Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the F&B industry, the chefs from MICHELIN restaurants across Hong Kong have never stopped charting new territories.
Exciting movements include the opening of Tokyo's two-MICHELIN-starred tempura restaurant Tempura Uchitsu in Hong Kong, the relocation of the two-MICHELIN-starred Tenku RyuGin and the one-MICHELIN-starred Belon to new addresses for an enhanced dining experience. In addition, a fresh new roster of two new head chefs behind one-MICHELIN-starred Octavium and the opening of a new Hong Kong restaurant by chef Enrico Bartolini of Milan's three-MICHELIN-starred Enrico Bartolini al Mudec all have made October an exciting month for the gastronomic scene in the city.
Tempura Uchitsu opens at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong
From October, Sushi Saito, the two-MICHELIN-star sushi restaurant located on the 45th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in the city will have a new neighbour: Tempura Uchitsu from Tokyo, Japan. The restaurant was founded in the exclusive Hiroo neighbourhood in Tokyo's Shibuya district by chef Takahisa Uchitsu (pictured left) in 2008. With only eight seats with a counter-style seating, it first clinched one MICHELIN star in the MICHELIN Guide Tokyo Yokohama Kamakura in 2010, and was first elevated to its two-star status in 2014. Chef Uchitsu has been bringing his omakase-style tempura dining experience at his peaceful Hiroo restaurant for 12 years. He recently decided to open the first overseas branch in Hong Kong, to promote his belief that tempura is more than just a deep-fried food.
"Tempura in fact is a dish that is fried on the surface, and steamed in the inside, which best expresses the authentic taste of the ingredients. I hope to transform the perception that tempura is unhealthy," chef Uchitsu shares. He chose Hong Kong for his restaurant's first overseas location because Hong Kong residents have a deep understanding of Japanese cuisine, he says. "We've had the idea of expansion for two or three years, but it is not easy to find a suitable partner. As soon as we learnt of the interest from the restaurant group Global Link (which also operates Sushi Saito and Tenku RyuGin in Hong Kong), we have spent the past year preparing for this new partnership in Hong Kong. "
The setting of the Hong Kong restaurant will be similar to the Japanese flagship, except the latter is slightly larger, with a total of 12 seats. While the Japanese restaurant has a garden as its backdrop, the centrepiece of the Hong Kong venue will be a vibrant fish tank. "The greenery surrounding our Hiroo restaurant in Japan (main picture) allows diners to appreciate the seasonal scenery outside while dining; while Hong Kong restaurant (pictured right) is located in the Four Seasons Hotel, which overlooks the Victoria Harbour and offers a panoramic view of the city," chef Uchitsu says.
The Hong Kong offshoot will be helmed by chef Hara Eisaku, who has worked in Tempura Uchitsu and shares the same vision as chef Uchitsu on changing the perception of tempura. The omakase menu in Hong Kong will also be similar to that of the Japanese restaurant. It starts with appetizers such as tempura shrimp, followed by sashimi dishes, various tempura, and concludes with a classic nabe hotpot, and rice with tempura as well as dessert. Tempura Uchitsu's tempura is characterised by its refreshing and non-greasy batter. The Hong Kong restaurant may also be serving unconventional ingredients such as eel and rock oysters with salt. All utensils in the Hong Kong restaurant are made by Japanese craftsmen.
The Hong Kong outpost is scheduled to open on 23 October 2020. Priority reservations will be given to regular customers of Global Link and Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, and then subsequently open for public reservation on the first day of each month. The restaurant will offer a ten-course set-menu for lunch (12 noon – 1:30 p.m.) at $1,680 per person, and two rounds of dinner seating at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. for their ten-course dinner set at $2,880 per person.
