It’s a dramatic view over Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour up on the 56th-floor Petrus Restaurant, especially as an angry storm is just calming down.
“You know, I’ve been here for 18 years now. For me, Hong Kong is still such an amazing city. I can’t wait for it to bounce back once we [have no more travel restrictions],” says chef Uwe Opocensky of one-MICHELIN-starred Petrus as well as Island Shangri-la Hong Kong’s executive chef.
He recently returned to Hong Kong after a two-month holiday -- his first trip away since the outbreak of Covid-19. He and his family visited Germany, the United Kingdom and Portugal between June and August.
The importance of travelling“You’ve got Instagram these days, but pictures don’t do justice to certain restaurants. You have to experience it, to taste and to discover the hospitality of that establishment in person,” says Opocensky.
He has an ongoing list of about 50 to 60 restaurants on his travel wish list. Many of them are restaurants in the MICHELIN guides. “The MICHELIN guide is definitely a big part of the list. It gives you a good indication about the area you are in. I always look at the guide in Germany and see if I can find anything closer to my home, but sadly not for now,” says the hotel’s executive chef.
While Opocensky usually plans his travel itinerary around the restaurants on his wish list, he didn’t get to check many names off the list this time. “After not being able to travel home for over three years, it was very important for us to spend some time with my parents in Germany. So, we did most of the dining in London this time,” he says.
Refreshed from his holiday, Opocensky shares some of his favorite meals he had in London, his travel habits and tips.
What are your most memorable meals in London this time?We went to CORE by Clare Smyth the second night in London. It was absolutely brilliant.
[Smyth] came from the Gordon Ramsay stable, but she has got a very artistic style. I like the way she uses single ingredients -- the potato, the carrot – in her dishes and how she uses proteins as side dishes. The meal was very balanced and the flow very thought-provoking.
It was really refreshing to see that a lot of different people “touch” your table. The service was very personalised. It wasn’t stiff but still very classy. It was a real treat to sit there and enjoy delicious food and an amazing service after not being able to travel for so long.
I also really liked The Ritz in London, which should have two stars in my opinion. It’s a very old establishment with a beautiful dining room. It’s very classic -- they only allow you in with a jacket and a tie -- which I do respect. It’s a beautiful thing to dress up for a meal. There are two head chefs there -- Spencer Metzger and John Williams. I think they’re a great combination -- a very interesting mix between classic and modern style. The service was formal with a lot of trolley service. I really like tableside work because it brings a lot of fun elements and details into the dining room, especially if you don't have an open kitchen. It also highlights the waiters, as they’re an integral part of any MICHELIN-starred restaurant.
I also went to Sabor, which is more on Spanish Mediterranean tapas. It’s with very simple yet beautiful cooking and lots of sharing. I enjoyed Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. I went to Five Fields in Chelsea. I like the whole farm-to-table idea they’ve got.
I think it’s about telling the story. It's important to show the guests the length of thought that goes into a dish.I always say that the best thing in the our industry is to be able to take people away for 2 to 3 hours on a special journey. They are not looking at work emails but are fully engaged with the people surrounding them.
Everyday life could be pretty stressful, especially when you have all these bad things happening like the Covid-19. Restaurants could try to create a bubble for people to switch off and not stress about anything. We could play with their emotions and share their happiness.
For me, this is what hospitality is about -- creating moments.
When you want to take a break from work and fine-dining, what are your alternative go-to places?There is this very simple Greek restaurant in my hometown in Worpswede that I go to without a fail every time I'm back in Germany.
They’ve been there for about 40 years. It’s a very traditional Greek family restaurant. The mother was cooking in the kitchen and now her triplets -- they are a little bit younger than me -- take over the business.
It may sound weird, but that very humble and simple restaurant is a little bit like home for me because we had so many experiences in that restaurant as a family.
When I'm in the UK, we visit our very good friends who live near Bath. They have a beautiful little hotel chain called The Pig.
I love that it's set in the countryside. They've got their own garden farm in the back. We could sit there for hours. This time, we started lunch at 12 noon and left at 7 p.m. It was just beautiful and the service was incredible.
I love to go through their garden with my daughter, too. It's a very relaxing place.
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How do you describe yourself as a traveller?Well, you know, I am quite German – which may sound a bit stigmatic. I’m very organised and very punctual which drives my family a bit… (smiles) I like to be early at the airport. I normally start packing about 10 days in advance. I always travel with the same suitcase and I put all my documents at the same place. I am also an over-packer -- it's always good to have more than not enough. I wake up at 5 a.m., 5:15 a.m. every day to do meditation, depending on how late the night before was. The routine remains the same when I travel. I think this really has helped me over the last few years to focus and deal with things much better. When travelling, my phone is the most important thing because I like to document whatever I do. I'm very lucky that I am able to travel. When my colleagues and I travel somewhere, we always share pictures of what we've seen.
On the right: Opocensky and his family.
Wherever I go, I always take a menu. They’re signed by the chefs most of the time. I like to keep them as souvenirs. I've got nearly 1,000 menus right now. We’ve recently moved so I have tidied up a little bit, but I keep the ones which remind me of the very special experiences. Every menu is different but all of them are really beautifully designed. There are some really amazing ideas on how some people do their menus. I find it very inspiring.