Peter Cheung On His Favourite Dining Experiences From The Past Pandemic Year
Over the past year, I limited my dining out based on each wave of pandemic restrictions. I really can’t cook, so it was like The Hunger Games. When it was safe to venture out, I made the most of it—albeit with caution. Here are some of my favourite meals from the past year, which I enjoyed both at restaurants and in the homes of some of my foodie friends.
Sweatpants and potluck
Sharie Ross-Tse and Nissim Tse host a potluck every once in a while and the dress code is always (designer) sweats. We all bring a dish but Nissim, who is the real chef, will make sure he prepares something special, probably because he is scared of what us non-cooks will bring. He made roasted marinated watermelon with mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, a classic spaghetti bolognese and a hanger steak with broccoli.
Candice Suen-Sieber brought Korean fried chicken from Chicken Hof & Soju in Wan Chai, and I brought a limited-edition Perrier-Jouët champagne jelly cake from Lady M and three bottles of Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs for myself, as none of them drink. Now you see why we wear sweatpants.
Fine dining in the sky
Last September, I went to my first lunch in months when Laetitia Yu and I took our friend Yuda Chan out for her birthday. Yu organised a wonderful set lunch at Petrus of crab, veal cheek with asparagus and a cheese board to finish. With the Island Shangri-La’s spectacular views, it made for a relaxing environment for a four-hour meal and catch-up.
Night at the museum
As the only black-tie dinner that was able to go ahead in 2020, the First Initiative Foundation’s fundraising gala at the Hong Kong Museum of Art was a huge highlight. My friend Michelle Ong worked tirelessly to host a truly incredible night, which was themed “everlasting wonder”.
The menu was created by chef Umberto Bombana of 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana fame, with a divine dessert created by Smita Grosse, executive pastry chef at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong. We had blue lobster, gnocchi with truffle jus, mayura beef tenderloin, and orchard fruits and chocolate flowers to finish. It gave a glimpse of what gala dinners will look like in the new normal.
Friend with benefits
I am lucky to have a neighbour like Charmaine Li who always checks to see if I have food at home. We could not gather at her home for Christmas last year, so instead, one Saturday afternoon, she casually invited me over and, like it was nothing, served pea and bacon chowder, vodka rigatoni, a mixed seafood fricassee with homemade aioli, slow-roasted pork belly, an heirloom tomato salad, pommes boulangère, stir-fried oyster and shiitake mushrooms, and tarte tatin with homemade vanilla ice cream. And, to ensure my trousers really wouldn’t fit the next day, she sent me home with sausage rolls.
The culinary success story of the last year was the opening of Hansik Goo. Chef Mingoo Kang and ZS Hospitality Group’s restaurant stood strong in the face of every challenge. I had heard how difficult it was to get a booking, so when my friend Irene Lam invited me, I jumped at the chance. No doubt, it was my favourite meal last year.
The tasting menu blew me away, with highlights including chogochujang with octopus and vegetables, beef tartare with lily bud, ginseng chicken risotto with two-year-aged kimchi, soft-boiled pork belly, semi-dried cod, and seaweed noodles with preserved cucumber, followed by a cinnamon punch granita.
Top of the pops
The first evening dining experience I ventured out to last year was 888 Fatfatfat in October. Under the creative vision of Amanda Cheung, this one-month pop-up was a must-try. I invited my friends Annie and Patrick Ting, who are real foodies. The concept blended a speakeasy format with the Chinese myth of the Eight Immortals, which tells of a magical realm of abundance where rice bowls and wine vessels are always full—there was a button on every table to call for more alcohol, which I made good use of.
The family-style menu ranged from Cantonese steamed giant razor clams with black garlic and vermicelli, to Sichuan braised Angus beef with chilli oil broth, to the Eight Immortals’ fried chicken. Plant-based sharing plates devised by Peggy Chan, of Grassroots Pantry and Nectar fame, included Peking “duck” wraps made with cured jackfruit and crispy tofu skin, while the Xinjiang “lamb” was made with cumin-rubbed lion’s mane mushrooms, and typhoon shelter-style “squid” was made with carved wedges of coconut flesh.
See also: Asia’s Most Influential: Hong Kong’s 42 Tastemakers 2021
My friend Carol Chugani knows her Chinese food—and all cuisines for that matter—and when she invited me to her and her husband Sunil Chugani’s home for a private Chinese chef dinner, I did not hesitate. We enjoyed yuzu yam, cheese dumplings, chicken in chilli oil sauce, crab, beef ribs and more. Her chef is so in-demand that Carol requested I don’t mention their name or details. You will have to bribe her.
See also: 11 Best High-End Chinese Restaurants In Hong Kong
I don’t (can’t) really cook, so when I cracked open the tin of Nomad Caviar from my friends Emelda Wong and Sheldon Trainor, it was the best home meal I made last year. All I did was whip up scrambled eggs, cover them with tonnes of caviar, open a few bottles of champagne and voilá, I can cook!
Around the world
The Grand Hyatt Hong Kong is like my second home and my friends there never disappoint when I ask for creative ideas, like when they served me Hainan chicken rice in the ballroom at my birthday party in 2018. At a private dinner for four, I asked for each course to showcase the best of the best of all their landmark restaurants: Kaetsu, One Harbour Road and Grissini, with an amazing dessert.
They certainly delivered, bringing us hamachi tartare with pecorino and oscietra caviar, wok-baked Boston lobster claw with shrimp mousse, and chargrilled Australian beef tenderloin with scarlet prawn. Dessert was a yuzu-whipped ganache with lemon confit, lemon myrtle sorbet and meringue.
See also: Peter Cheung's Hot List: 9 Home-Grown Style Destinations To Visit In Hong Kong