The latest issue of the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020 marks the first time that three restaurants received a Bib Gourmand recommendation. Among the new entrants to this category — which highlights addresses that provide value-for-money meals — is Cornerstone, an Australian restaurant on Hollywood Road in Central. Just six months into its opening, the cosy bistro caught the eyes of Michelin reviewers and made its debut in the guide, making it the shortest-running venue among the new restaurants featured in the Bib Gourmand list.
Ask Shane Osborn, the restaurant's founder, how he feels about the outstanding results and he beams with pride: “When I first found out that Cornerstone was selected for the Bib Gourmand, I was over the moon."
"It took a few years for my first restaurant, Arcane, to earn a Michelin recognition, so it’s incredible to have accomplished the same for this one within six months of opening,” Osborn shares.
Establishing a bistro
Originally from Australia, Osborn had worked as a chef at L'oranger and one-MICHELIN-star Pied à Terre in London, and in 2003 had led the latter to reclaim the two Michelin stars it once lost. In 2012, he moved to Hong Kong and became known in the Hong Kong dining scene when he became a chef at St Betty, owned by famed restaurateur Alan Yau. In 2014, he opened his own restaurant, Arcane, on Central’s On Lan Street, which offers modern European cuisine in a fine dining setting. The restaurant earned its first Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau 2018.
The idea for Cornerstone came about during Osborn’s participation on the popular culinary competition show, The Final Table, while running Arcane back in 2018. He emerged as one of the finalists on the show, which was aired to millions of viewers worldwide.
Both the success of Arcane as well as the global recognition boosted Osborn’s confidence, which gave him the impetus to open a second restaurant in July 2019 The idea, he adds, had been stewing on his mind for a few years, as he wanted to provide his Arcane team with more opportunities to develop themselves.
To challenge himself and his team, he deliberately chose pursue a different route for his sophomore effort, which is why he positioned Cornerstone as a modern bistro that offers all-day casual dining with a laid-back vibe, despite its location in the heart of Hong Kong's bustling Central district.
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The many facets of Australian cuisine
Cornerstone's menu — a compact one-pager that features six appetisers, six main courses, and three desserts — spans a broad variety of dishes, from Australian wagyu beef sandwiches to an all-day English breakfast, beef tartare typical of French brasseries, risotto, and more. Australia-born Osborn describes the cuisine at Cornerstone as Australian, and its eclecticism is reflected from within.
Osborn says he wanted the menu to reflect the eclecticism of Australian cuisine: “Australia has absorbed many immigrants over the course of its development, which is why Australian cuisine is a fusion of different food cultures." “There are no borders in Australian cuisine, and that gives us plenty of freedom to find the right ingredients and cooking methods, in order to define flavours in our own way," he adds.
He cites the restaurant's signature dish, the classic steak sandwich, as an example: "Australia has a national dish, steak sarnie, which is served in many restaurants across the country. Everyone does their own thing with it: some use roast beef, some use steak, some add onions, pickles, et cetera.” At Cornerstone, they too have their own interpretation: Osborn's version envelopes freshly cooked wagyu beef from Australia's Rangers Valley in a crispy baked ciabatta with rocket greens and mustard mayonnaise.
The restaurant's chocolate rice pudding dessert also reflects the multicultural nature of Australian cuisine. "This dessert is baked with Japanese rice, mixed with chocolate, and finished with blood orange jelly, mango, and puffed rice grains — we use a lot of Asian ingredients. As long as it works, there are no boundaries to what we can create,” says Neal Ledesma, who had worked with Osborn at Arcane for many years and is now the head chef of Cornerstone.
Cornerstone's insistence on using premium ingredients is another standout. For instance, its chicken oyster main is made with only two small pieces of meat found between the spine and the upper leg of a chicken, which are fried and then drizzled with anchovy sauce. These parts are not only scarce; they are extremely tender. "Cornerstone’s simple, everyday fare makes it challenging for us to show off the finer details in our dishes and win praise from our guests — sometimes even more so than complex cooking and plating, but I'm up for it,” says Osborn.
Affordably priced wines
As a bistro, Cornerstone offers a wine list as carefully curated as its food menu. In line with the brevity of the menu, the wine list comprises only 50 bottles, but there is no shortage of lesser-known wines made from unique grape varieties. Sommelier Didier Yang, who has also transferred from Arcane to Cornerstone, is most proud of his wine selection, which includes the Skyline of Gobi red wine from China’s Tiansai Vineyards as well as the Gris de Koshu white wine from Japan’s Grace Winery. The former is made from Marselan grapes from the Gobi Desert and contains notes of citrus and honeydew melon, while the latter is made from unique white Koshu grapes from Japan and red Tannat grapes from Uruguay, which is just as fruity.
Australian cuisine is full of flavour, which makes it suitable for pairing with fruity wines to keep balance. "Both these wines are distinctly fruity and are limited in supply, which is why I recommend them to our guests the most,” says Yang.
A rare gem in the Central District
The theme of simplicity extends beyond the restaurant's food and drinks list and to its decor as well. The dining area is mainly decked out in grey and white, accompanied with several pastel green chandeliers. A landscape painting that spans the entire wall of the restaurant is the work of Boomoon, a Korean photographer whom Osborn admires, and whose pictures often depict the captivating scenery of Inje County in South Korea. Outside the restaurant, a small balcony with chairs and tables allows diners to take in the buzz of Central while knocking back a few glasses of wine in a semi-alfresco setting.
When it comes to the restaurant’s Bib Gourmand recommendation, Ledesma, who is in charge of its day-to-day operations, thinks this is only the beginning for the restaurant. "The moment we found out that the restaurant had received a Bib Gourmand, I felt like I was in a dream. I've always dreamed of managing a restaurant, and Osborn fulfilled that dream when he left Cornerstone in our hands. I will continue to give it my all,” says Ledesma, brimming with visible gratitude.
Written in Chinese by Chan Ka Nam and translated into English by Tang Pin-Ji. Read the original version here.
Further Reading: Read more articles in the Behind The Bib series