As we all know, Hong Kong is a renowned culinary city, with a good mixture of East meets West eateries alongside the local Cantonese ones. Relatively easy import and immigration laws mean chefs and restaurateurs can come from all over the world to try their luck in our dining scene. However, all this action does mean there’s something of an identity crisis when it comes to defining a homegrown Hong Kong flavour that’s encapsulated by at least one standout restaurant. Of course, there are certain products that scream Hong Kong, like Pat Chun vinegar and Tai Cheong Bakery’s egg tarts – but an eatery that fully represents our city’s cuisine like Noma does Copenhagen or Jiro does Tokyo is still lacking.
Until now. We may have found a pretty good candidate that’s just burst on to the scene. VEA stands for Vicky Et Antonio – Vicky and Antonio in French. Vicky is Vicky Cheng, the visionary chef formerly of Liberty Private Works, and Antonio is Antonio Lai, the legendary bartender behind Origin, The Envoy and Quinary, the Central-based cocktail bar which has been named one of the world’s top 50 by Drinks International magazine.
The new establishment takes up the top two floors of The Wellington, itself the newest food destination in between Central and Sheung Wan. VEA’s lounge is on the 29th floor, while the restaurant occupies the level above. The eatery’s space is comprised completely of counter seating, so you can watch the chefs preparing your meal right before your eyes. Brass fixtures with exposed filaments in pretty cut crystal bulbs and white leather-backed stools give off a chic rather than an industrial vibe.
As for the food, there’s a single tasting menu available. This costs $1,180 a head, and can be paired with either wine or cocktails for an additional $600. With a tour de force such as Lai behind the drinks menu, the cocktail option is the obvious choice on our visit.
Our meal starts with three amuse bouches, all dramatically presented. There’s a crispy fried chicken skin dish, a clam and black bean hors d’oeuvre and a smoked quail egg that’s theatrically served up in a glass dome cover, so the smoke trapped inside is released upon presentation. The chicken skin is nothing remarkable – but the quail egg, which sports a tea egg-like quality, and the clam are both memorable. The egg is bite-sized and full of creamy flavours, and the shellfish is reminiscent of wok-fried clams in black bean sauce – a dai pai
dong classic that’s done incredibly well here.
These creative titbits each boast a local influence and whet our appetites for the courses to come. The first, tuna belly with uni and espelette pepper, is an instant highlight. It’s covered in a burnt cucumber jelly and is visually stunning, arriving with a dashi cucumber cocktail. The lemon and the vodka in the drink effectively refresh the palate after the weight of the fatty toro and the sea urchin. Next up is the hairy crab. Shaped like a small shiso maki roll, it’s a little disappointing as we find the meat a little overcooked and the fat lacking in flavour. But the pairing is perfect as the crab comes with hua diao, or yellow wine, infused with white grape vinegar. Teasing out the flavours of crab, the acidic bite of the vinegar abates the slightly bitter back end to the Chinese wine. This is one time in the evening where the cocktail shines brighter than the paired dish.
The star of the evening arrives next – the egg is wrapped in raviolo, which comes with a parmesan truffle foam and is garnished with caviar and gold flakes. It may not be a revolutionary dish but it’s divine, and we’re impressed by the truffle-infused Chinese fried doughnut which accompanies it. We use it to mop up the sauces in an oh-so-Hong Kong way.
The tasting menu ends with two desserts. One os raspberry with meringue and pistachio and the other, which deserves waxing lyrical about is the milk jam and vanilla ice cream that’s served with a petrified salted duck egg. The medley of sweet and savoury flavours, in addition to some crispy quinoa, is superb. The dish creates the wonderful aromas of an elevated cha chaan teng French toast.
Originality is easier said than done. Odd pairings and bold combinations can often be disastrous or inappropriate. But there’s none of that at VEA. The Asian infusions are well thought out and the quality of the main ingredients is only enhanced here. All the flavours are fine-tuned with finesse and there’s a sense of Hong Kong cuisine in every offering. The tasting menu changes according to season, so there could be mistakes yet to come. Still, judging by this visit, with dishes like the quail egg, poached egg and salted egg dessert, this could well become a homegrown restaurant that not only encapsulates how good our city’s cuisine can be, but one Hong Kong can take to the world too. Lisa Cam
VEA29/F & 30/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington St, Central, 2711 8639; vea.hk.
29/F & 30/F, The Wellington
198 Wellington St, Central