They are Hong Kong institutions with decades-long legacies. Their chefs have mastered classic dishes with recipes passed down over generations, and they have invented new condiments that are now considered de rigueur in Cantonese cuisine. Many further impress with sweeping, panoramic views of Victoria Harbour and the classically appointed interiors curated by internationally renowned designers.
In the city's ever-evolving culinary landscape that boasts upwards of 14,000 restaurants across an astonishingly diverse array – in cuisine, dining experience, and price range – these five iconic MICHELIN-starred restaurants have withstood the passage of time and overcome fleeting trends to exert a constant and enduring influence over the local Cantonese dining scene.
Three MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020
A perennial on the MICHELIN-star selection since the inaugural edition of the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau, T’ang Court was awarded the coveted third star in 2016 – becoming only the third Chinese restaurant in the world to be thus honoured – and it has retained its well-deserved status every year since.
Their consistency in delivering the highest of culinary standards can be attributed to a steadfast, long-serving team, led by Kwong Wai Keung, the Chinese Master Chef of the Langham, Hong Kong who has been with T’ang Court since its opening in 1988, and Wong Chi Fai, who first joined the team in 2000 and was named Executive Chef of T’ang Court in 2018.
Under the joint guidance of Kwong and Wong, T’ang Court strives to retain the essence of authentic Cantonese flavours by focusing on the quality of the ingredients and mastering the cornerstone skills of the cuisine, even while in pursuit of innovation.
“Traditional Cantonese cuisine emphasises the changes in seasonality,” says Wong. “By pairing up fresh, seasonal ingredients with traditional cooking techniques, we can provide our guests with something new – a fresh take – without sacrificing tradition.”
An example, according to Wong, is the restaurant's award-winning dish of Stir-fried Fresh Lobster With Spring Onion, Red Onion And Shallot. Chef Kwong was inspired, after catching a whiff of an out-of-sight dish of stir-fried preserved black bean, to create a dish so fragrant that guests would be able to catch the scent of it in the dining room well before its presentation at their table.
“The entire T’ang Court team worked together for several months to create and develop it,” Wong recalls. “It is a dish that requires mastery of Cantonese stir-frying techniques. The chef’s timing and control of the heat must be precise to achieve the proper result.”
The dish brings together three different types of onions with a local lobster and a splash of Shaoxing rice wine, which are combined and stir-fried with such skill as to achieve wok hei, lending complex smokiness to the blended aromas of the onions and perfectly complementing the sweet, tender texture of the lobster.
Ultimately the dish helped the team to clinch the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s Best of the Best Culinary Award in 2002 (they also hold the same award for 2001 and 2013), and the dish remains a popular signature on the menu at T’ang Court.
Tin Lung Heen
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020
Through the floor-to-ceiling windows that line its 102nd floor perch in the ICC, Tin Lung Heen boasts one of Hong Kong’s best bird’s-eye views of Victoria Harbour and the city’s iconic skyline beyond. On a clear day, the view alone would merit a visit. But Paul Lau Ping Lui, the chef de cuisine since the restaurant’s opening in 2011, has been entrusted with consistently delivering a memorable dining experience befitting the lofty environs. His success in elevating authentic Cantonese dishes to the heights of haute cuisine has been proven by the garnering of Tin Lung Heen’s first MICHELIN star in the first year and then two MICHELIN stars for eight consecutive years thereafter.
Lau’s cooking philosophy is both simple and humble. He starts with fresh, high quality ingredients and maintains utmost respect for traditional cooking methods and techniques. To finish, he keeps things modern, clean and neat in the presentation of the dishes.
Three signature dishes Lau recommends are the Barbecued Iberian Pork With Honey (pictured above), Steamed Crab Claw With Egg White In Huadiao Wine, and Double-boiled Chicken Soup With Fish Maw In Baby Coconut. “These are our signature dishes, but not because they emphasise challenging techniques,” according to Lau. He elaborates: “My goal is not to cook things in the most complicated way. Instead, I cook with my heart so I can produce and serve my vision of the best Cantonese food."
For instance, with the rising popularity of jamón ibérico de bellota in Hong Kong, Lau thought to himself, why not try using the premium, acorn-fed Iberian pork to make char siu (barbecued pork)? He ordered an entire pig and tested multiple parts before settling on the shoulder for tender, less fatty texture. He prepares the char siu with traditional methods of marinating and roasting the pork. But where others might roast their meat for 30 minutes, Lau’s famously tender char siu requires only 20 minutes of roasting, including 10 minutes of roasting at a very high temperature to lock in the meat's juices.
