If T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, then I must define mine in menus. Having reviewed restaurants and written about food for more than 15 years—nearly ten of them with Tatler Dining in Hong Kong—there are accordions of them on my shelves, haphazardly stuffed into cheap plastic file dividers. Like hastily snapped phone photos, they have been laying dormant; it seemed appropriate to bring them out this week as I draw this chapter as this publication’s Content Director of Dining to a close. Sifting through them is an almost meditative affair, the tactile nature of a physical printed menu at once mundane and significant. Pen marks some, but not all—the flourish of a visiting chef’s hurried signature, the care-free calligraphy of a daily-changing omakase, or tiny tasting notes to remind me of a fleeting aroma, texture or flavour. Some are cryptic, austere even, while others kick off with rambling manifestos. And there are all the four-hands dinners. So many four-hands dinners.
Call it hoarding, call it sentimentality—I’m glad I kept them all, as together they form an impressive archive of restaurant paraphernalia to remind me of all the people, places and plates that have defined Hong Kong’s dining scene. There are menus by chefs who no longer work in our city, and from restaurants that have ceased to exist (I still miss the brilliance of places like Nur and Serge et le Phoque, two restaurants that were clearly ahead of their time), but there are also multiple iterations from those who I have seen fine-tune their craft over the best part of a decade, earning their stars, stripes and all-important Tatler Dining awards.
I joined the Tatler digital team in August 2012, diving straight into a typhoon of activity as the team worked to put together the 29th edition of the Tatler Dining restaurant guide, and what would eventually become the Tatler Dining Awards. Originally slated for December of that year, the event didn’t end up happening; lucky for me, as the following year, in 2013, I took over the guide and the seeds of the work the team had put in finally came into fruition. We launched the first ever Best Restaurants Awards with a guest list of 100 people, as that was the max capacity of the terrace at the freshly-minted Duddell’s—the hottest opening of the year. In what would soon be known as classic Tatler Dining fashion, we drank copious amounts of champagne, we nibbled on Hong Kong-inspired macarons by budding desserts entrepreneur Anne Cheung (who now runs the incredibly successful Jouer Patisserie), and even entertained a bunch of rather rude gatecrashers who, clearly, did NOT know who we were. Most importantly, we celebrated not only the 30th anniversary of the dining guide but the achievements of the F&B industry in a way that hadn’t been done before in Hong Kong.