Cover Interior rendering of Mosu Hong Kong (Source: LAAB Architects)

Mosu’s chef-founder Sung Anh reveals what will change when he brings his cuisine to the landmark art institution next year

Ahead of its imminent and much-anticipated opening on November 12, M+, the landmark new institution for art, architecture and design in the West Kowloon Cultural District, has announced the two headlining restaurants that will underpin its culinary offerings. With the museum’s promise of becoming “Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture”, the two restaurants will be operated by Lai Sun Dining—the group responsible for the likes of 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, China Tang, and Masa Hong Kong—hoping to attract some of the half a million visitors that are projected to visit in the museum's first six months.

The first of the concepts is ADD+, a ground-floor venue facing the harbour that stands for “All Day Dining”. Designed to welcome museum visitors over the course of the day, ADD+ features a restaurant, full-service bar, and a grab-and-go section headed by Daniel Chan, most recently the executive chef at Hotel Alexandra. The 10,000-square-foot interior was conceived by Otto Ng of LAAB Architects to emphasise levity. An all-encompassing panorama of Victoria Harbour wraps around the entire inner perimeter thanks to an innovative zig-zagging mirror wall that reflects the view back even at diners facing away from the harbour. 

See also: Meet Otto Ng, The Architect Behind Two New Restaurants Set To Open at M+ Museum This Year

The second of the two venues, Mosu Hong Kong, is ensconced at the meeting point of the third-floor garden level with the 14-storey tower rising above the podium of M+. As the first international outpost of the two-Michelin-starred Mosu Seoul, this Korean fine dining restaurant is the latest continuation of chef-founder Sung Anh's perambulatory career thus far. 

First opened in San Francisco in 2015, Mosu quickly became a flashpoint among the city’s food lovers thanks to the innovative cuisine that took liberal influences from Anh’s Korean background, as well as his culture-spanning experiences working the kitchens of Beverly Hills omakase restaurant Urasawa, The French Laundry, Benu, and Moroccan restaurant Aziza.

In 2017, Anh moved Mosu to Seoul to be closer to his wife and two children, where he began incorporating even more Korean produce and technique into the tasting menus. There, he debuted seemingly minimalist but laboriously made dishes that highlighted lesser-known ingredients—his burdock bark dish is a signature, where a square of burdock bark is coated in syrup and dehydrated several times over to achieve an extreme crispness.

Related: Exclusive: Inside Hong Kong’s New M+ Museum—Asia's Answer To Tate Modern And MoMA

Mosu Hong Kong marks the restaurant’s third incarnation. “I fell in love with the city of Hong Kong when I first came here,” says Anh of his reason to open a location here. “I used to watch a lot of Hong Kong films as a young teenager who didn’t know how to speak English in the West—indirectly, I [felt like] I had a connection with Hong Kong.”

Much like during the transition from San Francisco to South Korea, diners should not expect to the cuisine at Mosu Hong Kong to be the same as what’s being served in Seoul. “I’ll try to bring something special, something new to the table,” explains Anh. “I really want to explore what is available in Hong Kong and kind of translate that into Mosu’s language.”

LAAB is also designing the interior of Mosu Hong Kong, parsing the restaurant’s placement at the intersection of the building’s giant LED facade with the garden level into the theme of 'digital meets nature'. Taking cues from Mosu Seoul’s austere aesthetic, the interior will predominantly feature raw and natural materials, whilst also incorporating indoor foliage and an advanced digital illumination system; meanwhile, a band of windows at one end of the restaurant will provide diners with a view of the museum's Focus Gallery, providing a direct link between the dining experience and contemporary art.

While both restaurants are currently under construction with an anticipated opening date in January 2022, Tatler Dining met with Anh at M+ to delve into his childhood connection with Hong Kong from afar, how the city’s dining culture differs from anywhere else, and why he’ll be leaving out his most famous dish from the menu when the restaurant opens.

See also: M+ Museum Announces Opening Date And Inaugural Exhibitions

What made you decide to open Mosu in Hong Kong?

Globally, Hong Kong is known as the city for good food. I came here in 2015 with my wife and I was supposed to stay here for a week while travelling before opening [the first Mosu] in San Francisco, but I decided to stay here for three more weeks, the reason being the energy that I was getting here was like none other. It felt different, and everywhere I went I would discover something new, not necessarily just in terms of ingredients. That triggered me to stay longer.

Being in a museum that has ambitions of being a centre of culture in Asia is going to be very exciting. That’s kind of the restaurant that I want to build. I want to continue the process of creating something unique that people would actually drive to, where the experience starts from [the moment you] drive out from your house.

What are your impressions of the dining culture in Hong Kong so far? How is it different from Seoul?

