In the years just before and after the 1997 British handover, Hong Kong seemed like a one-chef town. Helming the kitchen at thePhilippe Starck-designed Felix atop the Peninsula Hotel, Hawaiian/Japanese chef Bryan Nagao scooped up nearly every local culinary accolade. Between 1996 and 2001, Tatler magazine named Felix “Hong Kong’s Best Restaurant” a record six years running. All the while, my investment banker’s expense account fuelled my support of Nagao’s creative alternatives to this still traditional food scene.
In the new millennium, each time I alighted in the former Crown colony I wondered what had become of the surfer-turned-protégé of Hawaii celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi. Then suddenly this summer I started hearing about a new eatery from the peripatetic Nagao, who had hopscotched on to South Korea and the US but was back in Hong Kong.
Days later we settled into the cushy, denim-clad dining chairs of Town (first picture), the low-key comfortable restaurant that opened in September 2014. Alongside floor-to-ceiling 10th-storey windows looking onto the boutiques of Causeway Bay, we joined label-clad ladies and a centre banquet of saffron- and crimson-robed monks for the extremely reasonably priced lunch menu. Although I craved the luscious, towering Wagyu burger lavished with crispy rice, quail egg and foie-gras seen on almost every other table, a dapper young waiter quickly dashed my hopes by announcing that the Wagyu was all gone. Instead I ordered the roasted spring chicken with Brussels sprouts on coconut corn purée, remembering that Nagao is a master of elevating the simplest American dish with unexpected flavours.
So delicious was my pancetta-infused fowl, I returned for dinner later the same week with a New York food editor friend in tow. We started with Hawaiian-harvested hearts of palm salad (second picture) with red and golden beetroot, figs and Kabocha pumpkin; and rice-paper-thin Sicilian red-prawn carpaccio, artfully dappled with black-truffle caviar and yuzu.
Our next dish, his east-meets-west homemade black-ink udon noodles wrapped around Spanish prawns and scallops with shiso gremolata brought on a wave of nostalgia for Felix in the 1990s, which I drowned in his surprisingly light suckling pig with clams, pancetta and baby spinach in a miso broth. He marinates the local pig in a Hawaiian sauce (the components of which I could not pry out of him) then wraps it in taro and tea leaves to cook at a low temperature over a second night.
As I was reliving the sensation of the seriously tender meat on my taste buds, a dark-chocolate orb the size of a cricket ball arrived at our table. As the waiter poured over homemade hot chocolate, out gushed praline cream, chocolate “soil” and mandarin-orange sorbet. I debated for an instant: do I grab my phone to video this dessert-as-performance art, or simply sink my spoon into the cocoa flow? Alas, gluttony won out, and there is no evidence of what happened next.