Test tubes, syringes, and liquid nitrogen... No, we’re not describing a science lab, but rather, a kitchen—in particular, the art of using science in cooking to deconstruct and reconstruct dishes using skilled techniques and chemical components. Call it molecular gastronomy, modernist cuisine, or experimental cooking, you can’t ignore the allure of these creative and intriguing dishes. We’ve narrowed down the basics of molecular cuisine and found spectacular dishes around Hong Kong where said techniques wholly transform food until they are unrecognisable. How many of these have you tried?
Dining at VEA is always a full-blown culinary adventure, with ever-changing seasonal menus and dishes that are beautifully executed. There’s only one tasting menu ($1,680) available and their first dish also happens to make use of the most popular and common technique in molecular cuisine: smoking. While there is a selection of amuse-bouches to start your meal, their staple remains the Pickled Quail Egg, smoked with applewood and served in a makeshift bird’s nest. It is served covered in a glass dome filled with flavoured vapour, created using a smoking gun. A chamber sitting atop the gun allows you to fill in wood chips of your choice (applewood, maple, and cherry are popular options), upon which you ignite the chips with flames and smoke will come out of the tube attached to the gun. When you are ready to indulge, the server then lifts up the glass dome in front of you to let the smoky aromas stimulate your senses before you actually bite into anything!
VEA, 29/F & 30/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central | (+852) 2711 8639
You can find traces of molecular gastronomy even in something as time-honoured as a kaiseki meal, and Yume Cuisine demonstrates the perfect blend of tradition and modern means. In their kaiseki meal menu (starting from $1,380), the second course, Hassun, is comprised of several side dishes and sets the seasonal theme of the dinner. The technique used here is gelification. By using certain chemical components, liquids and solids can be transformed into a gelatinous form. Hassun offers a clear-coloured chestnut jelly with a blooming flower inside and a black sesame soup jelly using this technique. Some restaurants can also use this particular method to make their own jelly noodles with whatever flavour they desire!
Yume Cuisine, Shop 101, 1/F, Tak Woo House, 1–3 Wo On Lane, Central | (+852) 2286 0860
The OG of Hong Kong modernist cooking, Bo Innovation breaks down all barriers of traditional Chinese food and reconstruct them in its creative vision. With so many dishes that use a wide spread of different techniques, we decided to focus on another classic of molecular cuisine: sperification. Using special chemical components, you can shape liquids into spheres of whatever size, as small as caviar or as big as a soup dumpling! With the tasting menu ($2,380) at Bo Innovation, the prelude to your meal is dubbed Child’s Play, an array of snacks inspired by Hong Kong classics. Amongst them is a soft sphere resting on a single spoon, boasting the condensed flavours of a xiaolongbao in liquid form, with a piece of fermented red ginger on top to accentuate the flavours. Don’t try to bite into it; because it’s a liquid dome and highly sensitive to pressure, it will instantly burst, so just pick up the spoon and slurp it down!
Bo Innovation, Shop 8, 1/F, The Podium, J Senses, 60 Johnston Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2850 8371
ATUM is renowned for its trademark artsy desserts that resemble paintings on the table more than they do food. Now that they have relocated their restaurant to Tsim Sha Tsui, they offer all-day dining dishes alongside their signature creative sweet treats. That said, we are still going to talk about their desserts and the lovely use of ice creams in molecular cuisine. Ice cream can be used to explore different textures and presentations, from powdered ice cream to hot ice cream—there really is no limit to the many forms of ice creams! One dessert at ATUM that shines a spotlight on the use of savoury ice creams is the Salted Egg Yolk Ice Cream ($88), served with tofu ice cream, brown sugar bean crisp, and sago crisp for a multitude of textures.
ATUM Restaurant, Shop 101B, 1/F, K11 Art Mall, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 3586 1959
Chef Richard Ekkebus at Amber is no stranger to all of these different molecular gastronomy techniques. Following the refurnishing of the restaurant, Chef Ekkebus reimagined his sea urchin dish, one of the classics at Amber, to show another use of gelification. Aka Uni, Cauliflower, Lobster, Daurenki Tsar Imperial Caviar is part of the Full Amber Experience ($2,458) and is best described as an umami bomb. The bottom of the dish is lined with a lavish layer of sea urchin lying on top of a bed of cauliflower purée, all covered with a sheet of lobster gel and finished off with a massive blob of caviar. Oh, and add a pinch of edible gold, in case this dish isn’t luxurious enough. It is served with seaweed crisps that are dehydrated and deep-fried, another technique that condenses flavour and levels up on textures!
Amber, 7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, The Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central | (+852) 2132 0066
Tenku Ryugin presents a contemporary kaiseki meal that marries Japanese tradition with modern cooking techniques. Their seasonal menu guarantees an unforgettable and unique experience every time you enjoy a meal there. For the spring tasting menu ($2,380), their dessert makes use of another popular derivative of molecular cuisine: foam. Foam is used regularly in the culinary world; in fact, you may already be familiar with its varied forms, such as the meringue or whipped cream. The modern version is airs or espuma, which is an extremely light foam with no thickening or gelling properties. The dessert course, Soubai, is made of Kyoho grapes and Japanese shiso and finished with a red tea-flavoured foam on top. While you don’t really feel the foam at all, the flavour of red tea will definitely take over your tastebuds!
Tenku Ryugin, 101/F, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2302 0222
By now, you might be wondering if, out of all the basics of molecular cuisine, we aren’t missing one of its biggest components? Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about sous-vide at all. Sous-vide is a French technique wherein you place food in a sealed pouch and cook it in a water bath over a long period of time using a precise temperature. At HEXA, you can find a basic example of sous-vide with their 48 Hours Slow-cooked Beef Rib ($638). A whole piece of New Zealand beef rib is closed up in an airtight plastic bag with slight seasoning, then placed in a water bath for 48 hours. Since the bag is tight, the meat retains all of its juices while it’s cooking and none of the flavours will be lost. Afterwards, the chef roasts it in the oven until it is nicely seared so diners can taste the meat’s juiciness and crispiness in one go.
HEXA, Shop OTE 101, G/F, Ocean Terminal Harbour City, 3–27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2577 1668
Molecular cuisine not only takes the creation of new dishes to the next level in terms of cooking but in terms of presentation as well. Uo N is a playful restaurant that presents a Japanese omakase meal ($1,380) in a totally unexpected way. Just to start things off, imagine edible newspaper! Edible film is a technique that uses potato starch and other chemical components to create a paper-thin transparent film that is, well, edible. Popcorn Chicken Wrapped in Newspaper uses this technique by simply printing on top of the film using edible ink. While there isn’t much flavour to the paper, it does make the meal much more fun!
UO n, 3/F, The Hennessy, 256 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2836 3330
To round off our list, of course, we are going to finish on a dessert. COBO HOUSE specialises in serving edible art, and pieces are showcased for guests to experience and appreciate, with the aim to inspire the world with a bohemian sense of living. It is also where we find one of the most creative desserts that makes use of multiple molecular techniques. One of their signature desserts, E.T.E.T. ($168), may look like an egg sandwich at first glance, but it is actually a dessert! The “bread” is made with coconut egg white foam and baked into a sponge, whereas the filling is a mix of coconut pastry cream spilt into solid chunks using liquid nitrogen, Earl Grey mousse, caramelised pistachio cream, and sea salt milk foam.
COBO House, G/F & 1/F, 8–12 South Lane, Shek Tong Tsui | (+852) 2656 3088