We talk to acclaimed local chef Vicky Lau and head chef Percy Ho about MORA, their new modern French-Chinese restaurant that celebrates soy.
Native to Manchuria and first cultivated 3,000 years ago, the soybean is the root of many Asian ingredients and preparations. From tofu to soy sauce, to edamame and its contemporary use in meat-free alternatives, its ancient properties have been preserved and celebrated for centuries.
At MORA, acclaimed chef Vicky Lau, in collaboration with co-founder Romain Herbreteau and head chef Percy Ho, brings her experience in effortlessly blending Chinese and French culinary traditions to celebrate soy with finesse and innovation.
The debuting menu, Characters of Soy, explores the ingredient’s symbolic importance in Asian cultures with dishes that transcend the usual categorisations of contemporary dining (starter, main course, etc), yet celebrate its textural versatility.
Here, Lau and Ho talk about MORA’s historic location in Sheung Wan, the concept behind the contemporary eatery and a renewed appreciation for sustainable local products.
Introducing New Dining Concept MORA
What’s the concept behind MORA?
Vicky Lau: MORA is a new modern French-Chinese restaurant located in the heart of Sheung Wan’s antiques street. We’ll continue focusing on Chinese cuisine with French influences, while highlighting soy products such as tofu, soy milk and tofu skin. Given the small and intimate setting, we aim to create a warm and familial atmosphere with refinement and attention to details. We love the historic factor and the uniqueness of the street, and hope to play a role in preserving it. Mora is a place for gathering and community, bringing together all minds to share the diversity and tradition of what soy can bring to a curious palate.
Tell us about the name.
Vicky Lau: MORA is named after the Chinese name of Upper Lascar Row where, generations ago, the street used to house travellers and traders from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The name Mora pays homage to the rich diversity of Hong Kong, while also representing the Chinese character 摩, which means texture.
At first glance, the space looks delicate and stylish. Can you tell us more about the restaurant’s design?
Vicky Lau: MORA’s design is inspired by my traditional Chinese and contemporary French culinary influences, the textures of tofu, the refined subtleties of Song Dynasty design and 1930s French Concession Shanghai. MORA is a bright and welcoming lunchtime venue that evolves into a nocturnal spot for casual yet refined dining and cocktails. All elements, like the tofu skin- inspired 3D-printed pendant lamps, were designed especially for MORA.
Why did you pick soy as the inspiration for the restaurant? Do you have a nostalgic attachment to it?
Vicky Lau: My exploration of soy began at TATE Dining Room with our lunch menu “Ode to Tofu”, back in June 2020, when I was able to forge relationships with some of Hong Kong’s most skilled local artisans and crafters of soy food products. Soy is considered a pillar of Asian cuisines and cultures. Not only does it play an important role in Asian diets, but it’s also a driving force for heritage, tradition and mindfulness. Its fragility in the kitchen can endure time and temperature, while also being fleeting and subtle. When paired with other ingredients, the possibilities with soy are surprising as they are abundant. We try to push all boundaries through a menu derived from all-soy products.
How does it feel to open a new restaurant right now?
Vicky Lau and Percy Ho: It’s challenging opening a new restaurant right now, as the F&B industry is facing a lot of social-distancing measures and limitations to find overseas products. However, we see this as an opportunity to grow and discover more local ingredients and work with more sustainable products. It allows us to focus more on creating new dishes as well.
From a market perspective, can MORA be considered a flexitarian restaurant?
Vicky Lau and Percy Ho: Far from a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan restaurant, MORA seeks to modernise the way we view and consume soy, as a delicious, nutritious and elevated alternative to other less-sustainable ingredients and cooking methods. Our message is: “Let’s replace some meat proteins with plant proteins in your daily meals and still enjoy all the flavours that come with it.”
Tell us about your house-made soy products.
Vicky Lau: Most soy food products found on the menu will also soon be created in MORA’s own factory in Hong Kong, which utilises a new technology of extracting soy milk with a thicker texture and more intense flavour. The machine is being built at the moment and will be ready soon. We are looking forward to testing all the possibilities that come with utilising soybeans.
How did your partnership come about?
Vicky Lau: Percy started working at TATE Dining Room and quickly moved to the position of sous chef. His love for cooking and gastronomy is deeply ingrained. He most enjoys bistro-style food, which is a perfect fit for him to be leading a small neighbourhood-style restaurant like MORA.
Percy, for those who don’t know you, tell us about your background and career.
Percy Ho: My father, a former dim sum chef, instilled in me a love for cooking from the age of 10, passing on generations of cooking knowledge from his father. When cooking at home for my family, my fondest memories include visiting the local wet markets to pick up the freshest seasonal produce. My passion for culinary arts naturally progressed into a professional full-time career in the kitchen. After three years of working and learning under chef Vicky, I was appointed head chef at MORA.
MORA, 40 Upper Lascar Row, Sheung Wan; +852 9583 8590