Hong Kong is extensively thought of one in every of the most difficult cities in the world to function a restaurant – a roiling cauldron of adjusting tastes, cleaver-sharp competitors and unsavory economics.
Right at the coronary heart of its culinary world, with connections to a minimum of half of its hottest tables, is publicist Geoffrey Wu.
Wu and his 10-year-old consultancy agency The Forks and Spoons work with a few of the most embellished restaurants and bars on the town, reminiscent of the two-Michelin starred TATE Dining Room and Ando, one in every of the most sought-after reservations on the town.
“I wouldn’t say we’re better at our job than other people. I’d say we’re different,” he tells CNN Travel in The Baker and The Bottleman, a brand new informal bakery and pure wine bar by superstar British chef Simon Rogan, the place he’s agreed to spill a few of the secrets and techniques of Hong Kong’s eating scene.
After being expelled from the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong for “skipping too many classes to play cards at McDonald’s,” Wu joined Amber, the famed French restaurant below the helm of Richard Ekkebus, as operations employees in 2005.
Over the subsequent few years he took on numerous advertising roles for various corporations – however at all times discovered himself again in the meals and beverage business. In 2012, he opened his F&B consultancy agency.
Wu isn’t your typical meals and beverage publicist. He isn’t congenial. He’s identified for often yelling at shoppers for making a mistake, or members of the media he feels haven’t accomplished their analysis.
“I am not afraid to speak up – people know that for sure. Sometimes you need a consultant who is straightforward about things that must be fixed. We aren’t here to massage your ego. We are here for the results. We are here to win,” says Wu, sounding extra like a soccer coach than a PR skilled.
“If I wanted to please everyone, I’d go sell ice cream. Luckily, most of my clients understand.”
Among these shoppers is Yenn Wong, founder and chief government officer of JIA, a restaurant group behind popular award-winning Hong Kong eateries like Mono and Duddell’s.
“The Forks and Spoons understand and personalize the needs of each concept and is always staying very current with the relevant strategies to ensure we as clients get the most publicity to our target audience, which ultimately delivers positive revenue growth,” Wong tells CNN Travel.
One of the essential duties for a F&B publicist is to be bodily current at a restaurant, in response to Wu. He is both tinkering with menus, sampling new dishes or just assembly with shoppers.
It could possibly be something from translating the restaurant’s a la carte menu from Chinese into English to working with cooks on selecting dishes for a tasting menu, “so you can see what’s happening and let the staff know that you care,” says Wu.
For occasion, later that day, he says he’s having a trial lunch at Bluhouse, a brand new informal Italian eating idea at the Rosewood Hotel in Kowloon.
“At a tasting, we’ll look at everything – taste, presentation and temperature of the food. We also look at furniture, operation flow, pricing, etc.,” he says. “No new restaurant is ever good, however let’s attempt to reduce the error.
“We have only worked with clients in Asia – Hong Kong, Macao, Maldives, etc – but I really believe that Hong Kong is the most cutthroat food and beverage market in the world.”
His declare isn’t baseless.
Getting the opening proper is important in Hong Kong on account of its competitiveness.
The metropolis is ceaselessly named as the world’s most costly rental location. And Hong Kong residents are a few of – if not the – greatest spenders on eating out, particularly pre-Covid. Food imports are extremely expensive.
According to a latest authorities survey, Hong Kong households spent an average of HKD60,539 (or US$7,761) on meals out and takeaway meals in the 12 months of 2019 to 2020 – Hong Kong suffered from half a 12 months of social unrest in 2019 earlier than the outbreak of Covid in 2020
That was about double what New York-area family spent on average on food away from home during the same year.
“It’s such a condensed market,” says Wu.
“People at all times speak. Hong Kong clients are additionally very educated. If you don’t get it proper from the get-go, you need to revamp many issues. The query is – will the clients provide you with a second probability? There are so many decisions that likelihood is they’d go someplace else.
“So to build a successful restaurant, it’s important to make sure the opening is a strong one. With good word of mouth then businesses will come. It’s that simple.”
Case in level: Bluhouse. It opened in June and dinner reservations are full by way of October and November at the time of the writing.
Hong Kong’s F&B business has developed quickly in the final decade, thanks partly to the arrival of Michelin Guide in 2009 in addition to the rise of social media and the native meals neighborhood.
Chefs in Hong Kong have skilled a shift of their roles.
“Some 20 years ago, chefs mostly just cooked and served food,” says Wu.
“Now in 2022, there is also this thing called relationship building. Chefs have to show their faces. They have to touch the tables and to take pictures with guests. The job of a chef is much bigger than before. It all goes back to a need for human connection. Customers, media, influencers, bloggers – everyone wants to have a human connection.”
