T.Dining's Best Of The Year Awards 2018-2019
November 20, 2018 | BY Charmaine Mok
The Best Of The Year awards is a celebration of those at the top of their game in the hospitality industry. Each year, the T.Dining team compiles a shortlist of nominees for each category, which are then sent out to our panel of expert judges—among them, respected food writers, editors, and influencers. Each panelist is required to vote for their favourites in each category, assigning relevant scores to their choices in order of preference. Should a panelist believe that the shortlist is missing a nominee, they are free to suggest it and offer a justification for their choice, but most importantly, the panelists are not able to discuss their choices with each other and the votes are submitted individually to the editorial team. The scores are then tallied and the winner and runner-up decided. For the Best New Restaurant (Readers' Choice) and Best New Bar (Readers' Choice), we asked the public to cast their vote online.
Best Service: Caprice
It goes without saying that the Four Seasons is already a solid training ground for some of the best in the business. In past years, Caprice has seen some of the greatest chefs, sommeliers and pâtissiers pass through its gilded doors—and this year, the front-of-house team has proven that they complete the picture with exceptional service befitting a five-star hotel. But our Best Service winners always have something a little bit special—while the team are the epitome of professionalism, each member of staff has their own personality and point of view that shines through in the way they communicate and the enthusiasm with which they do so. From start to finish, attention is paid to every detail, both from the kitchen crew and the front-of-house—and the resulting care for diners is second to none, with each member of staff always on high alert, ready to go above and beyond.
Caprice, 6/F, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
Convivial kappo restaurant Haku came a close second, with our panellists commending the friendly service and flexibility to accommodate special requests.
Best Interior Design: John Anthony
In terms of designing a restaurant, being tasked with transforming a basement space is as challenging as it comes. For its underground Chinese restaurant in Causeway Bay’s newest commercial building, Maximal Concepts tapped Linehouse Design’s Alex Mok and Briar Hickling to help them translate the vision of a contemporary dining space utilising sustainable materials. The result is a faded palette of rusty rose, jade and vibrant turquoise, brought to life via non-toxic, plant-based paints, while details such as the indigo fabric drapery were sourced from an independent maker based in Lantau, and the terracotta flooring was reclaimed from old village houses in China. The central bar is a main feature with its tall, arched shelves holding an impressive collection of spirits. Descending the staircase towards the main dining room is reminiscent of the experience at John Anthony’s sister restaurant, Mott 32—a previous winner of the Best Interior Design award.
John Anthony, Basement Level, Lee Garden Three, 1 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Joyce Wang helped bring Ichu Peru, Virgilio Martinez’s first Hong Kong restaurant, to life. A reimagining of the Andes and its biodiversity, the space is wild with earthy, tactile surfaces, suspended trees and vibrant, juicy colours.
Best Pastry Chef: Vivien Sonzogni, Caprice
At just 28-years-old, Vivien Sonzogni of Caprice had a different journey to becoming a pastry chef. Born in Dijon, Sonzogni completed a culinary degree before studying for a two-year certification in pastry, which took him through Scotland as well as Jura. When he finally arrived in Hong Kong, he didn’t take up pastry immediately—instead, he worked as sous chef, until he was appointed pastry chef nine months later. Inspired by the marvellous colours and the year-round global harvest of fruit, he takes great pride in his fine execution of seasonal delights, often with the simplest execution or sometimes paired with herbs. He has successfully captured hearts and stomachs with innovative combinations such as apple, celery and coconut; apricot with pistachio and tarragon; and parsley, vanilla cream and yoghurt. Sonzogni continues to push the envelope and defy expectations, but according to him, his favourite creation at Caprice is the tiny apple pie served after petit fours. “It is simple, but good,” laughs the chef. We respect that—after all, it is often the most simple things that are the hardest to master.
Caprice, 6/F, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
Now The Peninsula Hong Kong’s executive pastry chef, François Delaire’s previous tenure at Macau’s Robuchon au Dôme and Rech by Alain Ducasse established his signature style of using vibrant colours and seasonal fruit in his plated creations at Gaddi’s.
Chef Of The Year: Vicky Cheng, VEA
Presented by V-ZUG
His desire to explore more of what this city has to offer, combined with a tireless work ethic and sound business acumen, are just some of the reasons why Vicky Cheng is our chef of the year. In 2017, we spoke to Cheng about the evolution of his cuisine—a mix of modern French and Chinese—and found a passionate chef eager to learn more about the natural bounty found within our borders. And in the past year, Cheng has consistently played the champion for local produce, updating his feed (@chefvickycheng) with images of Hong Kong’s finest ingredients, from fish such as wild spotted tail morwong and leatherjacket to dramatic tendrils of fresh night blooming cereus. And he’s committed to inspiring his team through this constant learning and insatiable curiosity—and the occasional quickfire kitchen challenge. “Good food is not just about a food anymore,” he told us in an interview earlier this year. “To be a trendsetter, to be a world leader, it’s about the whole experience. It’s about stories you tell and how you tell them. And it’s most effective when you’re telling them from the heart—like how a movie based on a
true story is always more emotional.”
VEA, 29-30/F, 198 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
By spearheading Landmark Mandarin Oriental’s sustainability initiatives when it comes to zero waste and plastic-free kitchens, Richard Ekkebus is setting the standard for how chefs should aim to operate in the future.
