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June 2017 Udpate: One Star House Party is back in Hong Kong with a 5-week Pop Up restaurant from June 30th to August 4th with an 8 course tasting menu featuring a dish from each of the restaurants they have built over the past year in locations all over the globe, from Reykjavik to Cape Town to Buenos Aires: Book Now
Hong Kong’s dining scene is experiencing a serious renaissance lately. You know the stakes have been raised when the talented team behind One Star House Party chooses our city as their home base, after having cooked in London, Copenhagen, New York and San Francisco. Asked why they committed to Hong Kong, Chef Kevin McCrae explains: “London and New York are so saturated. Hong Kong is an incredibly connected city, not to mention it’s the perfect jumping off point for the rest of the world. You can really make an impact in Hong Kong. Plus, the people here really get what we are doing.”
One Star House Party is not your average restaurant. It’s not even your average pop up dining concept. The core team is made up of four passionate individuals who hail from Tasmania to the UK including James Sharman, Kevin McCrae, Trisha McCrae and Joseph James Lidgerwood. Between them, they have built up their repertoire at some of the world’s best restaurants including Copenhagen’s NOMA and The Ledbury and Tom Aikens, both in London.
Every month, the team travels to a new city and develops an entire tasting menu based on the cuisine and culture of the country they are in. They build a whole restaurant from the ground-up in said city and serve said menu for a few choice evenings. They then bring back that menu to Hong Kong for one week only. They do everything from making their own tables with waste wood to grappling with PR to the dishes. The team is currently in Taipei working on a Taiwanese edition inspired by the country’s rice paddies and night markets, which Hong Kongers will be able to sample later this month. They will then continue their globe-trotting with another Asian destination. Next stop: Seoul, Korea.
One Star House Party has only one seating a day: dinner. It’s BYOB. You reserve your spot online in advance and they are limited (we counted around 35). The restaurant space is actually an Airbnb that they have transformed into a dining room. There is no ordering: you dine omakase-style, a seven course meal choreographed by the team. There’s no head Chef ordering a team of 20 in a mega kitchen. Instead the One Star House Party team of four to six, depending on the city, seamlessly collaborates your dining experience from the service to the prep to the sourcing to washing the dishes in a laymen’s kitchen with zero hierarchy. The menu changes on a monthly basis, as does the cuisine. Where most chefs would find such limitations stifling, the One Star House Party band seem to revel in the rules playbook they have created. Every dish has a story to tell, one full of respect for every ingredient and a certain winning playfulness. Familiar flavours with a whimsical twist make for a decidedly fun eating experience.
We tried the San Francisco menu. We started with a deconstructed pizza, inspired by their New York sejour: freshly baked foccacia served with homemade ricotta cheese topped with basil oil, tomatoes two-ways (lacto-fermented and dry cured) and a green olive ‘mayonnaise’ (a high speed blender emulsifies the olive flesh and its brining liquid). We continued with a course of smoked onion served in bouillon, followed by a pan-seared trout with pea mash, drizzled with lemon vinegar fait-maison.
The next dish was full of theatrical flair: one of the One Star House Party Chefs serves you a piece of raw squid, which he covers with a pouch of sand collected from Big Sur in California that has been heated to 70 degrees. The Chef flips an hourglass and as we watch the sand timer, the squid goes from raw to cooked all whilst being infused with the salts and minerals from the sand. The Chef then showed off his artistic plating skills by graffiti-ing our dish with pickled squid ink spray, roasted barley sauce, seaweed flakes and garum, the ancient Roman fermented fish sauce that some say is the ancestor of ketchup. Big Sur Squid, as we christened it, is a pretty special dish.
Perhaps not quite as dramatic in its presentation, the short ribs course was a tour de force nonetheless. Served in bright pumpkin halves, the beef was dry-aged with miso for three days and served with pumpkin cream topped with pumpkin seeds and pine nuts pickled in roasting butter. From the juiciness of the meat, to the nuttiness of the browned butter, to the earthy, comforting sweetness of the pumpkin, the dish was outstanding in its mastery of flavor and texture. There is no doubt that these chefs are the top of their professional game. What is heartening is how willing they are to push themselves to new heights and continue learning. The short ribs dish is the result of their time spent being schooled in the art of dry-aging in a San Antonio smokehouse in Texas, arguably the world capital for this way of cooking.
The two dessert courses that followed were a continuation of their penchant for freshness and flair. Their delight with California’s Meyer lemons led them to create a 360-degrees lemon dish: lemon posset (and old English dessert not dissimilar to lemon mousse) in roasted-until-black lemon halves topped with homemade lemon jam and nestled in burnt lemon tree leaves from their US trip. The warming scent of the burning branches throughout the (fairly dark) room was both delightful and a little jarring, adding to the effect of the whole sequence. The final plating was an ode the world’s honeybees and to John The Beekeeper, a kindly fellow they met during their West Coast travels who teaches children about beekeeping in his spare time. After discovering that US Big Honey companies destroy honeybee populations by giving them synthetic feed, the team was compelled to create a course to elevate the ‘Save The Honeybees’ message. Served on actual honeycomb hives donated by John were sweet baby carrots fermented in raw honey, carrots emulsified in beeswax, crunchy honeycomb made with actual honey (most honeycomb is made with sugar or golden syrup) and bee pollen in chamomile cream, le tout washed down with San Francisco limited edition honey mead. An activist-cuisine triumph! There is a strong eco-streak to all that they do: they are focused on minimizing disposables and waste at every turn, using nature’s bounty as often as they can.
We left feeling nurtured in both our belly and our soul. The team’s passion plays a large role in the One Star House Party dining experience. Each course comes with a charming dose of storytelling by one of the Chefs. As McCrae enthuses: “One Star House Party is an event. It’s not a restaurant, it’s our home. We just happen to cook here. We want our guests to have that dinner-party feeling.” His wife Trisha, who wears many hats including Maitresse D’, agrees: “We will never open for lunch or walk-ins. We will always be BYOB. Our soul goes into this: it’s our everything.”
For reservations and updates, visit One Star House Party.
September 2016 Update: One Star House Party is no longer based in Hong Kong. The team is on a 20 Restaurants in 20 Countries in 20 Months world tour. More details here.
All images courtesy of Green Queen.