Sun Tung Lok
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020
After Sun Tung Lok made history as the first non-hotel Chinese restaurant in the city to receive three stars in the 2011 edition of the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau, the third generation of the Yuen family continues to uphold the forty-year-old traditions started by their grandfather when he first opened the restaurant in Causeway Bay in 1969. Now located in bustling Tsim Sha Tsui, Sun Tung Lok combines a contemporary color palette with tasteful classic Chinese decorative elements to offer Chinese fine dining in luxurious comfort.
Likewise, the cuisine strikes an optimal balance between maintaining traditional Cantonese flavours and culinary techniques while still introducing new and innovative ingredients. In addition to the braised abalone, bird’s nest, and shark fin that punctuate the menu, premium ingredients from other countries make frequent appearances. Seasonal specials have featured Awa-Odori chicken from Japan and Spanish red prawns.
Signature dishes include a baked stuffed crab shell generously stuffed with crab meat, onion and mushrooms, and a roast suckling pig with delicately crisp skin.
Fook Lam Moon (Wanchai)
One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020
Fook Lam Moon has more than 70 years of history as a Hong Kong institution. Its origins trace back to the private catering business founder Chui Fook Cheun operated before opening his first restaurant in Wan Chai in 1972. Since then, the restaurant has become synonymous with wealth and exclusivity, both in terms of its clientele – the restaurant is nicknamed the “tycoons’ canteen” – and its cuisine.
Extravagant ingredients such as dry-aged abalone, bird’s nest, and shark’s fin proliferate the menu. The emphasis is not necessarily on the rarity of the items, but on their premium quality. Expert knowledge comes into play in knowing where and when to source the ingredients. For example, the restaurant only uses superior-grade dry-aged abalone from Japan and Yunnan mushrooms at their peak season between the months of June and August. Enjoying the advantage from starting with the finest of ingredients, the chefs are then able to apply skilful yet subtle techniques that allow the true quality of ingredients to shine through.
Signature dishes such as the crispy chicken are deceptively simple in appearance despite their elaborate preparations, through which the chefs have to accomplish the challenging task of ensuring the paper-thin skin is crispy while the underlying meat remains tender and juicy.
The mission of the restaurant has always been to present the best of Cantonese cuisine. “Our guiding principle as passed on from our founder, Mr. Chui, from the time he was running his catering service, Fook Kee,” says Executive Chef Chan Yau Leung, “is to carefully select top-quality ingredients and apply traditional cooking techniques so that our guests can enjoy a consistent dining experience at Fook Lam Moon for years to come.”
Lei Garden (multiple locations)
One MICHELIN Star (Kwun Tong, Mong Kok), MICHELIN Plate (Kowloon Bay, North Point, Central, Wan Chai, Shatin), MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2010
Since the 1973 opening of its first restaurant in Mong Kok, Lei Garden has grown into one of the most recognised Cantonese restaurant groups in Hong Kong and across Asia. What remains consistent over the decades and across all the outlets are founder and chairman Chan Shu Kit’s vision for discipline and social responsibility within the organisation and his doctrine of prioritising the customer in every business decision.
This means starting with high-quality fresh produce: the seafood they use is purchased directly from fishing ports around the world and shipped directly to Hong Kong, and to have better control over the ingredients' quality and hygiene standards, the restaurant group even runs its own 300-acre farm in nearby Zhanjiang, China to ensure a proprietary supply of pork, poultry, and vegetables.
To adhere with the Chinese saying, “do not eat what is not in season”, chefs of each restaurant branch can offer their own special menus that are updated daily to reflect the seasonal availability of ingredients.
Culinary innovation is also an enshrined virtue at Lei Garden, with over one thousand new dishes and recipes created by the chefs of the restaurant group over the last few years, including their signature dessert of chilled mango pudding with grapefruit and sago. Other popular orders include the 6-hour Double-boiled American Sea Whelk Soup, Geoduck Poached In A Special 4-hour Slow-cooked Lobster And White Shrimp Soup Base, and the crispy roasted pork with its three distinct layers of crispy skin, succulent fat, and tender meat achieved through a complicated roasting and scraping process.
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Banner image courtesy of Fook Lam Moon, in the picture: Baked Stuffed Crab Shell