisine – the first publication by the famed foodies’ bible, in fact, that’s dedicated to a single school of cookery – we decided it was high time for us to revisit a handful of Hong Kong’s dining institutions that have elevated the food of southeast China to a fine art.
Yan Toh Heen
Renovated last year to resemble an exquisite jade jewellery box, the Cantonese eatery at InterContinental Hong Kong has earned two Michelin stars for five consecutive years and five stars from the Forbes Travel Guide for three consecutive years. The man behind its celebrated dishes is Lau Yiu Fai, who’s been with the restaurant since 1984.
“Due to our proximity the sea, chefs cooking Cantonese cuisine have access to the freshest seafood, which requires us to reveal the uniquenessof the ingredients and a sense of spontaneity,” says the executive chef. “It’s not enough to just follow recipes; we need to show our personality.”
To do so, Lau adds layers of taste and texture. “For instance, toenhance the crispiness and succulence of our Peking duck, I created twonew sauces: osmanthus plum and black garlic chili. We also serve six garnishes: green papaya, cucumber, red chili, pineapple, pomelo and spring onion. It caters to the tastes of both younger and older customers.”
Indeed, being a specialist in Cantonese cuisine doesn’t limit Lau tolocal ingredients. “I once travelled to the foot of Sakurajima in Kagoshima to find the radish for our turnip cake and a wet market in South Korea to search for seafood for our new dishes,” he says.
And while innovation plays a big role in the menu, traditional dishesare the reason Yan Toh Heen is hailed as one of the world’s finest Chinese restaurants. “After more than 30 years, most of all we want to continue to delight food lovers with our cuisine, service, ambience and spectacular harbour views,” Lau says.
Yan Toh Heen, Lower Level, InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisburuy Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 2313 2323
Lung King Heen
Known for exceptional dim sum and Cantonese “masterpieces”, Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong is the first Chinese restaurant in the world to be awarded the Michelin three-star rating and the only Cantonese restaurant in town to receive the accolade – and for an impressive 10 consecutive years.
Executive chef Chan Yan Tak was born and raised here, and serves as an inspiration for other local chefs – his success has proven they don’t have to travel abroad to become culinary stars. “I’ve been amazed at the response from people around the world,” Chan says.
What Chan means by that includes signature dishes such as steamed lobster with scalloped dumpling, wok-fried prawns with organic black garlic and dried chili, and, to celebrate this month’s Dragon Boat Festival, organic glutinous rice dumplings with abalone and conpoy, osmanthus and chestnut, or termite mushrooms, crabmeat and red beans.
For the boy from Kowloon, all the Michelin stars in the world can’t beat the sense of community among his team and the city at large. “When I go to the wet market to buy some fish or vegetables,” he says, “I know I’ll always see the same faces and be served by the same people who’ve worked there for 20 or 30 years.”
Lung King Heen, Four Seasons Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central +852 3196 8880
Named for Chui Wai Kwan – the seventh son of Chui Fok Chuen, founder of the Chinese restaurant group Fook Lam Moon – Seventh Son is a story of family and tradition.
“I’ll always remember my roots and be grateful for his teachings,” chef and Seventh Son founder Chui says of his famous father. “I try to maintain the quality of the food in the restaurant by adhering to my father’s techniques and to the high quality of ingredients he used.”
Chui started as an apprentice cook at Fook Lam Moon at the age of 14 and within six years took over the position of head chef, before eventually establishing Seventh Son in 2013. His most popular dishes include such traditional Cantonese favourites as crispy chicken, barbecue suckling pig and bird’s-nest broth with fresh crabmeat.
Despite his restaurant being included in the Michelin guide and having received one star for its Shanghai branch, Chui values the recognition from his customers even more. “Their satisfaction and recognition is the most crucial thing for me,” he says.
Chui also hopes that the rest of the world will come to appreciate his style of food. “I think the future of Cantonese cuisine will develop towards Guangzhou,” he says, “as more new talented chefs come from the area.”
Seventh Son, 3/F, The Wharney Guang Dong Hotel, 57 – 73 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai; +852 2892 2888
Founded in 1973, Lei Garden has grown into one of the largest Cantonese restaurant groups in Asia, with 25 outlets in Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China and Singapore.
Founder and chairman Chan Shu Kit is dedicated to delivering a seamless Cantonese dining experience. Over the decades, his chefs have invented thousands of new dishes and recipes. Most notable among them is XO sauce, first created by Lei Garden in 1983 with a blend of conpoy, ham and shrimp roe, and its world-famous chilled mango pudding, created in 1987 and featuring grapefruit and sago.
Of its 11 branches in Hong Kong, seven are featured in the Michelin guide with the original Mong Kok location and Kwun Tong earning a coveted star for “Cantonese fare reliably cooked with fresh ingredients” and recommended dishes such as double-boiled teal with Cordyceps militaris and fish maw.
Chan works tirelessly to ensure that all of his restaurants focus on the customer first and foremost. “Setting noble goals, studying hard, being a good person and doing good deeds” – this is the motto Chan learned from his father and that he’s ingrained in everyone who works for him.
Lei Garden; multiple locations.
Wong Chi Fai started cooking for a simple yet wonderfully obvious reason – his love of eating. Despite the long hours and harsh conditions of working in a Chinese kitchen, his efforts quickly paid off with recognition from diners and industry peers alike.
“When I first joined T’ang Court, I soaked the sea cucumber for too long and it turned to jelly,” the executive chef says, laughing. “Luckily, Chef Kwong, the head chef at the time, taught me and made sure I did it right the next time. He once said that a small improvement in your dishes every day is already way better than no improvement at all. This is also my motto when it comes to the milestones I’ve achieved through the years.”
Those milestones include three Michelin stars and a Hong Kong’s Best of the Best Culinary Award. At T’ang Court, Wong focuses on authentic Cantonese cuisine, such as sweet and sour pork with fresh fruit, and braised sliced pork with preserved vegetables.
“Unlike other Cantonese restaurants that emphasise fusion and presentation, we focus on the aroma and the taste of the food,” he says. “In traditional Cantonese cooking, we use the maximum heat to cook ingredients in a limited time. That’s why it’s extremely difficult to control the degree of doneness of the food. You need to be very experienced in order to get the hang of it.”
That’s not to say Wong is averse to innovation. “In order to cater to the tastes of younger customers, we use ingredients from around the world,” he says. “Like in our stir-fried beef, we use the traditional style of stir-frying with wagyu from Japan, which is popular nowadays.”
T’ang Court, 1/F The Langham Hong Kong, 8 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; +2132 7898
Tucked away on a side street in Central, The Chairman has quickly moved up the rankings of the region’s best restaurants since its opening 10 years ago, including the 11th spot on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Chef Kwok Keung Tung, whose signature dish is steamed flowery crab in aged Shaoxing wine and chicken oil with flat rice noodles, believes that the simplest food demands the highest level of culinary skill.
He and his team also pride themselves on sourcing all ingredients locally, whether hand-picking seafood at Aberdeen Fish Market each morning, growing vegetables at their organic farm in Sheung Shui or buying pork and chicken from suppliers in the New Territories. As legendary chef Ferran Adrià once described it, this is “the future of Chinese food”.
The Chairman, 18 Kau U Fong, Central; +852 2555 2202