An Ode To Hong Kong’s Restaurants And Bar Scene: 2020 In Review
What a ride 2020 has been. Covid-19 hit the food and beverage industry with such impact, the aftermath and harmful repercussions from the restrictive social distancing measures are still yet to be fully felt. The rules have changed so frequently—sometimes loosened, sometimes tightened—we have yet to see how such restrictions will play out in the near future. With dining out in the evening ground to a halt and bars closed, the food and beverage industry has suffered a great deal; but the uncertainty has forced us to adapt to the changes with solutions, as gourmet deliveries and takeaway became the new normal, further changing how we see dining as a whole. Despite the uncertainty we experienced in 2020, we saw great potential, and certainly some room for celebrating small victories. Below, we remember the triumphs and tribulations, and the most exciting moments of the year.
2020's Highs And Lows
Fighting the coronavirus while helping the industry was the name of the game throughout the year. All of us joined forces to make a difference to help however we can, from the popular #SaveHKFnB voucher campaign to Black Sheep Restaurants’ own Covid-19 playbook. Restaurants and the media also came together to participate in our city-wide dining campaign, United We Dine, and continued to support our second season and the ongoing Hong Kong Cocktail campaign. The first instalment of United We Dine generated more than two million Hong Kong dollars in receipts for restaurants, while the Hong Kong Cocktail campaign gathered mixologists from Hong Kong’s top bars—during the summer bar closures, no less—to team up and create their idea of a concoction that represents Hong Kong.
Food Trends Come And Go
While gyms were closed, making Dalgona coffee was the best arm workout for 2020. The Internet sensation prompted the world to go back into the kitchen, baking sourdough loaves while having a Quarantini in jest. Takeaways and deliveries of restaurant-grade fine dining became popular out of necessity, and a favourable outcome that shows the world the flexibility of the food and beverage industry to turn a dire circumstance into a way to survive.
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Restaurant Closings And Losses
2020 has been a year of losses. The year was a constant let down for us as we bid goodbye to multiple restaurants. We felt a great loss as Peggy Chan shut Nectar, her follow up to largely successful Grassroots Pantry. Chan’s unique take of plant-based dining has delighted with technique-driven vegan items that left us wanting more. Another great supporter of local produce, Barry Quek’s Beet closed in April. This Tatler Dining Top 20 Restaurants honoree excelled with Quek’s unique take on local produce, sourced from farms from the New Territories. Art-haven Bibo also closed this year, as frontman Nick Chew turned private chef shortly after the Le Comptoir restaurant closed. Chef Daniel Calvert parted ways with Belon to take up a new post in Tokyo, with Matthew Kirkley’s new chapter for the restaurant to follow suit in a new location. Restaurants at the InterContinental Hong Kong shut as the hotel closed, from Rech by Alain Ducasse to Nobu. Only Yan Toh Heen survived the closure. The hotel went on to start planned renovation and will reopen later in 2022 as The Regent.
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Starting Anew in 2020
While we mourned the losses of restaurants, great dining concepts were on the rise throughout the toughest year to start a business. Agung Prabowo departed The Old Man to open sustainability-themed Penincillin and Dead&, while rum took centre stage at Soho’s The Daily Tot. John Nugent’s The Diplomat impressed cocktail lovers not only with its Gibson cocktail, but also a killer wagyu burger and home-baked chocolate chip cookies by the mixologist himself. We cannot get enough of the two restaurants with a very similar name, i.e. Smoke And Barrel(s). Restaurant groups slowed down on new openings but those that opened remain crowd-pleasers: Argentinian-native Agustin Balbi opened Ando shortly after Ricardo Chaneton opened Mono. Black Sheep Restaurants opened luxury teppanyaki restaurant Crown Super Deluxe, while Meraki Hospitality expanded with all-day eatery Mamma Always Said.
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Shady Acres’ Ryan Nightingale and Mike Watts opened Honky Tonks Tavern; while Pirata Group continues to expand with new locations of existing concepts of Pici and TMK, as well as their widely popular The Pizza Project. After months of speculation and anticipation, Rosewood’s Indian restaurant Chaat finally opened. Yakinikumafia made a debut in Sheung Wan following Wagyumafia’s success, while a series of casual French bistros from Jean May to Bouillon and wine-oriented Batard topped the list of the hardest tables to book, as did Mingoo Kang’s Hansik Goo and Tempura Uchitsu's first international outpost at the Four Seasons. Basehall also made a strong, mid-year debut with an impressive line-up of fast-casual gourmet such as Young Masters, Return of Lemak, and Roti Tori, and Baked’s South Africa-native Zahir Mohamed finally opened his new Middle Eastern restaurant Acme in Soho this December.
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Pop-Up And Collaborations Reign Supreme
Despite travel restrictions, restaurant and bars are looking from within Hong Kong to inspire events and collaborations. Guests shifts dominated bars during the first half of 2020. Local chefs also collaborated with one another, from VEA's Vicky Cheng’s four-hands Chinese umami-themed collaboration with Forum Restaurant’s Adam Wong, to Samaira Kavatkar ‘s Bombay East Indian Girl pop-up at Sai Ying Pun’s Test Kitchen. Arbor’s Eric Raty reigns as the pop-up king of the year, as he hosted a collaboration with local chef Christopher Ho, presented afternoon tea treats from his early Nordic izakaya to afternoon tea from Northern Europe, as well as launching two pastry pop-ups at Test Kitchen and Central’s Interval Coffee Bar.
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Cafe openings were almost even more exciting than restaurant openings throughout the 2020, as Sham Shui Po overtook Central and Sheung Wan to be the latest hub for lifestyle cafes, and we are delighted to see coffee culture flourish with an increasing demand for high quality roasted beans and a growing appreciation of hand-drip coffee as well as the popular milk-based espresso coffee. Bubble tea diminished as a trend, but Mother Pearl introduced plant-based bubble tea with a strong following, while newly-opened Tea Academics raised the stakes for tea appreciation across town.
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Sweets Are Everything
When times are tough, a little sweetness goes a long way. Hong Kong has certainly grown fond of sweet treats this year, as American-style soft and chewy cookies made plenty of noise, thanks to popular brands such as Baked Indulgence and Wil Fang's Cookie DPT, while donuts made a return in the second half of the year, from Ello’s pop-up at K11 to the Instagram launch of Donut By Design. Bakehouse’s new location brought not only savoury pies and new sausage rolls, but also pastry treats such as an impressive tarte Tropezienne to the table, while Dominique Ansel’s Dang Wen Li impressed us with its Harbour City debut, floral Cronut pop-up and also their recent launch of their IFC Mall pop-up. Just a stone’s throw away at Landmark is Richard Ekkebus’ Freshly Baked pop-up where the Dutch chef presents two-months of nostalgic baked goods and desserts, while Butter Cake Shop’s six-month residence at the luxury arcade will showcase the best of American sliced cakes and the famous apple pie until mid 2021.
Reviewing every single moment that happened throughout 2020 recalled fond memories, as we remembered those we lost, and appreciated those who whet our appetites and touched our hearts. The future for food and beverage remains unclear, but most of us remain hopeful for many, as we encourage all to help in any way possible. Remember the good times you’ve enjoyed here, and do everything you can to keep them around. 2021 is set bring new concepts and ideas, and there will be plenty worth celebrating. We are sure of it.