Taste of Hong Kong @ Central Harbourfront – 16 March, 2017

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Four days of delicious food on the Central Harbourfront, Taste 2017 is a vast improvement on 2016. The restaurants are more prepared, have a better understanding of the event, have prepped more portions (3-500 portions per regular dish/session seemed the average) so it’s unlikely they’ll run out… Purchasing food is quicker and easier. There’s more seating – if a lack of bins.

It’s expensive, dining at these 16 restaurants is anyway, but the food dishes we tasted were good. The portion sizes of some dishes are a little small for the price, the paper plates environmentally friendly but not the best given the quality of the food. And there’s lots of samples from the various shops and market to try.

While all 16 featured outlets are worth taking a look at, Richard Ekkebus Culinary Director at Amber has done something more than a little special – and raised the bar for all participants for next year – he’s set up a special seated dining area and each session the producers and suppliers of the ingredients of each of his dishes are introducing and talking about what you are eating. Fascinating!
Click on any photo for the full gallery of images.

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Treating Your Tastebuds

The Taste of Hong Kong festival returns for it’s second year to the Central Harbourfront. This year there are 16 restaurants participating and all will offer four taster portion sized plates: three standard items at prices $50-$200 and one iconic dish that could cost up to $420.

Payment this year is only by credit card, if you don’t have a credit card then you can buy a prepaid ($200, $300, $800) one at the festival or from any bank. The remaining balance can used after the festival at other shops around town.

So the big question is how to enjoy and get the most from Taste and sample all the dishes you want to… There are two main approaches to Taste, the casual wander where you sample and join the queues that take your interest. But really this relaxed approach while enjoyable does not bring the best out of the festival.

To get the most from Taste, you need a little advance planning and it’s best to go with three or more friends. Firstly download and peruse the menu, chose which dishes you want to try and then ‘rank’ them in a rough order. This gives you the restaurants you want to visit, and with around 3,000 people per session, you’ll be queuing, which realistically limits one person to 4-6 restaurants.

But this is where your friends come in. Choose a meeting/eating point and then each of you joins a different restaurant queue and buys 4 (or more depending on your friends orders/preferences) of each dish. Meet-up, eat-up, enjoy and repeat… Remember to bring a tray, or something similar, with you to help you carry all the dishes!

To whet your tastebuds here’s a list of some of the dishes that are available:

Amber: Fukuoka line caught Spanish mackerel cured & torched, Miyazaki Hyuganatsu.
Arcane: Rangers Valley wagyu short rib served with green beans, confit garlic and pepper sauce.
Café Gray Deluxe: Brittany Diver scallop, XO emulsion and Amalfi lemon.
Chino: Uni/ truffle/ spicy lobster tostada.
Duddell’s: Pan fried M9 Australian wagyu wasabi soy sauce.
Kaum: Ikan Belut – Sambal Hijau, pan-fried eel fillet served with char-grilled chilli, shallots, tomatoes and coconut oil relish.
Mercato: Black truffle lobster carbonara
Okra: Sea urchin a la mode – Murasaki uni with smoked jelly and sea water.
Rhoda: slow cooked Hawke’s Bay lamb shoulder, spiced cauliflower and cumin.
Tin Lung Heen: Barbecued Iberian pork with honey.
Tosca: Prime beef in pizzaiola sauce.
Yardbird: Yuzu chilli hot wings with fermented yuzu chilli sauce.
Zuma: Grilled Hakkinton pork skewer with miso and pickled daikon.

As well as these tasty dishes there’s several food shops, importers and a market offering a wide range of products to take home and enjoy. There are also food demonstrations and talks.

A little planning will treat you and your palate to a fine, if teasing, meal.

Taste of Hong Kong
Date: 16-19 March, 2017
Venue: Central Harbourfront
Tickets: $678, $198, $168 from Ticketflap

Edited: The menu card only list 15 restaurants, there are 16 participating. We have updated the article to reflect that.

Taste of Hong Kong 2017

The Taste of Hong Kong returns for a second year to Central Harbourfront from 16 to 19 March. This year’s festival features an increased number of Hong Kong’s top restaurants, confirmed so far are Amber, Arcane (Sunday only), Cafe Grey Deluxe, Chino, Duddell’s, Kaum at Potato Head (Thursday & Friday only), Mercato, Okra (Saturday only), Rhoda, Tin Lung Heen, Tosca, Yardbird and Zuma with perhaps three more to come. Each restaurant will serve four taster portion sized plates: three standard items at prices $50-$200 and one iconic dish that could cost anything…

So what is Taste? The concept is that you can sample taster size portions of dishes from restaurants that you might never visit and create a meal from a range of cuisines. It is a interesting idea, sort of like changing restaurants between each course of a meal – and organisers IMG have turned it into a very profitable global concept.

bc was underwhelmed by last year’s event, not by the concept but by the execution – read the report here. We do love food though, so we spoke to IMG about how they’re looking to ‘improve the experience’ this year.

