Judging by the recent openings of Nobu (at the InterContinental) and Joël Robuchon’s Atelier (in the posh Landmark shopping mall), Hong Kong may be the new favorite playground of global celebrity chefs. The loudest buzz, however, was reserved for the October debut of Pierre Gagnaire’s Pierre (5 Connaught Rd.; 852/2825-4001; dinner for two $260), atop the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Every black-and-gold-upholstered banquette was booked weeks in advance while the French iconoclast was still obsessing over—and, often, personally designing—the details: the shaggy black lampshades; the pink-tinted water in the hydrangea vases. Simultaneously austere and sumptuous, the gray-and-black room sets the tone for Gagnaire’s brainy cuisine with its herbaceous accents, citric jolts, and complicated flavor arrangements. A sea-bass carpaccio confettied with tiny white-and-pink cubes of horseradish-and-red currant gelée is haute couture for the palate, but basic dishes like roast pork with fennel and cabbage shine just as brightly. Even the flops—such as the cold poached egg in a strange, new-wave tonnato sauce—are rather fascinating. Still, not even the astounding desserts (try the "passion du citron," composed of multicolored lemon Jell-O sticks, meringue, and limoncello) can diminish the heartbreak of peering out at the harbor and seeing the ghost of the old Star Ferry terminal, a beloved city landmark now shut down (and relocated) by the callous city authorities. So much for progress.
Classic Cantonese cooking focuses on texture, fanatical dedication to quality, and status-laden exotica like abalone and shark’s fin, and it reaches exquisite heights at the Four Seasons’ Lung King Heen (8 Finance St., Central; 852/3196-8888; lunch for two $100). The confident modern space is refreshingly free of chinoiserie, instead offering acres of warm amber wood, columns wrapped in coils of Indonesian silk, a silver-leafed ceiling, and sweeping views of Kowloon. Tycoons and fashionable tai-tais gathered around damask-swathed tables clearly think that this is the best Chinese food in town. We agree. The illustrious chef Chan Yan Tak was lured out of retirement to deliver his signature refined, crystal-clear flavors—which are mainly Cantonese but include an occasional French or Southeast Asian flourish. Among the stellar dim sum are such masterpieces as Chan’s weightless green dumpling of lobster and prawns, and his flaky barbecued-pork puffs with their unexpected accent of blueberries. If the famous Shanghainese hairy crab is in season, its delicate meat and roe might be folded into an emerald tangle of sautéed pea shoots. Crisp frog’s-leg lollipops are presented in a crunchy basket of tiny fried whitebait; suckling pig arrives paired with foie gras. And don’t write off Chinese desserts until you’ve tried the bright-orange chilled sago cream dotted with pomelo and mango. Simply perfect.
Anya von Bremzen is a Travel + Leisure contributing editor. Her latest book is The New Spanish Table.