When I first came back to Korea, I wanted to have an impact on the culture. I wanted to push it forward by elevating the level that people that are willing to pay for something. In Korean culture, people would pay US$1,000 for a bottle of whisky—that culture is very strong. But Hong Kong is much further ahead with their culture of dining out because they’re willing to pay more, and more chefs are willing to express their creativity. In Korea, it’s very challenging for the younger generation. [When I opened Mosu Seoul] I did have that platform, and I thought I could deliver that value in terms of the flavours or the aesthetic and the interiors, so I opened what was the most expensive restaurant in the country. For a month or two, [people complained] that it was too expensive, but that act changed the direction of the fine dining. A lot of young chefs thanked me because before they couldn’t use [luxury ingredients like] Hanwoo Korean beef, but now it’s OK for them to charge US$20 or US$30 more. And so these chefs are able to use that to make their food better now that people can compare with Mosu, where we’ve proven that US$250 [for a menu] in Seoul is possible.

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Mosu will soon have opened in three cities around the world. Is there a common thread that ties together the identity of Mosu regardless of the location?

In San Francisco I used the surroundings, I tried to use what’s local. When you’re cooking for people from your neighbourhood, or cooking in that type of city with that calibre [of restaurants], you expect people from outside of that city or country to come and enjoy the food; I think what we could collectively showcase is what we have as a community.

When I moved to Seoul, I wanted to be humble in a location where people would travel to. The food has that exact same mentality. People said the food changed [when I moved back], but my intention was not to use ingredients from San Francisco anymore, but it’s still the same mindset of emphasising and accentuating what my surroundings provide. Coming to Hong Kong, I’ll try to do honest food. I want to utilise what’s available locally—I’m not just here to do the same food that I do in Seoul.

Do you have concerns about having to remotely manage the restaurant after it opens, given the difficulty of travelling during the pandemic?

Yes and no. As a very hands-on chef, I worry so much that my colleagues or the people that I work with might do something that I wouldn’t, but I was like that very long time ago. As I see other chefs that been with me for a while grow and take on more responsibility, a friendship and mutual respect is built. I was able to kind of separate myself and trust that they would do what I would do. They have the eagerness and passion to follow what I say is the correct way to do things at Mosu, and they’ve actually made it their own.

Obviously I do have concerns because it’s such an important project not just for us, but for the city of Hong Kong. So many people are looking forward and they’re anxious to see what happens at M+ with the culture. So it’s much bigger and more pressure than I thought.

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Your parents ran a Chinese restaurant in San Diego—does it feel like you’ve come full circle now that you’re opening your own restaurant in Hong Kong?

Growing up, I probably ate more Chinese-American cuisine in my teenage years than Korean food [laughs]. I’d just go there after school and help my parents out. It’s really important how you are raised, and how that can affect your eating habits, what you like and what you don't like. Today my favourite cuisine is Chinese food, even in Korea. Whenever there’s a festival, or birthdays for my kids, we always go to a Chinese restaurant. I think that says a lot. So to answer your question: yes, having grown up in that way and having to help them and being constantly open to that culture, I would always kind of be involved with the process of making Chinese food. For me to say that’s why I came to Hong Kong is crazy, but that being said, I’ve always loved Chinese food and I have fond memories of falling in love with Hong Kong when I was young and growing up in America and watching Hong Kong flicks.

Is there any chance we’ll see your burdock bark dish in Hong Kong when the restaurant opens?

I still haven’t seen anything similar to the burdock dish. It’s a very technical, very labour-intensive technique, as in elBulli-style gastronomy, hydrocolloids plus traditional katsuramuki (Japanese sheet cutting). It’s a long process. I thought about bringing that menu to Hong Kong and I decided not to. Not that I will never do it, but it’s something that I’ve done in Korea. Anybody that goes to Korea, it’s the first thing that’s put in front of them and they’re just shocked by it. Anyone who has had burdock before has a preconceived notion of what it tastes like—they know the texture, they know the flavour, but when they actually take a bite into it, it’s going to be completely different. That’s the joy I have, like, oh yeah, I got you!

It’s about presenting people with something they’re used to, and giving them a different experience of the same exact ingredient that you see every day. That’s shocking, and I love it. But here in the beginning, I’ll take that out and focus on what’s available in Hong Kong, making sure that we honestly understand the best ingredients that I can possibly find here within the boundaries of price.

We want to connect the guest with the ingredient, while connecting us with the ingredient. I think that’s the first step we have to do and it’s the most important step. After that, we can add the technique or garnishes or whatever it is. We can do that any time. First and foremost, it’s about chefs having an understanding of what is on their cutting board instead of what is on the plate. You can’t shortcut that.

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