Because of all that happened in 2020, we’re taking every restaurant opening in 2021 as a positive sign indicative of a resilient F&B industry. The year has started out strong, but among some of the most exciting projects is that of chef Leonard Cheung, who will open Cultivate—his first restaurant—in March 2021. The Soho restaurant is the culmination of years of hard graft—or indeed, of cultivation—which kicked up a notch during the year of the pandemic, when the chef decided to host a slew of epic private dinners at his Southside home, which essentially doubled up as a test kitchen for him to realise and hone his wildest dish ideas (disclaimer: I was invited to one back in October 2020 along with other media professionals and food lovers to experience a multi-course feast that the chef had been fine tuning over the best part of the year).
Cultivate is a chef’s table restaurant where diners are invited to have a direct, interactive experience with the culinary team. With just 22 seats, the restaurant will serve just one eight-course menu that will continue to evolve and pivot based on seasonality and inspiration; roughly a third of the dishes will change every three weeks, designed to keep Cheung and his team on their feet and returning guests continuously fascinated.
Cheung—ever the planner and overflowing with ideas—has already mapped out the culinary journey of Cultivate up to June 2022. Followers of his social media will already have an insight into the kind of chef he is—there’s a seriousness to his approach that can only be self-driven and bolstered by the innate desire for perfection and development. Instagram stories documenting the journey of Cultivate have appeared at all hours of the day—piles of notes and sketches, stacks of crockery samples, and vignettes of yet another colourful mise-en-place offering an insight into this obsessive mind for detail.
The menu is also a celebration of seasonal vegetables, rather than paying lip service to fans of caviar, truffles and wagyu—the unofficial holy trinity of modern fine dining, though when they do appear, it's in unconventional formats. An example dish that may feature on the menu includes amaebi served wrapped in compressed caviar "leather" strips (cut from a compressed and dried caviar "block"), topped with forget-me-nots, kinome picked micro leaves, Amalfi lemon brunoise, and butterfly pea dashi made with smoked eel bones. Others highlight his fondness for freshness, in dish of Zuwaigani crab dressed in pear, horseradish, lemon oil, lemon juice, marigold; the dish also incorporates sea urchin and espelette pepper, zucchini blossoms, morels, marigold creme fraiche, fresh peas and snap peas.
A non-alcoholic “elixir pairing” is also introduced, as a worthy alternative to wine; at Cultivate, Cheung has focused on American producers, from the widely lauded to lesser known wines from overlooked regions. Cheung has an endless stream of details that he has worked on for the restaurant, from the exact curve of the wine cabinet to the height of the chef counter.