Cover A year in food (Illustration: Chesca Gamboa)

We take a look back at some of the most memorable moments in the Hong Kong dining scene

With current dining bans giving a sense of deja vu, bringing to mind those harsh months in 2020 when Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the F&B industry, 2021 did have its share of highs—and thankfully, relatively fewer lows. As the Lunar New Year approaches and Hong Kong readies itself to fight the ongoing battle against the fifth wave, we’re digging into the memory bank to take stock of what defined 2021.

Don't miss: The Best New Hong Kong Restaurant Openings to Look Forward To in 2022

We opened a restaurant!

Of course, one of the highlights of 2021 had to be the launch of Tatler Dining Kitchen at Haus, a nine-month project that turned our vision of giving the F&B community a platform to explore and experiment into a proper restaurant. With its slight speakeasy vibe, hidden on the first floor of Haus—the collaboration with our partners Mercedes Benz and IWC Schaffhausen—TDK, as it became fondly known, was a space where we welcomed an impressive roster of chefs, mixologists and tastemakers. Chef Antimo Maria Merone, who was our opening chef, has since opened Estro; Shane Osborne and Michael Smith of The Arcane Collective were able to do an experimental preview of Moxie before launch; Anthony Ng ran an insanely busy month of Uza by Nikushou, soon to open in Central this year.

We were also able to pull together a dream line-up of previously unheard of collaborations: a husband-and-wife night where Amber’s Richard Ekkebus cooked Mauritian cuisine with his wife Fiona, and the dishes paired with cocktails by Penicillin’s Agung and Laura Prabowo; a caviar, cocktail and sando night by Lorenzo Antinori, Cut Sando Sound Bar and Nomad Caviar; an immersive dining experience highlighting the plight of refugees by Table of Two Cities, Antonio Lai and Alison Chan; The Sake Bistro concept by Ta Vie’s Hideaki Sato and Godenya’s Shinya Goshima; and May Chow cooking a Ningbo feast with her mother, Juliana Foo, to name a few. On the final night of TDK, we had four incredible young chefs—Felix Cheung (aka FatCheFelix), Ash Salmon, Stephanie Wong and Graf Kwok—cooking an art-inspired menu to send off the venue in style. 

Stay tuned as Tatler Dining Kitchen will certainly return in 2022!

The rise and rise of Hong Kong’s coffee scene

What started out as a running joke at the beginning of the year where we’d tally how many cafes had opened every week has turned into something else entirely. For the entirety of 2021, Hong Kong’s caffeine scene was buzzing in the best way possible—allowing us to run rich monthly guides to the latest and best cafes to open—and Lai Chi Wo farm in the New Territories made headlines when they succeeded in growing, harvesting and roasting Hong Kong coffee—a project we hope will continue to develop.

See also: Hong Kong's Rising Coffee Culture Over the Past Decade

A culinary community

As communities and individuals struggled, people found ways to support and sustain each other. Right at the beginning of the year, Zuma stepped up with Kyoyu Sundays by supporting mixologists whose bars were forced to close temporarily—including Bar Buonasera, The Pontiac and The Old Man—by giving them the space to shake things up.

Individuals did what they could, too: Kingsley Wong, a consultant and food lover, created A Freaking Dumpling and partnered with Feeding Hong Kong to sell beautiful ceramic dumplings that would equate to real dumplings donated to vulnerable communities during the pandemic. A year into the project, AFD has contributed more than 15,000 dumplings going to those who need it. 

Likewise, the Phil-Kong Project collaborated with local businesses to create care packages and lunchboxes to be distributed to Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

In the F&B industry, we saw plenty of charitable initiatives where altruism was on true display, particularly during the height of India’s devastating Covid-19 outbreak. MetaBev and bars around Hong Kong launched the Help India Breathe initiative at Tatler Dining Kitchen, while events such as Cook For India at Chaat and Hong Kong Helps India at Chaiwala sought to raise urgent funds for those affected.

