I grew up in a Chinese restaurant in Alberta, Canada, where I was born. It was a typical suburban Canadian Chinese restaurant, think hamburgers and lemon chicken, but it gave all of us a job. My entire family and our friends worked at the restaurant; it was a means to an end.
In 2002, I moved to New York after realising that university wasn’t my thing and I was much more interested in exploration. After dabbling in theatre school, I realised that I wanted to pursue F&B seriously when I had the opportunity to be part of a new flagship Nobu in midtown New York. I started from the bottom, bussing tables, then worked my way up to floor captain and a member of the special events team. It was the first time I saw the glamour and passion in F&B and I was completely hooked.
Then Matt, my business partner, and father of my two children, came into the picture— as a side note, we haven’t been romantically linked for over a decade now. He fell in love with cooking, especially Japanese food, and we both worked extremely hard in our F&B jobs— him at Masa and me at Nobu. Sundays were our only day off together, and most Sundays we spent eating yakitori at Yakitori Totto.
Matt and I left New York after our daughter, Lili, was born in 2008 and decided to travel the world for nine months. It was pure exploration for us and a true opportunity to enjoy freedom that we knew we may never have again. After a brief stint in London, Matt got a job at Zuma in Hong Kong and we decided to dive right in.
I remember landing in Hong Kong and looking at the landscape in awe. I’d never seen anything like it—it had the skyline of New York and mountains and greenery of Hawaii. It was futuristic in certain parts, while there were also the older parts of the city that were romantic. And it was here where we started Yardbird HK (which just received its first Michelin star) 10 years ago. Chicken on a stick is universal and I believe we arrived in Hong Kong at the right time and have been part of the change in the dining scene. Things like not taking reservations, giving 100 percent of all tips to our waitstaff and not opening on Sundays at the time—we took what we knew from the New York dining scene and built a restaurant we wanted to work in and our staff would find enjoyable.
After Yardbird HK, we opened izakaya-style dining bar Ronin (named after our son), Sunday’s Grocery and Sunday’s Spirits (an ode to our Sundays in New York and Lili’s middle name), Roti Tori, a digital creative agency named Hecho and most recently, a mat- based body sculpting workout called Family Form at The Upper House. To be a successful restaurateur and entrepreneur, you have to live and breathe it and take care of the people who work for you. You have to lead by example. In F&B, consistency is key. That, and making sure all your customers feel special.
When it comes to new and upcoming neighbourhoods to check out, I think Lai Chi Kok, Tai Kok Tsui and Sham Shui Po are now where it’s at. There are so many cool restaurants and unique spaces there at the moment. Creatives move where it becomes more affordable—and the industrial areas on Hong Kong Island have now become commercialised and expensive.
Hong Kong is compact, clean and has very little you couldn’t find here. You can be at The Upper House and 20 minutes later, on another island hiking to some unknown Buddha. It is such a successful hybrid of efficiency and I love that a lot of opportunity lies within this city.
What used to be the famed Cafe Gray Deluxe at The Upper House is now Salisterra, a Mediterranean dining concept by Jun Tanaka. It is inspired by the delightful coastal cuisines of France and Italy. I haven’t yet tried the food [it’s a few days from opening at the time of our interview] but believe me, Salisterra will be Hong Kong’s new buzzword. The view on the 49th floor is also beyond breathtaking, so snag a seat along the window’s edge.
49/F The Upper House, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
This is my favourite hotpot restaurant in Hong Kong. It’s in Wan Chai, it’s local and the key to having a memorable experience there is asking for a private room. There’s a minimum spend, but it’s worth it. You can choose up to three soup bases, so order some of the wonderfully strange and innovative soup stocks like tom yum cappuccino. The dumplings are all homemade—the Peking duck ones are a must-eat.
5/F Lucky Centre, 165-171 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Chef Angelo D’Ambrosio does amazing Neapolitan pizza where the dough rests for at least 24 hours for a beautifully lightweight quality to it. The Rosa pizza, with mortadella ham, ricotta cheese and mozzarella, is my favourite. They also have these fried pizza crusts—montanarine—which are heavenly. I always get the trio so I get one with tomato and Parmesan cheese, mortadella and ricotta cheese, and pumpkin and scarmozacheese.
HG01-05, G/F, Block B, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
“When it comes to new and upcoming neighbourhoods to check out, I think Lai Chi Kok, Tai Kok Tsui and Sham Shui Po are now where it’s at”
Honky Tonks Tavern
This restaurant, wine and cocktail bar is by the guys who started Shady Acres, and they know how to run a fun bar. It’s casual, the drinks are polished (but super strong), and the food reminds me of the pub food I served when I was a waitress at an Irish pub in Canada.
Man Hing Lane, Central, Hong Kong
This stunning new bar at Mandarin Oriental is absolutely divine. It feels like you’ve been transported to an art deco era and we should all be showing up in flapper dresses and suits. Devender is the new bar manager and is top-notch—make sure you ask him for recommendations.
25/F Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong
Speakeasies like The Diplomat will never go out of style. John is your man here and he will make your night. He’s one of my favourite bartenders in town and I often tell him the spirit that I like and he whips up the best drinks. The pub grub is also worth arriving hungry for.
Shop 1, LG/F, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong
BaseHall at Landmark Hong Kong is where some of the city’s best F&B establishments have come together to offer a great night of food, drink and live performances. It’s the food hall you don’t want to miss and is easily mistaken as a nightclub as the evening goes on.
Shop 9, LG/F, Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central, Hong Kong
Tai Long Wan
Tai Long Wan, or Big Wave Bay, is one of Hong Kong’s best-kept secrets. The rugged coastline and the fact that it’s not a public beach—it’s one of Hong Kong’s few secret beaches—is exceptionally charming. The water is unbelievably clear; it doesn’t get better than this when it comes to beaches in Hong Kong. If you’re peckish, there are little restaurants you can make a stop at.
Sai Kung District, Hong Kong
Book a private pod at The Grounds located at Central Harbour next to the towering Observation Wheel. The innovative entertainment concept was built with social distancing in mind, so in your own pods, you can engage in live music performances, stand-up comedies and movies, while food is delivered directly to your sacred square.
Hong Kong Observation Wheel and AIA Vitality Park, 33 Man Kwong Street, Central, Hong Kong
Photography: Ken Ngan
Fashion: Kim Bui Kollar
Hair: Derek Li
Make-up: Daniel Ng
Photographer’s assistant: Chris Chan
Stylist’s assistant: Jan Li