When searching for some of the best food in Hong Kong, you’ll often find yourself looking for a food stall hoping for some street food discovery or gravitating to luxury hotels, whose owners have the money to hire some of the city’s best chefs.
But one of the best dinners I had on my Hong Kong trip earlier this year was not in a hotel restaurant or a food stall. It was in a seventh floor dining room in a non-descript building nestled among antique stores and just a few steps from the popular Mid-Level Escalators in Hong Kong’s touristy Central district.
Tbls is considered by local foodies as a private kitchen – restaurants in private homes that have sprung up all over the city as rents have gone up like the city skyscrapers. Even though Tbls has a speakeasy feel (you get a code when you make your reservations so you can enter the building), it is fully licensed.
The kitchen studio is the brainchild of Chef Que Vinh Dang (pronounced “Kway Vin Dang”), born in Vietnam but raised in the boroughs of New York. He moved to Hong Kong a few years ago with his girlfriend and found himself frustrated working in the corporate feel of some of the kitchens in Hong Kong’s high-end restaurants. So he opened Tbls (the shorthand for tablespoon) in January 2010, and since then fully books his tiny 20-seat dining room on a regular basis.
Tbls only offers one seating (although you can dine at different times after it opens at 7 p.m.) and you can only order a six-course prix fixe dinner for HK$620 (or $80), plus a 10% service charge. Chef Dang, who creates an intimate environment like you’re going to his home for dinner (he even introduces each dish at the table), switches up the menu every month. He often pulls from his childhood to create his theme-based dinners, like one featuring “cafeteria food” (think fancified Sloppy Joe’s) or the dinner I enjoyed, which was an homage to the Vietnamese dishes of Chef Dang’s mom.
Sitting at the two-stool bar facing the tiny open kitchen, I watched Chef Dang and his crew create the night’s dishes that had flavors reminiscent of classic Vietnamese dishes like banh mi (the street food sandwich), pho noodles, bun rieu and spring rolls. While the tastes of the dishes were spot on, taking me back to my travels to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, the presentation was definitely sophisticated and playful.
Tbls’s minimalist surroundings play on the speakeasy-feel, and the difficult-to-get-reservations feed on Hong Kongers’ desire to have what they can’t get. But in the end, it’s a space serving up dishes that celebrate refine cooking and delicious flavors.
Tbls Kitchen Studio, 7/F, 31 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong (Central/Soho area). PH: 852.2544.3433. Reservations recommended, prix fixe dinner menu only. www.tbls-kitchenstudio.com
Read my previous posts on Tbls on my old blog, “Cooking With the Single Guy”:
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