Cover Mono is one of chef Agustin Balbi's restaurant picks for April (Photo: @monohkg / Instagram)

For April, Chefs Agustin Balbi, Leonard Cheung and Esther Sham tells Tatler all about the restaurants they’re excited to visit

Looking for restaurant suggestions? Wondering where chefs eat at during their time off? Welcome to our new monthly series where we interview Hong Kong’s leading chefs to see where they’re excited to eat at each month. 

This month, we spoke with chef Agustin Balbi, the co-founder and executive chef of modern Japanese-Spanish restaurant, Ando; chef Leonard Cheung, founder and executive chef of Cultivate, the newly opened 22-seat casual fine-dining restaurant in Central; and chef Esther Sham, our model-turned-chef Tatler friend who helms French restaurant, Maison ES

See also: 50 Signature Dishes To Try At Asia's 50 Signature Dishes To Try At Asia's 50 Best Restaurants

Agustin Balbi, founder and chef of Ando

Mono

Even though Ricardo and I are very good friends and our restaurants are just a few blocks apart, we are always working at the same hours, so it is very difficult to visit each other's restaurants. I am very excited to try Mono's house-made chocolate from scratch. I think it’s a genius idea and I am not sure if any other restaurants in the region are doing it—I’m very excited about it. 

Mono, 5/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 9726 9301; mono.hk

See also: Restaurant Review: Far From Being One Note, Mono By Ricardo Chaneton Is Already One Of 2020’s Most Exciting Openings

Antimo Maria Merone's new Italian restaurant 

I am also very excited about the soon-to-open contemporary Italian restaurant of my friend Antimo Maria Merone. I love Italian flavours and hospitality so I am really looking forward to it. I think will be a great addition to the cooking scene of Hong Kong. 

Editor's note: Opening details for Antimo Maria Merone's new restaurant is to-be-confirmed. However, you can check out Antimo's cooking through his collaboration with Tatler Dining Kitchen at Haus

Book Now: Antimo Maria Merone's Italian-Japanese Tasting Menu At Tatler Dining Kitchen

The Chairman 

I always had a great meal at The Chairman and can’t wait to go back. Every visit can discover something new, a new ingredient, a new flavour combination in a cuisine that is foreign to me, which makes everything even more exciting. Their char siu is delicious, the rice surprises are always a great treat, and of course, the crab is a classic.

The Chairman, G/F, 18 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2555 2202; thechairmangroup.com

See also: Hong Kong's The Chairman Tops Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021

Yardbird 

Lately, I have been craving for yakitori and what yakitori place is better than Yardbird? Matt is a great chef and his skills on the charcoal grill are from another world. Every single item there is a piece of art. My favourite yakitori items at Yardbird are the neck, tail, gizzard, oyster and the deep-fried cornball. They’re all out of this world. 

Yardbird, Shops A and B, G/F, Winsome House, 154-158 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, +852 2547 9273; yardbirdrestaurant.com

Leonard Cheung, founder and executive chef of Cultivate

Arbor

I've never had a bad meal at Arbor.  Every course has an intricate flavour combination with precise detail. Eric Räty's canapes and main courses never fail to disappoint. I can't name a specific dish that is a must-try, because the menu changes so frequently. Eric Räty happens to be an incredible, highly talented human being—I learn something new from eating his food at Arbor all the time.

Arbor, 25/F, H Queen's, 80 Queen's Road Central, Central, +852 3185 8388; arbor-hk.com

See also: Private Chefs Nicholas Chew And Leonard Cheung On The Rise Of Luxury Catering

Tosca di Angelo 

I don't even know Angelo Agliano, but I visit Tosca at least once every several months because his food surpasses any Italian restaurant in Hong Kong. Every pasta and meat course is flawless. You may not find much creativity there, but the level of cooking is consistent and satisfying. The depth of flavour from all the sauces, residual cooking liquids, and jus' are also labour-intensive. The portions are very generous too, even for the lunch set menu. 

Tosca di Angelo, 102/F, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2263 2270; ritzcarlton.com
 

Brut

I've only been here once, and plan to go back more often but as  I've been too busy with my restaurant opening, I haven’t been able to. What I loved about Brut was how much it reminded me of what I was doing at Blue Supreme in the early days (end of 2017-2018), which was affordable "bistronomy" dishes, with a constantly evolving menu and a creative fare.  

Not many places in Hong Kong can carry on that "bistronomy" baton since. Chef Gavin at Brut is putting out fun and unique dishes on a small menu every day, and boss lady Camille curates an equally impressive wine menu that matches the bistronomy concept. I look forward to dining there more when my kitchen is fully staffed and I can sneak out for a dinner on a weekday.

Brut, Shop C, G/F, 1 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, +852 3460 5863; brut.com.hk

See also: Over 170 Restaurants Introduce Limited-Time Plant-Based Dishes for Earth Month In Hong Kong

Esther Sham, founder and chef of Maison ES

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo 

To me, 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo has the best pasta in town. This is always my go-to restaurant when I want a satisfaction guaranteed meal with not just consistent quality foods, but also warm service. There’s nothing pretentious nor trendy here, and that’s exactly why I go back again and again. My favourite item on their current menu is cavatelli with shellfish ragout & sea urchin. 

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo, Shop 202, 2/F, Alexandra House, 16-20 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2537 8859; ottoemezzobombana.com
 

Zoku 

Zoku is the new Japanese restaurant in the boutique hotel, The Hari. Their menu consists of some innovative dishes and also some traditional ones, both tasty and moderately priced. This outlet is medium in size with sleek interior design, not to mention the added bonus of their big terrace which is now open for food and drinks. I’m an outdoor person and Japanese is always my comfort food so it’s a perfect combo for me.

Zoku, 2/F, The Hari, 330 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2129 0338; thehari.com

Maison ES

How can my own restaurant not be my favourite one in town? We change our menu at Maison ES thrice a year which means I don’t get tired of the dishes, and we design the dishes accordingly to the weather. As you should know, I have three boys and two dogs, so the restaurant is entirely kids and dogs friendly, making it my go-to restaurant pick on the weekends.

Maison ES, G/F, 1A Star Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2521 8011; maison-es.com

See also: A Taste Of Home: Emmy The Great On Where To Eat In Hong Kong