Local Champions: Josh Ng and Caleb Ng, Twins Kitchen
Josh and Caleb Ng are the duo behind Twins Kitchen, the brand and platform behind some of Hong Kong’s most exciting F&B initiatives. The twin brothers have piled a lot on their plates over the years—including opening a dumpling bar, Gao, in Copenhagen and launching Interval, a coffee bar and event space on Wellington Street, all while exploring even more possibilities in the culinary space. In 2018, the duo saw the need to support budding local entrepreneurs and chefs, and launched Taste Kitchen at PMQ, the city’s first incubation programme for restaurants. By offering the space (with a fully functioning kitchen and bar) at a nice price, as well as support staff at the front and back of house, the twins have created a space where local innovation can thrive. At least two chefs—Stephanie Wong of Roots Eatery and Zahir Mohamed of Baked—have opened independent eateries soon after their stints at Taste Kitchen, and we can’t wait to see how else the brothers will use their resources and influence to help grow our local dining scene.
Taste Kitchen, H113-H114, 1/F, Hollywood Building, PMQ, Central, Hong Kong
With his vocal support for homegrown produce and local seafood, Vicky Cheng has been a solid champion for what Hong Kong has to offer.
Sustainability Champion: David Yeung, Green Monday
This environmental advocate and social entrepreneur is behind some of Hong Kong’s most influential green initiatives, including his flagship platform Green Monday—a venture that aims to address issues including animal welfare, climate change and mindful eating—and plant-based grocery chain Green Common. It was Yeung who brought Beyond Meat to Hong Kong; in 2018, he took things further by developing Omnipork, the world’s first meat-free pork product, with his company Right Treat. Vegan-friendly xiaolongbao, pan-fried pork patties and even sweet-and-sour pork dishes are now not only a reality, but widely available because Right Treat has partnered with local Chinese restaurants. We can’t wait to see what else Yeung has planned for the future of food.
Last year’s winner, Peggy Chan of Grassroots Pantry, continues to fight the good fight for the environment. In 2018, Chan was invited to Copenhagen’s MAD conference to share her vision for a green future.
Restaurateurs Of The Year: James Ward, Asher Goldstein & Simone Sammuri, Francis
When it comes to opening restaurants, quality always trumps quantity. This year, one new opening impressed us all with its confident concept, solid execution and heartfelt authenticity. Francis, a tiny Middle Eastern restaurant on the slope of St Francis Street in Wan Chai, is a project by three determined food and wine lovers who had each made their mark in Hong Kong’s competitive dining scene in the past. Asher Goldstein and Simone Sammuri both worked at Sydney import 121BC, as chef and sommelier, respectively; James Ward brings the front-of-house perspective given his lengthy tenure as restaurant manager at Aqua Restaurant Group and Le Comptoir. Their combined experience and know-how has laid the foundation for Francis, which has not only brought fresh flavours and rare, intriguing wines to the fore, but set a new standard for how fun and invigorating good restaurants can be—just walk by any day of the week to witness the revelry that spills out into the Star Street neighbourhood.
Francis, G/F, 4-6 St Francis Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
When it comes to quantity that doesn’t compromise on quality, Black Sheep Restaurants has it all. In 2018, co-founders Chris Mark and Syed Asim Hussain launched Fukuro, Artemis & Apollo and Hotal Colombo, with more ventures on the horizon.
Best New Bar: PDT Hong Kong
Following its successful pop-up back in 2016, the acclaimed bar announced a permanent residency at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental just two years later. Opened in February 2018, PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell) by Jim Meehan and Jeff Bell set a frisson of excitement rippling through a city where high-end mixology still remains very much a niche. Many of the things that make PDT great in its hometown of New York City have been adopted here—the playful phone-booth entrance with its heavy velvet curtains, the clandestine setting, the darned good hotdogs (here crafted in collaboration with the LMO’s culinary director, Richard Ekkebus) and, of course, the superlative cocktails. While the menu features plenty of PDT classics, there are Hong Kong specials not available in the US, such as the Milk Tea Punch with Hennessy VSOP cognac, condensed milk and Taiyouran egg. Tell everyone you know: this is the real deal.
PDT Hong Kong, Mezzanine Level, MO Bar, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Another hidden bar that we’re raising a glass to is Antonio Lai’s Room 309. Located within The Pottinger, this intimate drinking den offers cleverly crafted cocktails that are all crystal-clear.
Readers' Choice: The Wise King
Presented by Asia Miles
Receiving more than 50% of the total votes, this outstanding new bar by Joe Villanueva was a hit with our readers, who highlighted the cosy atmosphere, friendly staff and the killer cocktails.
Best New Restaurant: Beet
A beet is a divisive thing, drawing a polarised line between those who appreciate its sweet earthiness and the naysayers who prefer to use the word “muddy” (to put it kindly) to describe its flavour—in the end, it’s all a matter of preference. When it comes to this cosy restaurant, however, the overwhelming opinion is that chef Barry Quek’s cooking is very palatable indeed. Beet proved to be the David to fine dining’s Goliath when it came to cinching this year’s Best New Restaurant award, beating out an impressive 17-strong shortlist of culinary titans including Alain Ducasse, Björn Frantzén and Virgilio Martinez. The formula is quite simple, really—Quek’s cuisine is exciting without feeling derivative, and humble without lacking flair or finesse. It’s an enjoyable mix of ambitious cooking that doesn’t stray too far from solid technique, served in a venue that’s down to earth—just like its namesake ingredient.
Beet, 6 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong
With its potent mix of thrilling Middle Eastern flavours, an expertly curated wine list and highly personable service, Francis was high on the list for our panellists.
Readers' Choice: Fukuro
Presented by Asia Miles
This year's favourite goes to Black Sheep Restaurants' modern Soho izakaya, which impressed readers with its electric atmopshere, solid execution of fun Japanese fare by chef Shun Sato, and refreshing whisky highballs.
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