When farm-to-table dining originated, it conjured up images of farm-side tables overflowing with fresh produce. Some still consider farm-to-table dining authentic only when it takes place on the farm itself, but fine-dining restaurants have begun to adopt this ethos into their sourcing of products, such as the recently opened VEA.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Toronto, founder Vicky Cheng trained in fine dining since he was a teenager. He returned to Hong Kong six years ago and helmed Liberty Private Works before teaming up with Antonio Lai of Quinary fame to launch lounge and restaurant VEA.
The two-storey space comprises the lounge on the lower floor, a more casual concept with creative bar bites and cocktails made by Lai, and a sleek and refined fine-dining restaurant on the upper floor. VEA offers an eight-course chef’s menu with either a cocktail or wine pairing, and Cheng changes one dish on the menu every one to two weeks, based on what is seasonally available. The food is fine French with a distinct local touch; a signature dish of spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with a Taiyouran egg and white sturgeon caviar is paired with a fried Chinese doughnut, which Cheng learnt to make by training every day at 4am for several weeks.
On the balcony of VEA’s lounge there is a mini urban farm blooming with osmanthus, begonias, shiso and nasturtium. Cheng’s wife, a florist, designed the herb garden so that people could walk through it. “I start my day by walking through and seeing what I can use that night,” the chef says.
Though Cheng imports most of his ingredients and would not classify VEA as farm to table, his mindset is very similar. “For me, farm to table is when it’s next to the farm. When you eat something that is at the same temperature as when it was picked,” he says. Despite this, Cheng maintains a plot on a small farm in the New Territories that is used not only to grow ingredients but also to educate his team and allow them to properly respect the process. “My philosophy is no waste, and also that anything edible can become something beautiful. Every chef who works with me learns that for every plant and animal you kill, every part must be used,” he explains. “They must understand the amount of effort needed to grow a carrot. Every chef has done work at the farm – I want them to learn, and to appreciate farmers and produce.” Crops include hearty vegetables – “as we don’t know when we can use them” – as well as lettuce and radishes, which are fermented and used consistently in the restaurant’s dishes.
Cheng’s efforts are indicative of the gradual move towards sustainable eating and socially responsible practices being implemented in restaurants and kitchens, even if they are not strictly ‘farm to table’.
WHAT? VEA comprises a restaurant and lounge. The centrepiece of the top floor is the open kitchen surrounded by 25 counter seats. Each dish is paired with a cocktail or wine.
WHO? Chef Vicky Cheng, previously of Liberty Private Works, and Antonio Lai of Tastings Group (Quinary, Origin, The Envoy and Angel’s Share)
WHEN? Since late 2015
SIGNATURE DISHES: Tuna (sustainable bluefin tuna with Hokkaido uni, espelette and burnt cucumber gel) and Egg (ravioli with truffle, parmesan and caviar)
WHAT’S SPECIAL? VEA has its own edible herb garden on the lounge balcony, which guests can meander through while enjoying a cocktail. Chef Cheng and his team pick herbs at 6pm daily, just before the dinner service.
WHERE? 29 & 30/F, 198 Wellington Street, Central; tel: 2711 8639.