Amid waves of restrictions and closures, Hong Kong’s dining scene has proved its resilience and adaptability.
In their Sheung Wan kitchen, chef Vicky Lau and her pastry chef Graf Kwok are putting the final touches on some impeccably packaged gastronomy gourmet boxes before they go out for delivery, while listening to Aretha Franklin’s 1968 hit “I Say a Little Prayer”. The packages are part of Lau’s new business venture Date by Tate, a lifestyle and pastry boutique that she’s recently opened on Hollywood Road as an extension of her acclaimed one-Michelin-star restaurant Tate Dining Room.
From homemade fermented-tofu cheesecake to a pastry breakfast set, eco-friendly hampers and luxury tableware, Lau, who was voted Best Female Chef in Asia in 2015 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, has imparted her signature French Chinese multisensory experience and her delicate pastel aesthetic to the new offerings. With impeccable attention to detail and a clear vision in mind, Date by Tate is the result of a months-long effort by Lau’s team and delivers a fine-dining experience at home, with gourmet sets that need zero additional preparation and are delivered in reusable packaging.
“Date by Tate was born as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, because people’s eating habits and preferences have dramatically changed in 2020,” Lau tells me. “We wanted to offer our guests more options, as we’re all rediscovering the joys of dining at home; we aim to encourage celebrations and togetherness at home with our fully catered boxes.”
She says that among the many professional challenges that she’s faced over the past year were daily delays in obtaining products from overseas, as well as the pressure of ensuring that every member of her team could keep their jobs, which remains one of her top priorities. “In spite of everything, we stayed together, focused on creating new things and we saw all this as an opportunity to grow and discover new local products and work more sustainably,” Lau proudly affirms.
Not far from the Tate Dining Room, on busy Queen’s Road Central, chef Eric Räty of Arbor feels the same way. “There are always challenges and opportunities ahead. Sometimes, limitations stop you for one second, but then all you’ll need to do is be more creative and overcome them, and that’s actually how you learn something new and progress,” he tells me. He does admit, however, that he feels lucky compared to his counterparts in Europe, many of whom had to close their doors for long periods of time – sometimes for good.
“It’s important for every member of our team to feel responsible for the restaurant.”
A native of Finland, Räty fuses Nordic and Japanese cuisine at the two-Michelin-star establishment that opened two years ago on the 25th floor of food mecca and lifestyle building H-Queen’s. For him and his team, accolades, stars and the glittering facade of the fine-dining universe weren’t a priority during the past year. Instead, they focused on staying busy and creative, improving every detail of the restaurant, from the organisational basics of the kitchen to new techniques so they could attract more customers.
“Now more than ever, I believe it’s really important for every member of our team to feel responsible for the restaurant and to feel a sense of belonging to the working space and tools,” he explains. “We also took the time to develop other new and interesting dishes, to improve sustainability and to get a clearer picture on the restaurant’s direction.”
As a response to the latest evening dining ban, Arbor took the chance of doing something completely different and introduced a dine-in and take-out afternoon tea menu inspired by Finland and its Nordic traditions. The small dishes, which focus on freshness and the connection with natural elements, feature Japanese classics such as a reimagined truffle ramen dish, as well as a gourmet snowball reminiscent of Räty’s native landscapes. “This new project gave me unique ideas, and an even clearer direction of our Nordic-Japanese concept that emphasises the natural connection between the two,” he says.
Concentrating on local connections and personal heritage while unleashing creativity beyond the conventional boundaries of fine dining are some of the elements of the winning formula behind the city’s resilient establishments. For many diners and chefs, the pandemic has also served as a catalyst for a shift in perspective. As it turns out, fine dining isn’t simply about expensive ingredients served in an upscale environment, but a more complex experience that chefs can deliver in multiple ways.
“One of the long-term goals of Date by Tate has always been to educate home diners to cook and enjoy food with more knowledge,” says Lau while discussing the future of the dining industry as well as her personal aspirations for 2021. “Hong Kong is a dining city, and people love to eat out; I do believe dining will have a strong return when the situation improves, but the world as we knew it has changed, some restaurants will inevitably shut and some will alchemise and adapt.”