August 4th, 2011
10:45 AM ET
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iReport above courtesy of hluu410

A trip to Hong Kong is about extreme capitalism - or extreme dining.

A visitor is usually here to cut a deal or, better yet, cut through all the wheeling and dealing and devour a decent meal. Thankfully, you are spoiled for choice in the city.

Among my favorite local delights (and there are many!) is Hee Kee's spicy Typhoon Shelter crab, the long-celebrated egg tarts at Tai Cheong Bakery, and a scoop of "Hong Kong milk tea" gelato at XTC.

But the star attraction of this pulsating city are its people. And for the fortunate diners here, that means the entrepreneurs and visionaries who have enlivened Hong Kong's dining scene.

Margaret Xu

Margaret Xu is a local chef who has pioneered the farm-to-table movement in Hong Kong. She is well-known for serving organic Hong Kong village cuisine at her private kitchen, Yin Yang.

Her latest project is Cantopop, an update of the "cha chaan teng" - the cheap and cheerful Hong Kong-style diner that serves a mixture of Western and Chinese fare. But instead of serving up MSG-laced fry-ups, Xu's new venture offers locally-grown organic produce, hormone-free poultry, and absolutely no chemical additives.

One item on her menu is a "sous vide char siu." Char siu is the sweet barbecued pork dish seasoned with a mixture of honey, five spice, soy sauce and other marinades. Using the sous vide method, Xu slow cooks the meat in a vacuum-packed plastic bag using a water bath. The result? It's a tender but not as tasty version of the original.

That said, I applaud the experiment. Xu is applying a new gourmet technique to an old Hong Kong favorite.

Pierre Gagnaire

In a city as brand-conscious as Hong Kong, it's no surprise that celebrity chefs have set up shop here in a big way. Nobu Matsuhisa, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse - they're all here. Pierre Gagnaire is also part of the pack. But don't let his rock star mane and carefully groomed stubble fool you. This Michelin-starred chef is down-to-earth and, dare I say it, rather geeky. He offers a cerebral and playful approach to haute gastronomie.

His Hong Kong restaurant, Pierre, is located on the 25th floor of the Mandarin Oriental. It offers modern French cuisine that changes with the seasons and with the chef's whimsy. I will never forget enjoying a starter titled simply, "Le Rouge." It was a multi-sensory experience of Balik salmon, sorbet, beetroot and squid toast - all stained in a shocking red hue.

Gagnaire regularly checks in on his Hong Kong outpost and is said to enjoy sourcing ingredients in the city's many outdoor markets. He also chose Hong Kong to unveil an entirely man-made appetizer called "Note à Note."

iReport above courtesy of danevansjr

The recipe reads like a chemistry experiment. It was composed of glucose, tartaric acid, polyphenol, sodium chloride, piperine, amylose, and triacylglycerol. But incredibly, it tasted of lemon drops, toffee and green apple. I savored the tart flavor and icy sensation of the dish. But above all, I admired its fusion of science and romancing the palate.

The synthetic dish was a world first, and I tasted it first - in Hong Kong.

Alan Lo, Paulo Pong and Arnold Wong

Call me biased, but I love the idea of naming a restaurant next to CNN's Asia-Pacific headquarters "The News Room."

Located in Hong Kong's traditionally industrial district of Quarry Bay, the News Room serves European comfort food in a stylish, informal setting. For news junkies in search of a buzz, the restaurant also has multiple widescreen TVs airing, yes, CNN International. It's the latest dining concept by the Press Room Group - founded by Alan Lo, Paulo Pong and Arnold Wong. The trio have transformed Hong Kong's dining scene by launching restaurants in up-and-coming areas and breathing life into antiquated buildings.

A few years ago, they launched the Pawn - a former pawn shop that dates back to the 1900s that was updated into a modern English gastro-pub. The menu is a comfort food wish list for carnivores. The wine list is superb. But above all, the Pawn is a champion of Hong Kong's past.

In recent years, Hong Kong has bulldozed run-down but cherished public installations like the Queen's Pier and original Star Ferry terminal. Instead of witnessing another heritage site fall victim to over-zealous property development, the Press Room Group co-founders chose to save a bit of Hong Kong history.

And that deserves a toast - preferably on the Pawn's outdoor balcony, overlooking the double-decker trams and amidst the neon glow of Wanchai at night.

CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at destinations for the wanderer at heart. Each week, we'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals and the best photos and stories from readers. Have you been to Hong Kong? Share your story with CNN iReport. Next week, we'll journey to Dubai.

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Filed under: Asia • Asian • Bite • Cuisines • Destination Adventure • Hong Kong • iReport • Travel

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Webster99

    Lots of worthless hype. No substance.

    August 8, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Matt

      Some people hear voices, some see invisible people, others have no imagination whatsoever.

      August 8, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  2. Tigresse

    About the synthetic food video: interesting idea in terms of creating tastes and textures but no mention of nutritional value – is there any? – leaves me wondering if this is just a fad.

    August 6, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  3. irishman

    this is the future? for real? how is this digested?

    August 4, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
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