Best new restaurants in Hong Kong
New restaurants in Hong Kong turn over faster than a certain Kardashian marriage. Here are the ones that have managed to maintain our attention over the last six months.
The anti-fine dining fine dining: 22 Ships
Barely a month old, 22 Ships is a casual tapas bar in Wanchai that is getting great buzz.
There's no reservations -- a restaurant trend in Hong Kong -- and it can fit about 30 diners, all perched on stools at bartops. The decor is no-frills; the menu is on your placemat.
But the food is mighty fancy.
There's the foamed sangria with freeze-dried berries and the deconstructed Spanish breakfast with velvet potatoes and slow-cooked egg. Then there's the PBJ, transforming the peanut butter and jelly sandwich into a plate of peanut ice cream, cherry sorbet and salted "pea-nut" caramel.
The man behind the eatery is Jason Atherton, the British chef whose London restaurant, Pollen Street Social, got a Michelin star about six months after opening. An unusually fast rise.
He's worked with Marco Pierre White, trained with Ferran Adrià and was the executive chef at Gordon Ramsey's Maze.
Such a heavyweight resume belies the cheerful, informal attitude of his 22 Ships. We're glad of it.
22 Ships, open Monday - Friday noon - 3 p.m., 6 -11 p.m., Saturday noon - 3 p.m. and 6-11 p.m., 22 Ship Street, Wanchai, +852 2555 0722, www.22ships.hk
The back alley joint: Brickhouse
It's hard to keep anything hidden in Hong Kong, city of bright lights and food blogging zealots, so when Brickhouse opened down a sliver of a back alley with no signage, it stayed a secret for a good five minutes.
Through word of mouth and that thing called Facebook, people heard about the great tacos at Brickhouse and the street-style corn on the cob smothered in cheese and lime, as well as the beetroot fries and margaritas.
As a result, Brickhouse has been corralling a crowd of hungry folk in its grimy alleyway in Lan Kwai Fong every night since it's pre-opening phase back in April and May. There's a no reservations policy so the wait is up to 45 minutes.
But somehow, going to Brickhouse still makes you feel in-the-know. It is a loud and unpretentiously funky place. No intimate moments here.
The walls are covered in murals and stickers with a great worn-in feel that is odd for its months-old age. The staff are really nice but not fawning and head chef Austin with Kurt Cobain hair is fixed behind the counter checking every dish to come out of the kitchen.
Brickhouse, open Monday to Wednesday 6 p.m. - 2 a.m., Thursday to Saturday 6 p.m. - 4 a.m., G/F, 20A D'Aguilar St, Central. Walking up D'Aguilar Street from Wellington Street, there is a tiny alley on the left less than 10 meters up. Brickhouse is in there. www.brickhouse.com.hk
The hippie dippy veggie place: Grassroots Pantry
The mass of ebullient greenery outside the two-story Grassroots Pantry says "you have arrived at an eco-friendly vegetarian joint."
Incongruous with the concrete drabness of its aged Sai Ying Pun neighborhood, Grassroots Pantry is the first international vegetarian restaurant of good quality in the district, and some would say, in Hong Kong.
Inside, it's like a European country house, all vintage-inspired furniture, bundles of dried and fresh flowers and menus drawn by hand. With Regina Spektor on the sound system, every detail in the place is aimed at cutting through the stress and slowing down the pace.
The food is honest-to-goodness vegetarian, no faux meats here, only homemade ketchup, dal and quinoa and raw blueberry cheesecake. Locally sourced organic ingredients are used where possible.
We had the signature mixed mushroom and asparagus linguine, with a generous slashing of white truffle oil that was just shy of overwhelming. Shiitake, king eryngii, oyster mushrooms and asparagus were served on a base of whole wheat paste. Creamy, savory and very filling.
Grassroots Pantry is open Tuesday to Saturday noon - 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., 12 Fuk Sau Lane, Sai Ying Pun, +852 2873 3353, www.grassrootspantry.com
The one that turns into a dance club: Socialito
One of the most playful and ambitious of the new restaurants in Hong Kong, Socialito is a matryoshka doll of a place.
Located on prime nightlife real estate on Wyndham Street, Socialito has an open front taqueria that takes advantage of the dishevelled bankers doing nightly streetside drinking. People can stand around with beers and chomp messily on pulled pork tacos.
The food here is so-so and grown men have been less than amused at the teeny servings. But the people watching is phenomenal, especially on the weekends when good-looking revelers spill over from Dragon-i, Solas and LKF Tower.
To the left of the taqueria is a set of typical kitchen doors seen in American diners. These lead to a whole different section of Socialito.
The gorgeous inner sanctum is dimly lit, with wrought iron partitions and carved wood panelling. They've upped the ante on the food here. There's zingy lobster and swordfish ceviche, amazing Wagyu tacos and tequila cocktails.
Then at around midnight, the real party starts. People come in to drink and dance in the restaurant, transforming it into something like a nightclub. There is appropriately a salsa night on Wednesdays.
Socialito, Shop 2, G/F, The Centrium, 50 Wyndham St, Central, +852 3167 7380. The taqueria opens from noon, the restaurant is open at 6 p.m., both are open till late, www.socialito.com.hk
The twee one: Tate
There are two menus at Tate, a little place in Soho. They are both tasting menus, filled with themed dishes, such as a potato one that should evoke a hot summer beach, or a zen garden dessert that looks exactly like a tiny garden.
The food themes are so literal and so cute, like things that fell out of a young girl's scrapbook of holiday momentos, pressed flowers and other inspiring knickknacks.
One of the latest creations is uni sabayon with caviar -- round little cups of cream topped with fresh purple flowers. It looks like something sold on Etsy.
The meals at Tate even finish with a miniature dessert cart that fits on the dining table and that was surely stolen from a toddler's playroom.
Chef Vicky Lau left Cépage to open Tate, and her feminine hand can be seen in everything.
No wonder the place attracts so many of Hong Kong's ladies to its elegant cream and taupe dining room.
Tate, Monday to Saturday 6 - 11 p.m., 59 Elgin St, Soho, Central, +852 2555 2172, www.tate.com.hk