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Sunday, Jun 23, 2024

Young Hong Kong couple overcomes challenges chasing their F&B dream

It was a leap of faith for Matthew Chung and Fiona Leung to open a restaurant that fulfils their long-nursed dream, and, at the same time, elevates Cantonese private dining to another level.
“We’ve been open technically for seven years – through three different editions,” Chung said of Happy Chefs Happy Friends. Recently relocated to Sunshine Plaza’s ground floor space on Sung On Street in Hung Hom, this private kitchen specialising in Cantonese cuisine is known among gourmands as one of the toughest restaurants in town to get a reservation (a booking now means waiting out a whole year to gain an entry).

At the helm of the kitchen is Chung, who has worked as a chef for over two decades with stints at Michelin-starred establishments in Hong Kong and Shanghai. With accumulated knowledge and skills, he decided it was time he hung out his own shingle in his home city. “I love to eat and like to experiment with different ingredients; one of my dreams is to create dishes that will be available all year long,” he says. “The concept eventually evolved into a private dining kitchen.” Leung, his partner, also quit her office job and lent her support to the venture.

It’s not hard to see why so many people flock to Happy Chefs Happy Friends: Chung’s mastery of culinary creations and kitchen operations and Leung’s dedicated front-of-house service is like a match made in heaven; and I reckon it is this unique combination that has staffers from Sino Group knocking on the door – not just to get a taste of what the buzz was all about, but also to look at collaboration opportunities.

Leung recalls that landlord’s suggestion of moving to a better location makes sense. Where the restaurant’s previous outpost housed just two tables in a ragged cha chaan teng-style interior, tucked away in a not-so-easily-accessible corner in Hung Hom, its newest self has been given a complete facelift: brightly lit and clad in gold and yellow ethos with four large tables. But then, what remains unchanged is the refined Cantonese cuisine with an inventive twist, curated by Chung from scratch.

The dishes are as much a feast for the eye as they are for the palate. For starters, the fish maws served on a bed of ice are beautifully plated and emanate a wasabi hint that gets my tastebuds singing. “As simple as possible” is the name of the game, as Chung wants the ingredients to speak for themselves without fanciness or gimmicks.

The husband-and-wife duo source their materials from the wet market when they are at peak freshness in the morning; a fact made even more palpable when I tuck into the premium cold-served South African abalone that’s as large as my palm, its springy texture demonstrating Chung’s high level of execution.

Looking back, Leung recalls: “The first couple of years when we started out weren’t easy, but I’m glad we have soldiered on. Nothing can really compare to the satisfaction of seeing old familiar faces coming back for the taste sensation of your food.”
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