Dim sum and then some
- Last Updated: 5:28 PM, February 10, 2012
- Posted: 2:26 PM, December 5, 2011
At first glance, Hong Kong’s formal Spoon by Alain Ducasse and funky Yardbird are restaurants with little in common. But they’re two prime examples of how this food-focused city understands better than most that great dining is about both the ultra-refined and the down-and-dirty.
This is a place where Ducasse enjoys visiting the wet market when he’s in town, marveling at all the fresh produce but also at the live fish flapping around, the crustaceans wriggling in cages and the butchers wearing blood-stained tank tops as they carve up pigs and clean live chickens. (The Intercontinental hotel, home to Spoon, will happily set up tours to the Yau Ma Tei wet market for guests.)
It’s a place where Ducasse likes getting his hands sticky while digging out hairy crab roe at local favorite Tin Heung Lau and where we put on aprons and did the same thing at the Michelin-starred Summer Palace in the Island Shangri-La hotel. Yes, we wore aprons to protect ourselves from crab-gut spillage at a Michelin-starred restaurant, where servers checked in every few minutes to make sure the crab-crushing was going OK.
But back to Spoon and Yardbird.
The Michelin-starred Spoon, with its elaborate design (including 550 decorative Murano mercury glass spoons on its ceiling) and its grand setting featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the harbor, serves elaborate tasting menus and elegant composed dishes like crispy duckling with figs and turnips. The restaurant features an ace sommelier, Nicolas Deneux, who alternates French classics with earthy Italians and biodynamic producers. Spoon is all about fine dining.
Yardbird, with not much design and no view to speak of, serves Japanese-style grilled chicken on skewers. Lots of chicken. Pretty much all of the chicken, including the neck, the knee and the tail. The space is hard to find (especially when you’re dealing with Hong Kong’s often incompetent cabbies), but it’s crowded and loud, it often sells out of items and it’s unwelcoming in exactly the ways crowded and loud restaurants in New York that often sell out of items are. It’s the kind of place where you can be quoted a two-hour wait for an uncomfortable-looking table and then be informed two minutes later when you try to sit at the bar that you can order the entire menu at the bar. If this restaurant was in Carroll Gardens next to Prime Meats, the wait for a table might be three hours. And you could argue that it’s worth it.
Yardbird’s food is inventive and delicious, with riffs on Asian flavors (served largely to a hipster-leaning, English-speaking crowd the night we visited) that are exactly what you might hope for from a restaurant that follows Zak Pelaccio and Jonathan Gold on Twitter. The chicken neck is topped with a yuzu and pepper sauce that fans of Peruvian chili paste would dig. Standout starters include the Korean fried cauliflower (KFC, get it?). The servers are friendly and sharp. But Yardbird is the exact opposite of fine dining. Get this, though: Yardbird chef Matt Abergel cooked at Masa in New York and Zuma in Hong Kong before going casual. He’ll serve you a tasting menu, paired with wine and Ferran Adria beer, if you ask.