David Yeo is no rehearsed, press-ready robot. Beyond a creative entrepreneur and talented business mogul, David is also a passionate foodie and team player. Over the course of our conversation, he explains the thoughtful nuance behind dishes at his restaurants, from a light and luxurious lobster pizza that has been on aqua’s menu since December ‘03, to a unique prawn noodle dish from Hutong inspired by his Singaporean heritage but reinvented with “oil noodles” (油面) from his father’s Fujian province.
“I started a business because I used to kind of entertain at home – the first aqua ended up being a canteen for the boys,” David laughs. “And that’s how it started. Our restaurant is an extension of our kitchen at home.” The group has certainly grown from said “canteen” launch 21 years ago, now boasting 17 restaurants around the world. The most notable development in Hong Kong was the grand reopening of aqua and Hutong in Tsim Sha Tsui’s flashy H-Zentre.
Although offering the same sweeping views as their previous venues, the new spaces further impress with their dramatic transformation. Aqua is a vision of blue, gold and metallic finishes, while plush velvet booths add a quaint intimacy to the otherwise grand space. Touches of its namesake are present throughout, from water bubbles jetted through fixtures in the ritzy “catwalk”, to sculptures representing water ripples and unique lighting effects simulating ocean waves. Just above on the top floor is Hutong, featuring an entire wall of handcrafted silk lanterns, while an antique wood canopy from the Qing dynasty was salvaged from a traditional family home in Shaanxi province and brought to Hutong to complete the space.
Exciting new dishes join a lineup of old favourites, including the Wagyu beef stuffed with marinated purple cabbage (椒香和牛卷) and a mouthwatering seared scallops and soba noodles served with sesame peppercorn sauce (蒜味麻香帶子) at Hutong. A traditional pickled fish broth (酸菜鱼) is updated with the addition of salted egg yolk, for a creamier soup base with more complex depth of flavour (花椒金湯桂花魚). Aqua too saw similar updates while keeping hold of beloved favourites. One of David’s favourite new dishes is the white truffle tagliolini with grated egg yolk and 36 months aged parmesan. “It’s made with egg yolk, olive oil, grated parmesan and truffle paste. All that flavour goes into the pasta, and this dish is difficult to make but when perfected, the egg offers a delightful creaminess.”
And what’s next for the group? 2 new restaurants will replace the old Hutong and aqua formerly at One Peking Road, including The Canton Library, a sister restaurant to The Chinese Library in Tai Kwun, and Dim Sum Library in Pacific Place and Elements. An exciting new Italian concept called Vista by aqua featuring cicchetti (Venetian-style small plates) will also be opening: think perfectly battered fritto misto using seafood fresh from Victoria Harbour, and a glorious Puglia burrata sitting atop pappa al pomodoro topped with a drizzle of olive oil, basil emulsion and black truffle. “If you couldn’t tell already,” David says, “we’re very very serious about our food.”
CreditLead image: courtesy of Eugene Chan