Bao Don't Lie
This October, Tasting Table is getting away from it all. Come away with us as we explore the world of travel.
It's about the journey, not the destination. That's what I told myself when I learned there was about a two-hour wait for dinner one Saturday night at Yardbird, Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang's always-popping yakitori joint in Hong Kong.
Our stylish hostess said we could check out Little Bao, a green-hued Momofuku-esque spot doling out stuffed steamed buns just a stone's throw away from Yardbird. And thus began my adventure in Hong Kong's loud, hilly and surprisingly exciting Soho neighborhood.
Once crammed with porcelain shops, spice merchants and the elderly, this cobblestoned area on the northwest edge of Hong Kong Island, south of Hollywood Road (hence the name), is now flush with fantastic restaurants and bars, thanks to the rise of the futuristic-looking Central–Mid-Levels escalators nearly 20 years ago.
"Hong Kong's Soho neighborhood has been gentrified for a very long time, but foot traffic has increased a lot recently," Abergel says. "Soho is an exciting neighborhood, because it's constantly evolving. There's always something new opening up, which keeps us on our toes."
Spoiler alert: I did end up at Yardbird that night—and ate all the crackled Korean-fried cauliflower—but not before bouncing to a few more places and adding more to my next Soho itinerary.
Marbled wagyu bavette steak | Photo: Courtesy of Vasco Fine Dining
Steamed and stuffed with everything from buttery pork belly to green tea ice cream, the bao reigns supreme at this tiny counter. May Chow, a former chef at Yardbird and the envelope-pushing Bo Innovation, transforms the dim sum staple into funky, flavorful sliders inspired by Peruvian, French and Japanese cooking. Later this year, she's working on another Hong Kong project, and all she can say is, "The only hint is that there will be no baos there."
Vasco Fine Dining/Isono Eatery & Bar
Restaurant Lasarte's Michelin-starred chef Paolo Casagrande brings a little Basque Country to Hong Kong with his modernist tasting menu-powered restaurant, Vasco, and casual tapas hotspot, Isono. From the sweet onion foam-topped tuna belly to salt-cod croquettes, you'll see inspiration of his mentor at Lasarte, the acclaimed Martín Berasategui.
"I've always wanted to do a classic French entrecôte," Black Sheep Restaurants cofounder Christopher Mark says of his bistro. "We don't believe in copying and pasting a restaurant from another city." The man knows what he's talking about: He's already brought New York's Carbone and Motorino to Hong Kong, and, here, he translates classic steak frites for chic Hong Kong residents, swapping a lean entrecôte cut for heftier rib eye.
Tate Dining Room & Bar
It's been a big year for chef Vicky Lau. She was named Veuve Clicquot Asia's Best Female Chef 2015 in World's 50 Best, so now is the time to crack open one of her "Edible Stories." The Cépage alum's tasting menus weave artistry and science, layering cauliflower-black garlic espuma on root-vegetable mille-feuille and whipping sake lees into cream for dessert.
If Yardbird is the wild and free older sister who smokes, then Abergel and Jang's newer RŌNIN is her moody and secretive younger sister. "After Yardbird, I wanted to continue learning and growing as a chef, and RŌNIN allows me to do this," Abergel says. Here, he geeks out on local fish, giving crab the KFC treatment and turning sea bream into karaage.
You won't find MSG at this airy contemporary Cantonese café, but you will find a tiny farm. Founder Larry Tang grows herbs in his little green space and makes homemade chicken stock that adds umami oomph to his super-fresh menu of Yeung Chow fried rice, Shanghainese pork buns and herbal soups.
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