Address: 45/F, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
A new chef and venue for Belon
In the past two years, chef Daniel Calvert has led Belon to become one of the must-visit restaurants in the city as well as to earn its one MICHELIN star for signature dishes such as roast chicken and mille feuille. With the recent departure of Calvert for a new adventure overseas, the restaurant has brought on board new head chef Matthew Kirkley. To usher in a new chapter under Kirkley, the restaurant will also close from October to prepare for its relocation from Elgin Street to a new address in Soho.
“It has been a tough year for the industry and it is tempting to play it safe. But the upgrade has been a long time coming and the Belon team has worked so hard and achieved so much, we just could not bring ourselves to hold back this next step in the restaurant’s evolution," says Christopher Mark, the founder of the Black Sheep Restaurants group that runs Belon. The new Belon will feature a contemporary interior beautifully decorated with curvaceous banquettes and counters, juxtaposed against aged plaster and cobalt panelling. "We are working together with Joyce Wang Studio to craft a refined, more mature aesthetic and one that evokes inspiration from Belon’s cuisine," Mark adds.
Mark believes that Kirkley (pictured left) has an impressive resume and is the perfect candidate as the new chef of Belon. Kirkley was part of the kitchen team who led L20 in Chicago from one to two MICHELIN stars during his time there. After moving to COI of San Francisco, he was also part of the team that helped the restaurant to reach its three-MICHELIN-starred status. Last but not least, his wife Lauren Kirkley has led Belon's front of house, so it is no surprise that Kirkley already knows Belon inside out, Mark says: "Kirkley has always been a member of the Belon family."
The final day of operations for the existing location has yet to be confirmed, according to Mark, and the restaurant will continue to operate as usual until a date has been fixed. The new location will be ready by this winter or early 2021.
Tenku RyuGin relocates to Hong Kong Island
Tenku RyuGin has been serving exceptional and innovative Japanese kaiseki cuisine since it opened in 2012. Nine years on and two MICHELIN stars later, chef Seiji Yamamoto, who founded the Tokyo's three-MICHELIN-starred RyuGin, felt it is time for new elements to be incorporated into their Hong Kong outpost, and hence decided that Tenku RyuGin will temporarily shutter on October 31 to prepare for its relocation to the Central District on Hong Kong Island. It is blueprinted to reopen in the 3rd quarter of 2021.
This is not the first time that Yamamoto has made a decision to move. In 2018, he moved Tokyo's RyuGin from Roppongi to Hibiya in pursuit of a bigger space to provide a better dining experience. Hibiya is near the Imperial Palace and is rich with the charms of Japanese culture. "There is no other place better than Hibiya to bring out the beauty of Japanese cuisine," Yamamoto said in 2018 during an interview with the MICHELIN Guide.
The reasons for the relocation of the Hong Kong location are similar. The pandemic allows time for Yamamoto and his team to stop and reflect upon their existing operation. On top of that, he has always been hoping to bring closer his chefs and diners for a more interactive culinary experience. As the setup of the current venue is not able to support that, the decision to relocate seems to be a logical one.
“RyuGin has always sought to elevate the flavours of our food, and we want our guest to taste our dishes as soon as they leave the hands of the chef. The design of the new restaurant will allow us to do this better. As the new location will only accept around 12 guests, we will be able to be more attentive to our guests," Yamamoto explains.
Tenku RyuGin is currently looking for a suitable location in the central part of the Hong Kong Island, and the team will continue to provide seasonal dishes at the current location before the end of October. During the restaurant’s closure, the chefs of Tenku RyuGin will return to its Japan main branch to work and receive further training.
FURTHER READING: Nihonryori RyuGin Moves To Hibiya
Octavium welcomes two new head chefs
Backed by celebrity chef Umberto Bombana, Octavium received its first MICHELIN star in 2019 for its authentic Italian fare. The restaurant has recently been joined by the new executive chef Roland Schuller and chef de cuisine Bjoern Alexander. Schuller, who is from Germany and well-versed with Italian cuisine, is a long-time friend of chef Bombana and they previously ran the elegant The Drawing Room restaurant at the now-defunct JIA Hotel together. Alexander, who is also from Germany, has previously worked at Tim Raue, a two-MICHELIN-starred restaurant in Berlin. A mentee of Schuller, he was the chef de cuisine of Restaurant Petrus at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong before joining Octavium.
