Bye Belon, And Farewell Hong Kong: Daniel Calvert's Love Letter To The City
When I came to Hong Kong, I was a good cook who had worked at incredible restaurants around the world. But I had this mentality that anything less than three-star fine dining wasn’t good. Hong Kong showed me that food can be excellent in any situation. Over the years, it had been drilled into my head that fine dining was the only type of dining, and that’s just not true. Good food is a dai pai dong on the corner of the street, a roast goose restaurant with a line out the door, or just a really passionate guy making pasta because he loves pasta.
I moved here to open Belon with Black Sheep Restaurants in 2016. At the time, I wanted a break from fine dining, to find a direction outside of the gastronomic houses of Per Se and Epicure. I knew nothing about this city then—I had never even been to Asia before. But I signed a six-month contract, thinking it would be a break, some time to think about what I wanted. Of course, I never found that break—Hong Kong is too vibrant. But from the moment I arrived, it was amazing.
Hong Kong is now my favourite city in the world. Everything about it is like living in a village. Yes, the food is amazing, but so are the people. I love this city, its weather, and how alive it is. For the first time, I could have friends, and do my job, and go out for dinner and live again. For me, that was a gift, and something I didn’t find in Paris, or New York.
I think the American dream exists in Hong Kong, maybe even more so than it does in America. If you work hard, you will get what you deserve in Hong Kong. I don’t think people remember this, but in 2017 the restaurant was struggling. We were serving maybe 10 people a day, and that was devastating. It was so hard to get out of bed every day and give your all for an empty restaurant. But we kept our standards high. I still came in every morning at 8:00am, and I put the work in. Word spread. When we got 50 Best, I stopped worrying overnight. [Editor's note: In 2017, Daniel Calvert won the Tatler Dining award for Best New Chef in recognition of the work he'd done to further the cuisine at Belon.]
Agustin Balbi, Jim Lofdahl and Daniel Calvert at the 2018 Tatler Dining Best Restaurants Awards (Photo: Tatler Dining)
Daniel with chef Leung Fai Hung at the 2017 edition of Dim Sum Duets by Tatler Dining (Photo: Tatler Dining)
Together with chef Leung, Daniel created the Chinese sausage pate en croute for the first ever edition of Tatler Dining's Dim Sum Duets (Photo: Tatler Dining)
Now that I’m leaving Hong Kong, I realise that this city has made me more sure of who I am, and what I do. I learned to not force myself into being something I’m not, and I found who I am as a chef, not a cook who imitates what he’s been shown.
If you work hard, you will get what you deserve in Hong Kong
I don’t know how I’ll feel walking out of the last service. Part of me just wants to get it done, but I also know it will be traumatic. It will take time to get over Belon. I will miss the tiny little kitchen, and the tap falling off my sink, and the beautiful collection of empty bottles on the wall from special evenings. I’ll miss the food that we did, and our guests, and the memories. I will miss walking home to Tai Hang every night and seeing the skyline lit up. I will miss it all.
On August 31, I’ll walk out of the restaurant, and just like that, it’s all over. There’s a lot of cache that comes with being the chef of Belon, and in that moment, it will be gone. No more Michelin star, no more clout. But it was never really about the accolades. It was about feeding people and taking care of a team.
Looking back, Hong Kong has given me so much. This city, it changes you. My life became so much more interesting when I moved here. It matured my approach to food, and restaurants, and people in general. It gave me incredible friends and the best guests and memories you could hope for. I will be eternally grateful to Hong Kong and I know I’ll be back.
Daniel Calvert's Favourite Hong Kong Bars And Restaurants
This is my ultimate favourite, and I want everyone to go at least once.
The Chairman, 18 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong
Ho Lee Fook
I love just sitting down and letting chef Jowett Yu cook for me, he’s incredible.
Ho Lee Fook, G/F, 1-5 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong
This is where I always take out-of-town friends to drink bottles of wine and eat home-style Chinese food.
Pang's Kitchen, 25 Yik Yam Street, Happy Valley, Hong Kong
Ronin, G/F, 8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Go for the most beautiful room in Hong Kong, and that hot and sour noodle number. It’s a must-try.
Howard's Gourmet, 5/F, CCB Tower, 3 Connaught Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
It’s in the Mandarin Oriental, and they make my favourite Martini and the best samosas.
Captain's Bar, G/F, Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
This place made me love cocktail bars again.
The Diplomat, Shop 1, LG/F, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong
It’s right next to my apartment, and they make the best canele I have ever had.
Plumcot, G/F, 10A Sun Chun Street, Tai Hang, Hong Kong
Yat Lok Roast Goose
On Stanley Street, it’s legendary.
Yat Lok Roast Goose, G/F, 34-38 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong
Go to the Four Seasons Hotel for the best wine list in Hong Kong, and to be fed by chef Guillaume Galliot.
Caprice Bar, 6/F, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong