How to Eat Like a World Leader
Here's a restaurant serving Cantonese staples and, even though its pedigreed chef is accustomed to heads of state at the head of the table, everyone is welcome. By CHRISTOPHER KUCWAY.
Published on Jan 18, 2016
CHEF CHUNG KIN-LEUNG won't dish. He spent a decade at Hong Kong's Government House cooking for world leaders, but today he's mum when it comes to spilling any behind-the-scenes dirt on their dining habits. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering; I just want to know if Margaret Thatcher knew how to use chopsticks, or—this is the Canadian in me—did George Bush even know what chopsticks were for? But the chef won't budge. Call it kitchen diplomacy.
Chef Chung Kin-leung. Courtesy of Lai Bun Fu.
Instead, Chung prefers to focus on his restaurant, Lai Bun Fu, which at first comes across as a place for ladies who lunch. It's down a quiet side street in Central; all the proper cutlery is in its place, and there's even a quirky touch or two—look no further than the chandelier made of bowler hats. But the menu of simple Cantonese dishes sets the bar higher.
The politically correct stir-fried vegetarian shark's fin with shredded abalone and scrambled egg is unbelievable for a dish that, normally, doesn't exactly tingle the taste buds. Yet, in that way the restaurant is just a natural extension of Chung's kitchen work for world leaders, who also included former presidents Hu Jintao, from China, and Susilo Bambang, from Indonesia. "I had the privilege of presenting the best of Hong Kong and the region through fine ingredients," Chung explains. The next plate, a deep-fried Angus beef brisket with a small pour of curry melts in the mouth. Even the Hong Kong-style fried rice, a dish as common as one of the city's red taxis, goes down as one of the best I'm ever going to have. The subtle flavors of this unassuming bowl—of fresh greens, XO Sauce and bits of pork—buck against the norm of a recipe that is often made from leftovers. The chef's secret? He sneaks off to Hong Kong's markets between lunch and dinner seatings for fresh produce. By meal's end I've uncovered the Lai Bun Fu's biggest secret of all: in a town that can frown on restaurants investing in interior design over food, it serves top-end Cantonese staples in a classic setting.