"They are both very good chefs. As I need to run my other restaurant 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo - Bombana everyday, I need good chefs to take care of Octavium. Schuller is a very good friend of mine and is very familiar with Italian cuisine. Alexander can bring contemporary and modern elements into the restaurant," Bombana says.
Both Schuller and Alexander agree. "I am very familiar with Italian cuisine, and my style is more classic and traditional. Hence I have invited Alexander to join me to add new flavours and some new ideas next to an old man like me," Schuller laughs.
Alexander’s retorts cheekily — a reflection of the men's deep-rooted friendship: "I don’t want to say that he is old, but his approach is more traditional. I will introduce some new ideas such as fermentation. He gives me the freedom to experiment but can also rein me back when I go too far. It’s a very good relationship."
Under the duo's lead, the restaurant has launched a menu called "Estivo", which celebrates the seasons. "This menu uses only seasonal ingredients, as its name suggests. The dishes vary depending on the ingredient supply, so we will not decide how often the menu will change — we will let the seasons decide for us," Schuller says. Estivo is served during lunch and dinner, and menu options range from three courses ($988/person) to four courses ($1,288/person) and five courses ($1,488/person). Among all the new dishes, Schuller's recommendation is the red prawn pasta. "The highlight of this dish is the prawn sauce, which is made by boiling all the unused parts of the shrimp — it is simply irresistible," Schuller says.
RECOMMENDED READING: What MICHELIN Inspectors Said About Octavium
Enrico Bartolini of Milan's three-MICHELIN-starred Enrico Bartolini al Mudec will open his second restaurant in Hong Kong
Chef Enrico Bartolini has opened his second Italian restaurant FIAMMA in Hong Kong at The Peak Galleria on 5 October 2020 (the first restaurant is Spiga in Central). Bartolini is originally from Tuscany, Italy, and was trained by Massimiliano Alajmo of three-MICHELIN-starred Le Calandre in Italy. Apart from Enrico Bartolini al Mudec, he also runs La Trattoria Enrico Bartolini in Badiola, Casual in Bergamo and Locanda del Sant'Uffizio in Cioccaro, which all of them has received one MICHELIN star.
Bartolini explains why he chose The Peak Galleria as the location. "Every neighbourhood in Hong Kong has a little something different to offer. FIAMMA's site at the peak has a touch of magic with its lush green surrounding, and I foresee the family-friendly style restaurant going to serve the area very well." FIAMMA means flame in Italian. Decorated with oak, timber, and blue mosaic tiles, the main dining area and outdoor terrace of the restaurant will have 110 seats, creating a warm and authentic Italian kitchen atmosphere.
"When people going to the peak, they are usually looking for an unwind and relaxing outing experience, maybe with a touch of celebration mood in mind. For Italians, being with those you love is everything, and you'll always find them coming together around the dinner table; and I would like to see people enjoy their time at FIAMMA with this feeling in mind," Bartolini says.
The kitchen at FIAMMA will be helmed by Paolo Olivieri, head chef of Spiga who has been working closely with Bartolini for a long time. Most of the dishes will be freshly made daily inhouse, including their bread and pasta. A wide selection of vegetarian options will also be available.
Due to the pandemic, Bartolini could not physically come to the city for the preparation of the new opening. However, that does not stop him from closely communicating with the Hong Kong team with all the technologies available to ensure everything at FIAMMA is on the right track. “Right now, during this challenging time, we are doing our best to focus on the quality and value as equal measure by bringing diners a refined yet comforting experience that doesn't break the bank," Bartolini shares. "Life goes on, and I genuinely believe the normal pace of life and business will soon recover, we just need to be patient."
Address: Shop G02, Peak Galleria, 118 Peak Road, Hong Kong