One Star House Party, the Team of Ex-Noma Chefs Hosting a Year-Long Pop-Up in Hong Kong
Imagine the effort that goes into creating a restaurant. A year perhaps of conceptualising and venue hunting, months of menu planning and interior decorating, weeks of staff hiring and dish finessing? James Sharman has had enough of that. The 25-year-old former chef de partie at Copenhagen’s Noma needs just a month—a month in which his team travels to a country they’ve never visited, spend their first week immersing themselves in the local food culture, the second finding a venue and creating a menu based on local influences and ingredients, the third week hosting a pop-up for which they themselves seat the guests, cook and serve, and then returning home with a menu and ingredients in tow.
That’s the concept behind Sharman’s exciting new venture, One Star House Party, which kicked off a one-year residency in Hong Kong this summer. And the team: Sharman’s London business partner, Kevin McCrae, with whom he worked under British celebrity chef Tom Aikens and launched a street food concept called Butcher & Brine; Joseph Lidgerwood, another Aikens alum; and McCrae’s wife, Trisha, a hospitality veteran who previously managed Gaucho in London. The creative quartet gave the concept a trial run in Hong Kong in January, and what was to be a three-day pop-up in a former Sheung Wan printing house was so popular that it had to be extended to three weeks. The red-hot reception was motivation enough for the group to quit their full-time jobs to pursue the pop-up concept on a more permanent basis.
“We started this because we were all tired of the environments that we had been working in,” says Sharman, the frontman for One Star House Party, the name a tongue-in-cheek connection to the Michelin stars possessed by the team members’ previous restaurants. “They were all amazing places with incredible people, but we just wanted to do something that was kind of outside and completely uncontrived. We just knew it was what we wanted to do from now on.”
The team followed up the success of the Hong Kong pop-up with a month-long trip in the US, where they rented one of New York’s most expensive Airbnbs for their venue. “Imagine you’re about to open a restaurant in 10 days and you have nothing but an apartment to do it in,” Sharman recalls. Over the course of that 10 days, he and his team sourced furniture, glasses and kitchen equipment, sold tickets, ate their way around New York and designed a menu based on their experiences. Aside from the obvious physical and emotional stresses, the financial stakes were high, too. The night before tickets went on sale, the team were US$60,000 in debt on their credit cards and Sharman “wouldn’t have been able to go to Starbucks to get a latte.”
Fortunately, the six-night pop-up, like Hong Kong’s, was a sell-out. So popular, in fact, that one night a guest who missed the cut-off for admission to the building (Trisha had been manning the entrance but was needed back in the kitchen) scaled several fire escapes before appearing at a window. “He was banging on the window shouting, ‘Help me, help me’,” says Sharman, “and so we pulled him in. This guy just bundled onto the kitchen floor and said, ‘My girl’s outside,’ so we had to go and let her in.”
Back in Sheung Wan, the team launched the first pop-up of their year-long residency at the Soho Printing Press in May, presenting a menu based on their post-New York exploration of the San Francisco scene. Once they wrapped that up, they headed off to immerse themselves in Taiwan’s gastronomy, delivering a menu inspired by the island in Sheung Wan in June. Next up was Argentina, with a Buenos Aires pop-up running from July 24 to 29 and then the Hong Kong version from August 5 to 11. Iceland and Japan are among the destinations in the pipeline.
The Sheung Wan venue, which seats 35, is simple and charming, with whitewashed walls, wooden tables, plenty of candles, and tumblers for wine glasses. Evenings are ticketed, with a set start time and a set menu, and you bring your own booze. No one has to share tables, but the atmosphere is very relaxed and friendly. Sharman, whose bedroom is on the mezzanine above the restaurant, sums it up perfectly when he describes it as “a cross between a restaurant and a dinner party.”
And what a dinner party! When I attended the May pop-up, it felt like arriving at the apartment of a cool friend. A beaming Trisha practically hugs you on arrival. When the courses begin to flow, a chef appears with each one to tell the tale behind it. From the Texan smokehouse that inspired meltingly delicious short ribs, to the lemon groves that inspired a lemon posset pudding, they all have a story. My favourite comes with the last, inspired by a passionate beekeeper in San Francisco. “He’s a carpenter during the week and on the weekend he builds beehives,” enthuses Sharman as he delivers the dish, titled The Plight of the Bee. “He teaches kids about why bees are so important and how having a couple of beehives in your garden could make a huge difference to the ecosystem around you.” The dish comprises a slab of honeycomb from the beekeeper’s hive adorned with caramelised baby carrots, caramel cheese curd and honeycomb candy.
Sharman’s infectious passion and tenacity is evidenced not only by the stellar team he persuaded to quit their jobs to join his merry band of wandering gastronomes, but also by the palpable enthusiasm he inspires among diners. If you’re looking for a restaurant with starched napkins, an extensive wine list and regimented service, this is not the spot for you. “Eating with us is going to be a bit rugged,” he says. “You might not have your cutlery on time, but it will be fun and it will be honest.” If, however, you’re looking for innovative food served by passionate chefs in a relaxing, homely environment surrounded by a cool crowd, look no further. One Star House Party delivers the goods, and the evening always end with the chefs and diners drinking wine in the kitchen, where all the best parties happen.
This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Hong Kong Tatler