Cover Natalie Chiu, co-founder of Saicho

The founder of sparkling tea brand Saicho on the Hong Kong dishes she misses most, her top spots for char siu fan, and her favourite recent restaurant finds

“When we first gave people our drinks to try, we were a bit nervous about whether they would be something that the Hong Kong market would like and enjoy,” says Natalie Chiu, co-founder of sparkling tea brand Saicho, which first launched in London in 2019.

She needn’t have worried. Saicho’s first client in Hong Kong was The Peninsula, and more would follow, including The Langham and Ritz-Carlton. “They saw Saicho providing their guests with something different and interesting,” says Chiu.

Saicho produces premium non-alcoholic sparkling cold brew teas. The company came about in response to Chiu’s own need. Unable to tolerate alcohol well, she felt that whenever she ate at fine dining restaurants, there were often carefully considered wine or cocktail pairings on offer, but rarely anything creative on the non-alcoholic side of things. Saicho, with its three flavours—Darjeeling, Hojicha and Jasmine—sought to address this. Like wine, teas are influenced by their terroir and can showcase a wide range of flavours to complement a meal.

In May, Saicho products launched in Singapore, counting Goodwood Park as its first partner, and the brand now has its sights set on additional markets in Asia. There are also new products in the works, with collaborations and flavours specifically crafted for the Hong Kong market due later this year.

Hong Kong is a special place for Chiu—it was home until she was 18—and the warm reception of Saicho here has been hugely fulfilling. While she left Hong Kong in 2008 to study in the UK where she met and married Charlie Winkworth-Smith, fellow co-founder of Saicho, she is a regular returnee to the city, visiting two or three times a year before the pandemic. Unlike many, she braved Hong Kong’s 21-day quarantine to visit in July 2021, spending a couple of months in the city to introduce her then eight-month-old daughter to her father and brother, while also taking the time to visit some of the city’s new restaurants as well as some firm favourites.

What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from Hong Kong or haven’t been back for a while? 

I miss the convenience and abundance of food choices in Hong Kong. My family live close to Tsim Sha Tsui and it’s so easy to pop downstairs and everything is there or close by. I particularly miss the street food in Hong Kong—curry fish balls, siu mai, egg waffles, cheung fun, the lot.

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

If it’s not a home-cooked meal by my mum, then it has to be char siu fan. You just can’t find it done to the same effect in the UK, so it’s something I really crave. For great service, ambiance, and perfected char siu, Tin Lung Heen and The Chairman are my go-to places. If I’m looking for a quick meal, then it’s Joy Hing or Sun Kwai Heung.

I also love to try different places whenever I am in Hong Kong. The last time I was in town I tried Holt’s Café‘s elevated version of char siu fan, and it went straight on my favourites’ list. The Iberico pork was tender and the fat-to-lean ratio was really well balanced.

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

For fine dining, Amber is always a real treat. I don’t get to go there often but whenever I do it’s like being pampered at the spa. The staff are great and the food is phenomenal. I just feel I can sit back and enjoy every single moment. There is so much thought and careful execution that has gone into every aspect, not just the food but the service and overall experience. It’s partly nostalgia too, because Amber was one of my first-ever fine dining experiences and that’s one of those things you never forget.

I also love T’ang Court at The Langham hotel. My parents used to take us there for dim sum for Sunday lunch. A meal there is always executed to perfection and the layout of the room offers so much privacy. And again, it’s the memories associated with the place, from going there growing up.

For more casual restaurants, I like Yardbird, Co Thanh and Nishimura. They each offer something different, but have all made it into my favourites because the food is always consistent and the service is friendly. These are the places I go to almost every trip back and they hit just the right spot every time.

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

Whenever I have friends visiting, I always take them to a cha chaan teng, like Lan Fong Yuen or Australia Dairy Company, to soak up a bit of the Hong Kong ambience.

Dim sum is also a must—Duddell's, T’ang Court, Tim Ho Wan, Spring Moon, Lin Heung Tea House are always the places I suggest, depending on who it is and what they are up for.

I also always take visitors out to one of the islands, because they always expect Hong Kong to just be a city, not knowing that it is made up of lots of different islands. Po Toi and Peng Chau are both great options.

If there is a bunch of us, then it’s Tung Po for a local dining experience at the top of a wet market whilst enjoying great local dishes.

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

I like catching up with friends at new or interesting places. The Hong Kong food and drink scene is so dynamic and I have amazing friends that always try to take me somewhere new.

Roganic and Wing are both recent finds. Regarding Roganic, I’m a big fan of Simon Rogan. I first visited [Rogan’s two-Michelin-starred] L’Enclume in the UK with my husband on one of our anniversaries and we stayed their hotel and in the morning we went to [his neighbourhood eatery] Rogan & Co. I was blown away by the food. So, going back to Hong Kong, I really wanted to try [Rogan’s Hong Kong restaurant] Roganic. I love his ethos of using local and sustainable ingredients and drawing inspiration from the environment of the location, and it’s just really well executed food.

I wanted to go to Wing because I had the pleasure of going to VEA some time ago and really enjoyed the combination of Chinese and French cooking. So, this time, I wanted to try out chef Vicky Cheng’s new restaurant. The experimentation of Chinese dishes with modern techniques at Wing really showcases the chef’s talent and I even had the privilege to meet chef Vicky when we were there. I also tried a tea there that inspired one of Saicho’s upcoming launches.

Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in Hong Kong?

I really like NOC in Whampoa. I am not a big coffee drinker, but I tried their nitro green tea, which I really enjoyed. The space is great for people-watching and just sitting to let the time pass.

In terms of bars, I often go to Woobar for casual drinks and it’s always a very welcoming place to go. Quinary is always on the top of my bar list. I love the drink names, presentation and the creativity of the offerings there.

Where are the best mocktails or non-alcoholic options in Hong Kong?

Generally, I think Hong Kong bartenders are very accommodating and can pretty much turn any alcoholic drink into a non-alcoholic version. I really like The Envoy’s small but dedicated section of mocktails. It’s nice to see thought going in to that to address the needs of a growing market.

Anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

Aside from hitting all my favourite food and drink spots, I always find time with family to head to Lamma Island. As a family we enjoy doing the gentle hike from Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan and then finish off with a late seafood lunch. It has become a bit of a tradition when I am back in Hong Kong.

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

I always pack dried ingredients so I can make Chinese soup when I’m in the UK. I grew up drinking Chinese soup at home and it’s one of those things that I have really missed since I left to study abroad. I ask family for different recipes and it is something I enjoy making, especially now that I can share the soups with my little girl.

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

We don’t find much authentic food around where we live in Solihull, [near Birmingham], but whenever we are in London, I visit China Tang at The Dorchester or Pearl Liang [in Paddington] to remind me of home.

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