Addressing mental health was also high on the agenda, and Roger Chan of MetaBev launched the F&B Run Club initiative, corralling dozens—and then hundreds—of industry workers and created a meaningful and fun way to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, while strengthening bond in the community. The group are still welcoming members, so if you are in any way involved with F&B in Hong Kong, don't hesitate to get in touch. 

You get a collab, you get a collab, everyone gets a collab!

Apart from the crossovers we hosted at Tatler Dining Kitchen, a renewed sense of community spirit (and a lack of international flights) meant there were some really intriguing four-hands menus and inventive events and products ripe for the picking in 2021. Auteur Christopher Doyle partnered with local brewery Carbon Brews to create his first craft beer; May Chow and Antonio Lai joined forces to create the ultra fun Little Draft Land pop-up at Little Bao; Sam Lui of Wendy’s Wok World brought her vibe to the generations-old Ser Wong Fun for an Omnipork collaboration; and Asia’s newly minted number one restaurant, The Chairman, dropped a surprise crossover menu with Hansik Goo’s Mingoo Kang.

Tatler also partnered with Black Sheep Restaurants to create two unique immersive dining experiences at Tai Kwun to whisk diners away to both sunnier and snowier climes: the Primavera Ad Amalfi pop-up and the ski resort-inspired Chalet des Alpes.

Ricardo Chaneton of Mono and Agustin Balbi of Ando, the South American brothers-from-another-mother, also participated in their fair share of collaborations, from a pop-up Sunday session at Quality Goods Club to creating their take on African flavours for The Gelinaz feast. They also joined hands with Antonio Oviedo of 22 Ships to cook a special charity lunch to raise funds for and awareness of those affected by La Palma volcanic eruptions in Spain.

We love Hong Kong…a lot

Being ‘stuck’ in the city has nevertheless has its silver lining, with many (re)discovering food haunts, exploring previously unfamiliar neighbourhoods and celebrating the achievements of our homegrown talents. We kicked off the year with our Why We Love Hong Kong series, each week focusing on the recommendations and food memories of a well-known tastemaker: Ringo Chan waxed lyrical about the nostalgic flavours of sha yung, or Chinese doughnuts, and perhaps the memory inspired him to launch them at the Four Seasons this month; Peggy Chan revealed that curry fishballs are still among her most treasured food memories; Vicky Lau shared how snake soup is her ultimate comfort food; and Bakehouse’s Gregoire Michaud writes an ode to char siu.

Hongkongers performed well on the international stage, too: DeAille Tam won the title of Asia’s Best Female Chef while longtime favourite, The Chairman, was named Asia’s #1 restaurant—demoting Singapore’s French restaurant Odette to #2.

See also: How Hong Kong's The Chairman Restaurant Redefines Chinese Fine Dining

Wing, Vicky Cheng’s love letter to Chinese food, opened as well; with techniques such as dry-ageing his own Chinese cured meats and fine-tuning his takes on classics such as Chinese crisp fried chicken and nourishing soups, the restaurant sent a clear signal that local culinary traditions should be given more attention.

The spirit of the city lives on

Singapore has long dominated the Asian cocktail scene, but Hong Kong is giving it some serious competition. In May 2021, Jay Khan’s COA was named Asia’s Best Bar and it broke the top ten later in the world ranking at #7, and there was plenty more to celebrate. The local gin scene accelerated with exciting launches by Two Moons, NIP Distilling and Perfume Trees—the last having launched Tankyu Distillery in The Mills, a new bar in Central Market, and the world’s first sugar-free coffee liqueur, Pale Ink. Elsewhere, Magnolia Lab became one of the first Cantonese liqueurs to launch in a generation, and reignited an interest in the underrated genre.

Our dining editor Gavin Yeung also brought his drinks expertise to the table, launching the Through the Stirring Glass video series to tell the stories of Hong Kong’s most iconic mixologists, and ending the year with a guest bartending shift at Dio—one of the most interesting new bars to open in 2021, alongside the likes of Candour, Zzura, Finding Daisy, Wood Ear, Barcode, Kyle & Bain, Awa Awa and Apothecary. Argo, the long-anticipated bar from Lorenzo Antinori at Four Seasons Hong Kong, was most likely the most high profile bar opening of the year—for good reason. 