And it simply makes good enterprise sense – company usually tend to return to a restaurant the place they’ve established a relationship with the chef.
The downside, after all, is that chatting with diners doesn’t come naturally to all cooks. That’s the place Wu is available in.
“We just encourage and encourage and encourage them,” he says.
He cites Manav Tuli of recent Indian restaurant Chaat – which can also be situated at the Rosewood – as a hit story. Chaat opened in 2020 and gained its first Michelin star two years later.
Unique dishes like Tuli’s showstopping tandoori lobster – Indian meals with a Hong Kong seafood twist – and a group of educated employees which communicates the tales of the meals superbly are a few of the causes Chaat is one in every of Hong Kong’s hardest to guide restaurants.
Tables are launched two months prematurely and swept up in minutes.
But the greatest star of Chaat is Tuli, thought of one in every of the metropolis’s most beloved culinary figures proper now.
“When he arrived two years ago, he didn’t know the landscape or culture of Hong Kong,” stated Wu. “He is a quiet person but we align in a certain way as we both have a drive. For him, moving his family to Hong Kong with him, he wants to make this a success. So we have been working very closely since day one on that,” stated Wu.
He inspired Tuli to satisfy the company and fellow cooks, becoming a member of him at occasions and meals as the chef constructed a reputation for himself.
On his days off, Wu organizes lunches for media, together with revered business critics, and cooks he works with or may go with in the future.
These usually happen at venues Wu doesn’t work for, from Hop Sze, a no-frills Cantonese diner that has a six-month wait checklist, to the Forum Restaurant, a Chinese joint with three Michelin stars.
“I worked til 4 a.m [this morning]. I only joined because Geoffrey Wu arranged this lunch,” one meals critic tells CNN Travel as he enters the non-public eating room inside Forum.
The menu of the day consists of all types of dishes – from road food-style rice rolls to basic Cantonese candy and bitter pork and the restaurant’s well-known braised abalone.
As with most lunches with Wu, there’s additionally an off-menu shock.
Adam Wong, the government chef, and CK Poon, the normal supervisor, are available in with a pushcart close to the finish of the meal.
“We are thinking of adding this to the next menu update,” says Poon as he caramelizes sugar for the candied apple fritter (ba si apple), a Northern Chinese-style dessert, on-site.”It’s the first time we’re doing this – so tell us what you assume.”
The five-hour lunch wraps up with business gossip over bottles of cognac.
But Wu is rarely not working.
He punctuates gatherings with potential collaboration concepts (Tuli and Wong exchanged concepts that day on a hookup between the two restaurants), and fills in moments of silence with jokes to maintain the meal entertaining.
“I always say that I’m the chief entertainment officer,” says Wu. “Building relationships takes time. Cold-calling and sending press releases aren’t building a relationship.”
At the finish of the day, connections gained’t get you far if the meals isn’t good or the restaurant refuses to evolve.
“Flavor doesn’t lie,” says Wu. “But everything – restaurants, bars, chefs – has a shelf life. It’s impossible to stay number one forever. You need to keep coming up with new ideas to continue to elevate the restaurant.”
It could possibly be doing extra tableside companies, educating company about the dishes, or just including a pre-dessert chew that cleanses the palate, he says.
One of Wu’s newest duties is to edit the menu at one in every of his new shoppers, Yong Fu, a Michelin-starred restaurant that makes a speciality of high-end delicacies from China’s east coast Ningbo area.
He’d wish to trim down the authentic one-inch-thick guide and has created a tasting menu to supply a extra curated ordering expertise.
In Hong Kong, Ningbo delicacies is commonly confused with Shanghai delicacies. The tasting menu consists of dishes that diners could not know sufficient about to order – a “sticky” boiled wax gourd and yellow croaker fish in bitter broth, for instance – that amplify the trinity of Ningbo delicacies’s star flavors: “savory, umami and sticky.”
Yu Qiong, Yong Fu’s supervisor, is there to supply an in-depth clarification on every of the dishes.
“These are some of the things that will enrich the whole dining experience,” says Wu. He compares advertising restaurants with operating: “Keep refining. Keep pushing. My belief is, just don’t stop until you are at the finishing line.”
It’s an apt metaphor. The avid runner wakes up at 5:45 a.m. on most days to slot in train.
“I enjoy Hong Kong on quiet mornings when the city hasn’t woken up yet. When you run, you see a lot of things and think about a lot of things,” says Wu.
As for what was on his thoughts that specific morning?
“I was thinking about our interview. I was thinking about not swearing. I did well – I only swore once.”