There has been a real focus on Cool Britannia in the Hong Kong restaurant scene of late. And the second of two UK celebrity chefs with arguably the largest mass recognition opened shop last week.
While Oliver’s pre-launch YouTube video showing the affable chef trying to pronounce a few words in Cantonese went viral, Ramsey visited Hong Kong in person and was not shy to let a few F-words pepper his official launch speeches and questions at the press conference Asian Palate attended.
With a location in Lan Kwai Fong, in the LKF Hotel, which has long housed top-end fashionable restaurants, the Ramsay restaurant seems squarely aimed at the executive-type diner. However, the chef himself said, “This is not a Michelin three-star restaurant – though we do have a great bar, it is a place that families would feel comfortable coming for a meal.”
So how much, if any, of the repertoire will be tailored to the Hong Kong palate? “The menu is 75 to 80 percent the same as London,” he said. “We are serving amazing lamb and pork from there; many of the ingredients are coming over from the UK but we try to source locally where we can.
“We will see the reaction to our first menu and take it from there,” he added, with a smile. “We have not laminated menus – they are printed on paper, so that they can be changed regularly.”
Of the high operating costs, Ramsay said: “Rents are cheaper in London than Hong Kong – so we will have an all-day dining concept here. But in some ways, high rents can be a good thing – they help you focus on what’s popular and on consistency; it’s an issue in New York and London, where we operate too. We had a team in place six months before opening here, to get it all right – and it is funny that we and Jamie Oliver are both here now.”
The two chefs each put their name to different styles of restaurant. While Bread Street is undoubtedly at the casual-dining end of Ramsay’s repertoire, some of its signature dishes enter more elevated realms. Examples include the king crab cocktail with apple and pink peppercorn; and roasted veal carpaccio, truffle crème fraiche and artichoke; and the cote de boeuf. The Eton mess is a popular comfort-food dessert. Both chefs are well recognized for the more upscale restaurants each operate, in the UK and beyond – Ramsay particularly so.
For the Hong Kong outlets, it has to be said that though the ambience may be a little more casual and the service more earthy at Jamie’s Italian than at Bread Street, some of the Oliver menu certainly possesses high-end finesse. The starter of bruschetta, squash, whipped ricotta and crispy beetroot and sage, for instance, looks and tastes like a slice of fine dining. Alongside a long list of fresh pasta dishes and other mains, daily specials include the likes of whole sustainable sea bass with buttery pancetta, lemon and thyme sauce and grilled asparagus and broccolini; and an 18-hour porchetta (rolled layers of pork belly), with breadcrumb stuffing on roasted root vegetables.
As for next steps in Asia, Ramsay said he is discussing plans for a restaurant in Macau and possibly another style of restaurant in Hong Kong. Jamie’s Italian was Oliver’s second Asian outpost; the first was in Singapore, in 2013.