Cover Michael Kwan, executive pastry chef, The Dorchester

What is the executive pastry chef of The Dorchester’s all-time favourite pastry in Hong Kong? Michael Kwan shares this and his picks for dishes, fine dining restaurants and casual cafes in his hometown

At the age of just 15, Michael Kwan started working in the kitchens of Hong Kong restaurants, before making his mark in the pastry teams of some of the UK’s esteemed Michelin-starred restaurants, including Hakkasan and The Fat Duck, and then taking the head pastry chef position at Duddells in London.

“I was drawn to the science and precision,” says Kwan of his choice to pursue pastry. “It is vital that you understand each ingredient and how they coincide in a recipe. That being said, the accuracy comes with a platform to be creative. Having the chance to be both an artist and a scientist intrigued me.”

Kwan has combined the two to great effect. He was awarded the title of UK Sugar Champion in 2019, and has been part of the team representing the UK at the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie in Lyon, France since 2019. The team placed fourth in 2021 and, having won the European Pastry Cup 2022, now qualify for the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie 2023. 

This year, Kwan was also named executive pastry chef of The Dorchester, a bastion of hospitality in London that is home to such culinary institutions as Alain Ducasse and China Tang. 

Although Kwan has spent more than a decade working in the UK, the early part of his career spent in Hong Kong and his strong roots in the city have always inspired his work and continue to do so today.

“Growing up in Hong Kong naturally influenced the flavours that I use in my work. My family are big tea drinkers, so I tend to go with delicate tea flavours. And Asian flavours such as black sesame, yuzu, orange blossom, and kumquat are very prominent in my flavour pairings. I try to reduce sugar and avoid having overly sweet or artificial dishes in order to allow the delicate flavours to shine. I would class my work as classic and elegant, using French skills and techniques.”

Kwan hasn’t visited his hometown of Hong Kong since 2020, but under ordinary circumstances he would return every year to catch up with family and friends. For his next visit, he already has a few places he plans to visit on the food front, from firm favourites to spots he's yet to savour.

What do you miss most when it comes to food when you are away from Hong Kong or haven’t been back for a while? 

I miss the convenience of Hong Kong dining. In the UK it is harder to find anywhere that is still open on a Sunday night. In Hong Kong, service is fast, turnover is quick, and most places are open almost 24 hours a day.

What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?

The first dish I would order has to be beef brisket rice noodle soup with crispy fried fish skin. It is not very common here in the UK, but in Hong Kong they make a lot of fish dumplings and therefore have excess fish skin left over. They then fry it to use in soups to add a crispy element. I would simply go to the closest corner noodle bar near my house. 

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Hong Kong—for fine dining and for more casual experiences? 

My favourite restaurant in Hong Kong is Tate Dining Room. It is a fine dining restaurant that focusses on using local Chinese ingredients, prepared with a fusion of Chinese and French techniques and presented in an elegant, Chinese manner. One of my favourite dishes is the signature ‘Ode to Cuttlefish’. It is a unique dish of cuttlefish cut into noodles served with a Chinese sauce of chicken stock, soy sauce, chilli and spices, and topped with a large confit egg yolk.

If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Hong Kong?

To experience the true ‘feel’ of Hong Kong, I would take my guest to Sai Kung pier. There are a lot of seafood restaurants scattered around where it is common to choose your own seafood from a wide array of live seafood tanks. Each restaurant has their own selection of live seafood outside to choose from while you enjoy the outdoors. Nothing tastes quite as fresh as picking your own fish from the water. 

Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food?

I left Hong Kong straight after finishing my degree in hospitality at the age of 20. Whenever I go back, I like to visit our old meeting place, ‘Sweet Soup Shop’, which is a relaxed cafe with sweets and soup—nothing fancy, but it reminds me of catching up with friends. 

Do you have a favourite café in Hong Kong?

My favourite cafe is Elephant Grounds. It is a very nice place to relax with an artistic atmosphere. 

Favourite pastries in Hong Kong and where do you go for them?

My all-time favourite pastry in Hong Kong is the raspberry mille-feuille from Island Gourmet at the Island Shangri-La. It remains simple and classic, consisting of a buttery puff pastry, light pastry cream, and fresh raspberry. 

Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

I can’t leave Hong Kong without visiting my grandmother’s kitchen. She makes the best soup in the world.

Is there anywhere you are looking forward to trying on your next visit?

The next restaurant on my radar is The Chairman. It was named Asia’s Best Restaurant in 2021. They focus on traditional Chinese cooking using top quality ingredients. I am hoping to return to Hong Kong soon to give it a try.

What do you always take back home with you when you leave Hong Kong?

I always bring conpoy in my suitcase when I come back from Hong Kong. It is dried scallop, which we soak to rehydrate and use in soups or as a garnish. It is much more concentrated in flavour than the scallops here in the UK.

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you live i.e. in the UK?

There’s a restaurant called Four Seasons in Chinatown here in London. They make the best roast duck served with traditional rice and soya sauce. Nothing beats it!

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.