Hong Kong, meaning 'fragrant harbour', is worth visiting for its food scene alone – the choices are myriad. Considered a hub for further travels, and one of the top culinary destinations in Asia, it is a riotous collision of East meets West and old meets new, and its cuisine is no different. The hawker stalls that line the street cater for smaller meals during the day, while 60-plus Michelin-starred restaurants, headed up by world-renowned chefs, pack the punters in at night.
I'm in town to cook for two nights at Nathan Green's Rhoda, named after his grandmother, who inspired him to become a chef. The space is raw and urban, with high ceilings, concrete surfaces, charred woods and upcycled materials, and at the back of the room is a charcoal grill – the centrepiece of the open kitchen. It's all very cool.
Nate's CV includes working with Michael Caines, Tom Aikens and yours truly in the UK, before heading up the kitchens of 22 Ships and Ham & Sherry in Hong Kong for Jason Atherton. When the time came to start his own restaurant, Nate partnered with acclaimed restaurateur Yenn Wong in this grill-centric restaurant. Like me, Nate favours rare-breed meats like Hereford beef.
Our meal starts with beer bread with seaweed butter. Still warm from the oven, the bread is wonderfully fluffy, with a moreish, yeasty flavour that pairs perfectly with the umami notes of the seaweed butter. We follow with baked sea scallops with roast garlic and fennel butter, and baked oysters with bone marrow. Tomahawk steak with trotter mash and creamed spinach makes a fitting main event. The whole thing's rounded off by a sticky toffee sundae, improved by the quality of dates available here.
After dinner service, we head out to Ho Lee Fook in Elgin Street for some very modern Asian fusion cooking. The aptly named 'Good Fortune For Your Mouth' is a funky Chinese kitchen, inspired by old-school Hong Kong cha chaan tengs (tea restaurants), and the spirit of late-night Chinatown hangouts in 1960s New York. Taiwanese-born chef Jowett Yu's inventive approach to Chinese flavours is best enjoyed with an open mind.
Hanging ducks in the kitchen greet you at the door, while gold-plated cats raise their right paws in welcome as you descend the staircase leading down to the restaurant. Nate is received like an old friend, and we're fed groundbreaking Asian fusion dishes until we can eat no more.
Somehow my chilli fetish has been anticipated, and a variety of sauces is supplied to compliment the chicken wings, fantastic prawn toast and the aforementioned duck. It's a great start to what's sure to be a week of feasting.
I can't help thinking it's exactly the kind of restaurant London could do with.
The following evening, Nate's colleagues Cherry and Joyce take us to Under Bridge Spicy Crab. From humble beginnings as a typhoon shelter stall more than 20 years ago, it's become a major Hong Kong legend, serving – unsurprisingly – the best spicy crab in the city. With fresh seafood flown in every day from all over the world – including the UK – the menu comprises more than 100 dishes, including the must-try deep-fried crab cooked with a secret 'typhoon-style' spicy sauce.
You can choose your level of spice and, not wishing to appear the feeble Englishman in front of my Hong Kong hosts, I opt for medium hot. The crab is first scrubbed thoroughly under running water, the legs removed and the body cut into smaller pieces. It's then fried in infused oil before garlic, the secret chilli sauce and fermented soy bean spices are added according to customer preference. Most of the oil is poured away before fresh onions and spring onions are added and fried. It doesn't disappoint, and leaves my tastebuds tingling.
The following day, I'm taken to two-Michelin-starred Duddell's for dim sum. Duddell's is another brainchild of Yenn Wong (also a partner in 22 Ships and Rhoda), with cooking from chef Fung Man-Ip. I'm given a quick tour of the kitchen, and I see rows of woks, furiously animated chefs, and tanks of live creatures ranging from shrimp to crab and garouper. It's exciting stuff for a chef.
We eschew the menu in favour of letting the kitchen choose, and we're rewarded with an array of superb Cantonese delicacies: fried rice roll with XO sauce, barbecued Iberico pork with a honey glaze, cod dumpling with shrimp and garlic, and finally, the garouper I met, steamed with matsutake mushroom and yunnan ham. I can't help thinking it's exactly the kind of restaurant London could do with.
Ted Lam Pak-kwan opened Chaos Hot Pot on Wun Sha Street eight years ago, and it is now one of the best hotpot hotspots in town. It offers a mind-boggling variety of combinations, made with the choicest ingredients and the tastiest broths. On the evening we visit, Ted offers us three levels of Sichuan broth: 'tourist', 'local' and 'don't be silly'.
Despite being an avid chilli head, I'm smart enough to avoid 'don't be silly' and opt for 'local' level Sichuan and a kimchi broth. It's delightfully moreish, and the chilli hit is addictive.
Lung King Heen, which translates to 'view of the dragon', is a three-Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant by chef Chan Yan Tak. As the first Chinese chef to receive three Michelin stars, Chan combines textures and flavours to make fascinating Cantonese interpretations.
Nate has pre-ordered the suckling pig and the duck – both world-famous dishes. The suckling pig arrives at the table in small rectangles, with the super crispy skin perched atop its succulent flesh. Three spicy sauces are provided to allow you to pimp to your hearts delight – it's the perfect meat lover's prelude to the duck.
Oh, yes, the duck... It's brought over whole and carved tableside, served as thin slices of moist breast with plenty of lacquered skin – Peking-style – and eaten with cucumber, spring onion, mini pancakes and a sweet bean sauce. The remaining duck disappears into the kitchen to be further eviscerated, finely chopped and dry-fried as a second duck course, with the addition of a bowl of house-made XO sauce and circles of lettuce to wrap. This is the ultimate Peking duck.
Somehow my chilli fetish has been anticipated and a variety of sauces is supplied
The liveliest night market in Hong Kong, Temple Street market, extends from Man Ming Lane in the north to Nanking Street in the south, and is cut in two by the Tin Hau Temple complex. It's a good place to go for the bustling atmosphere, and for the smells and tastes on offer from the dai pai dong (open-air street stall) food on Woo Sung Street. You can get anything from a simple bowl of noodles to a full meal at the seafood or hotpot restaurants in the area.
We choose to dine on outstanding roast goose and BBQ pork. The market officially opens in the afternoon, but most hawkers set up at about 6pm and start shutting up around 11pm. If you want to carry on, visit the wholesale fruit market – always a colourful hive of activity.
No trip to Hong Kong is complete without taking in Matt Abergel's Yardbird; a most excellent chicken restaurant. Fried chicken, a chicken scotch egg, a plethora of pickles and a never-ending supply of savoury yakitori skewers, all washed down with lots of sake.
Saddened to leave the 'fragrant harbour', I resolve to plot many excuses to return. Asian Meatopia perhaps? Watch this space…
Richard H Turner is a meat consultant for Meatopia, Hawksmoor, Foxlow, Blacklock, London Union, Pitt Cue Co., Turner and George. If you enjoyed his column on Hong Kong's restaurant scene, you can read more of his writing here. Planning a foodie tour of some far flung place? Make sure you check out our other travel pieces too.