Tatler Dining also enlisted the expertise of Master of Wine Sarah Heller to launch the inaugural Champagne Guide, spotlighting over 60 brilliant labels with extensive tasting notes and tips—the launch was accompanied by a casual dim sum-inspired champagne tasting event, Yum Champagne, where guests could sample more than 20 different premium wines.

What sustains you?

The climate emergency is becoming ever pressing, and sustainability is getting much overdue attention. Eleven Madison Park made headlines when chef Daniel Humm announced the restaurant’s switch to an entirely plant-based format (leading Tatler to ask, "was it worth it?"); Green Common continued to launch more intriguing alternative proteins like OmniTuna, and securing high profile collaborations with major chains like McDonalds to promote OmniPork ‘spam’; Tindle sprang onto the market to offer vegan ‘chicken’, partnering with restaurants such as Uma Nota, Alvy’s and Katsumoto Sando Bar.

Zero Foodprint Asia officially launched with Peggy Chan and Joel Tomas spearheading the organisation, working closely with restaurants on initiatives such as the 1% pledge (where the amount is taken from every bill to help support regenerative farming practices) and connecting farmers with chefs to shift locally grown produce.

Meanwhile, Food Made Good hosted its second ever annual awards and announced Richard Ekkebus as the Hong Kong chapter’s new president, taking over from Shane Osborne.

Dalgona candy, again

Squid Game was all anyone could talk about for weeks in October, with plenty of cafes cashing in on the dicey Dalgona candy challenge.

Perhaps a Hong Kong version of the game in 2022 could be racing to see who can actually book a table at Bâtard, The Chairman or Chaat for a time within the next three months?

Comings and goings

For some, 2021 was a time to reflect, renew and renovate the hell out of their previous incarnations: these included the massive transformation of Cafe Gray Deluxe into Salisterra following the sad passing of chef Gray Kunz in 2020, as well as a refresh of sister venue The Continental. Likewise, Black Sheep Restaurants chugged away at relaunches of Belon (a restaurant only similar to its predecessor in name) with Matthew Kirkley and Ho Lee Fook with chef ArChan Chan; Yung Kee embarked on a HK$60 million renovation by William Lim; Aqua and Hutong uprooted from their longterm home of 18 years at One Peking Road to start afresh in H Zentre; and Man Wah, the Mandarin Oriental's flagship Cantonese restaurant, had a major revamp, expanding and graduating from bubblegum pink to inky blue. In a twist of fate, Little Bao returned to their roots in Soho with a new opening that had references to the original, but with a firm foot in the future. 

Lastly, Hong Kong has been full of farewells in 2021. Hoi On, one of our favourite cha chaan tengs in the city, suddenly shuttered late last year—the family wanting to take a break, rather than closing due to the pandemic. Two of the city’s most interesting chefs, Jowett Yu of Ho Lee Fook and Max Levy of Okra, also left Hong Kong—to Australia and the United States, respectively—leaving regulars bereft.

The city also lost another legend in the form of Yue Hing’s iconic chef Dan Yiu, who had been battling lung cancer for years; his very special toasted sandwiches (luncheon meat, cabbage, egg and rather unorthodox peanut butter) will be missed, not least by Teakha’s Nana Chan who wrote that Yue Hing is her absolute favourite dai pai dong in Hong Kong. 

Teakha’s closure itself was another heartbreak—after ten glorious years of serving the community, Chan announced in October that the cafe would serve its last cups of tea on 31 December 2021. In the months that followed, it was a bittersweet scene as regulars queued up to send their well wishes and clasp hot mugs of their signature masala chai for one last time.

As 2022 picks up speed, we hope that the year will be full of more good than bad, and with more delicious and nourishing tales to tell.

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