As HongKongers we’re accustomed to queuing but IMG have said they’ll be working with the participating chefs and restaurants to improve the service efficiency. Increase the information about which dishes are still available, including having far more of the icon dishes per session. As well as having drinks carts serving people in the queues.

There is to be more seating, covered and uncovered. A wider range of entertainment and more artisan shops to purchase food and drink from. Plus an expanded range of talks about food and wine.

The invited chefs look to have a better understanding of the concept and several of the icon dishes show they’re looking to offer something unique at Taste.

IMG appear to have addressed a lot of the frustrations that dampened enjoyment last year with some more improvements yet to announced but it all sounds promising for a tasty event in March.

Taste of Hong Kong
Date: 16-19 March, 2017
Venue: Central Harbourfront
Tickets: $678, $198, $168 from Ticketflap

Taste Festival FAIL!

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For those thinking of attending Taste at the Central Harbourfront, then sadly I suggest you think again if you haven’t already bought a ticket. Especially if you’re imagining something like last year’s enjoyable and diverse Wine & Dine Festival.

At Taste there are just 12 restaurants: Aberdeen Street Social, Amber, Arcane (Sunday), Bibo, Café Gray Deluxe, Chino (Thursday & Friday), Duddell’s, Serge et Le Phoque, The Ocean, Tin Lung Heen, Tosca, Yardbird and Ronin and visiting UK restaurant Duck & Waffle (Saturday). The organisers IMG are hoping to attract 3,000 people per four hour session. If you are keen to try all 12 outlets then you’ll be hoping to get served every 20 minutes as will the other 250+ customers at each booth. Even the most efficient McDonalds in Hong Kong would be struggling to serve 750 people every hour for four hours straight; and they’re a restaurant specifically designed to serve fast food. The 12 outlets at Taste are restaurants used to serving 100 or so people in an evening, with care taken in the cooking and presentation of the food. And with rents for a booth at over $20,000, the dishes aren’t cheap ranging from $50 to $380 for mini-portions on a paper plate…

Each restaurant is offering 3 dishes and one signature dish, as the organisers IMG didn’t ask the participants to prepare any dishes for the media to taste it’s impossible for bc to comment on the individual offerings. On the opening night an outlet ran out of its signature dish within just over an hour having prepared less than 30 portions. Others ran out of their ‘main’ dishes before 8pm. One outlet spoke of preparing 300 of each main dish per session – so only 1 in 10 of IMG’s projected session visitors might be able to taste it…

Arrive early and expect to queue and queue… Even the Event Director Simon Wilson thinks you’ll only be able to taste dishes from 5 or 6 outlets per 4 hour session. Thursday was the first night, and the weather meant only a couple of hundred visitors yet there were long lines all around. Service at all the restaurants was friendly but disorganised with ordering and food arrival taking several minutes per customer. Late in any session I expect the food choices to be extremely limited if non-existent.

The place feels very sterile, there’s no area to sit and congregate and share food stories. There are no tables on the event ‘lawn’ (more like a squishy puddle in the rain) so the few standing only tables inside the booths were crammed and with staff working flat-out to serve food; clearing the tables of piling rubbish was an oft forgotten afterthought.

The restaurants are spaced around the exterior, while the ‘spine’ of Taste features various wine, craft beer and food produce outlets. Drinks are at bar prices and nothing that you can’t find easily around town. Although La Boucherie and Golden Pig are offering some tasty sausages while Eclair! has some interesting savoury eclairs and chocolates.

The lack of restaurant booths is Taste’s main problem. 20 or 30 outlets (there’s no shortage of ‘high end’ outlets locally) would have allowed diners to spend less time queueing and more time tasting – which after all is supposedly the idea behind the event.

This is not IMG’s first Taste event, they have organised many around the world, but Taste HK feels like a rort, designed to fleece it’s visitors of as many dollars as possible… Looking to cash in on the premium names and reputations of outlets with dishes that are expensive for what’s on offer. $280 for a lobster roll eaten standing in a puddle under an umbrella… Maybe it’s different overseas but here it’s definitely an event for those with money to burn. For the rest of us, save your money and go enjoy the dishes as the chef imagined you would eat them, sitting down with time to appreciate all their subtleties and complexities of flavour, texture and taste.