Vea in Hong Kong: Chinese ingredients and French techniques for an experience not to be missed
Hiding on the 30th floor of an unassuming building in Sheung Wan is Vea, a Michelin-starred restaurant that has garnered rave reviews thanks to esteemed chef Vicky Cheng. Born in Hong Kong, Cheng has worked across the globe with some of the world’s top chefs, including Jason Bangerter and Daniel Boulud.
After spending considerable time in the West, Cheng decided to return to Hong Kong to create a fusion experience built on the idea of “food as a universal language”. His vision combines Chinese ingredients and French cooking techniques with the intent of connecting the diner to Hong Kong, whether that’s through a locally sourced ingredient or a recreated childhood memory.
We arrived at Vea – voted amongst the best in Asia by the 50 Best Restaurants academy – on a Friday evening just as the local eateries and bars were starting to open their doors. Stepping out of the building lift we were plunged straight into the restaurant, which was decked out with brass fittings, soft lighting and counter table seating. The counter extended all around an open-plan kitchen, giving diners front row seats to observe the chefs at work. In a city where every square metre counts, the smart layout looked like a win-win situation.
As well as a selection of wines (including Chinese varieties) and an impressive array of champagnes, there were plenty of pairing options to go with the food. These included the standard wine pairing, the Chinese wine pairing, the premium wine pairing and the two cocktail pairings (standard and “spirit-free”) from Hong Kong maestro Antonio Lai.
We went for the regular wine and the cocktail pairings. In the capable hands of resident sommelier Alex Yim, we were served wines from France and Germany and an array of cocktails that were carefully concocted to bring out the best in every dish. Some highlights included the Salted Plum, made with salted plums, vinegar, ginger beer and baijiu (a distilled Chinese spirit); the Green Apple, made with apple, elderflower, celtuce and shiso gin; and the Oolong, made with oolong tea, plum, soda and vodka.
The tasting menu was split into eight courses with additional supplementary options available. We began with the selection of savoury snacks. There were marinated quail eggs dramatically presented in a bird’s nest and engulfed in applewood smoke, a deep fried oyster with caviar, drunken prawns that had been stewing in two types of rice wine, and cannoli filled with pistachio and jam. The last of the snacks was salted fish and bok choy presented on a serving platter playing a Cantonese love song (“As long as I’m with you, even salted fish and bok choy would taste so good”) – a cute finishing touch that showed a more playful side to fine dining.
Then it was onto the Spot Prawn with Dan Dan Noodle and Chilli Oil. This dish boasted fresh and fragrant flavours and the dinky portion of noodles produced just the slightest kick from the chilli. The South African Abalone with Yunnan green pepper, bull kelp and garlic was the next dish we sampled. Hailed for its health properties, this mollusk is a sought-after ingredient in Chinese cooking. The texture might not be for everyone – it is a lot meatier than shellfish – but it did carry its accompanying flavours well.
The Roasted Sea Cucumber with Dungeness crab and Hong Kong yellow wine was an ideal showcase for the sea cucumber, another popular Chinese superfood praised for its health benefits. We were shown the dried version, which was almost unrecognisable once it had been rehydrated and cooked. The roasted top had a crunchy bite before giving way to sweet juicy crab meat which was neatly nestled underneath. The local Ma Yau with fermented black bean and 30-year old mandarin peel was a dish of many depths and had a pleasing zesty warmth running throughout.
We followed it with the Fish Maw with caviar and quinoa. Due to its high level of collagen, fish maw (the swim bladder of a large fish) has long been considered a Chinese delicacy. Its popularity is evident as you can find the dried variety in most of the food shops in Sheung Wan. Once cooked, it took on an intensely creamy rich texture which was aptly contrasted with the caviar and quinoa.
After sampling some Crispy Daikon accompanied by Taiyouran egg and sugar pea shoot tips, we moved on to the Salted Plum Sorbet. I have to give a special mention to this palate cleanser as it brought back some of my own memories of eating salted plums as a child. They were salty, sour and surprisingly refreshing; I only wish I could have taken more of this home.
Our final savoury course was a Whole Roasted Chicken with clay pot rice and chestnut, the chicken boasting an impressive deep brown skin. Once it was carved up, we enjoyed it with a fresh herb salad and a velvety rich jus made from chicken blood, which is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. The rest of the chicken was then used in the clay pot rice, which had an unbelievably golden crust on the bottom. Everything in the pot was mixed together so that crunchy pieces of rice were strewn among the smooth flavours of the chicken and chestnut.
The desserts were just as delectable as the main courses. Beginning with the Japanese Strawberry with aloe vera, sago and basil, we especially enjoyed the Lapsang Souchong with caramelised chocolate, shiitake and yoghurt, a beautifully presented dessert with bittersweet flavours, earthy tones and a tiny mushroom-shaped meringue. To end the meal we were presented with a selection of Mignardises, including dinky mochi, candied black cherries and miniature cream puffs.
This is a tasting menu that goes through a meticulously thought-out journey. Each course pays incredible attention to detail, with the added bonus of your server taking you through a deep dive of each key ingredient. This not only brings the food to life, but also makes you feel part of the culinary process from start to finish. Dining at Vea is an experience not to be missed and is best enjoyed with an open mind and an empty stomach.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Alex Woods
To book a table at Vea, 29 & 30/F 198 Wellington Street Central Hong Kong, call +852 2711 8639 or visit their website here.