WOM Guide Hong Kong experts —Samanta Pong and Fergus Fung

By on November 29, 2014

Where to eat? What to eat? Recommendations and reviews— foodies in Hong Kong thrive on it. The best approach is  ‘Word of Mouth’. Adopting this simple, yet highly effective technique, Samanta Pong and Fergus Fung launched WOM Guide Hong Kong, an annually printed  comprehensive dining guide and WOMguide.com is an online food magazine.

This year, as they celebrate their 10th anniversary today with the inaugural WOM guide “Top 10” Restaurant Awards. In an interview with HKYantoYan, the founders tell us what led to the idea of WOM guide and also shared top dining trends of the past decade.

Samantha Pong and Fergus Fung, Founders, WOM Guide

Samanta Pong and Fergus Fung, Founders, WOM Guide

‘Word of mouth’, is a great concept for a dining guide and food magazine. What led to the idea?

“WOM was started 10 years ago. Back then, we were already obsessed with good food and had difficulty finding a reliable and independent restaurant guide and so we came up with our own! Over the years WOM has evolved to become what it is today, an annual guide and an online food magazine.”

Hong Kong is home to more than 11,000 restaurants, and the number keeps increasing. How do you screen them for the restaurant awards/ or the WOM guide?

“We invited 70+ industry professionals such as chefs and restaurateurs, food editors, writers and bloggers, and food/lifestyle-related professionals to pick top 10 restaurants through the 27 cuisine categories.”

From trends to cuisines, Hong Kong’s dining landscape is ever-changing and evolving rapidly. What are your key observations over the last 10 years?

  • Fall (and Rise) of Private Kitchens:  Private kitchens have been a feature of the Hong Kong dining scene since the 1990s, operating out of office blocks, residential buildings and industrial estates. Dining gone private began when amateur chefs decided to give restaurants a run for their money and they truly did with private kitchens often being the go-to spot for birthday parties and intimate gatherings. This trend came back in 2012 when rent in Hong Kong continued to sky rocket.
  • Sky High Rent = Sky High Restaurants: This one we are all more than familiar with – rent going sky high. The cost of running restaurants has risen drastically in the last ten years, with rent doubling and tripling in some very central areas. A huge amount of restaurants and bars have had to close their doors or move further out and further up buildings.
  • Rise of the ‘hoods:  Neighbourhood dining has become all the rage in the last few years with comfortable and charming restaurants popping up in Tai Hang, Sai Ying Pun, Wong Cheuk Hang, Sheung Wan and quieter corners of the major districts. These restaurants are offering something a little different, with a homely vibe, usually a quieter atmosphere and a smaller venue.
  • Celebrity Chefs Coming to Town: On the other extreme end, we are now seeing an influx of celebrity chefs . Established chefs from all over the world are opening restaurants in many neighbourhoods. Ten years ago these restaurants were few and far between, but from what we can see this trend won’t be stopping any time soon.
  • Air, Foam, Sous Vide etc: The next trend – cooking techniques. Ferran Adria made famous “molecular gastronomy” which has been emulated by chefs all over the world. We see air and foam on many plates. Science or not, it has been one of the most important developments in modern dining. Then we see sous vide which has improved the life of many chefs by giving them more control.
  • Specialised, Smaller Menus: The last few years have seen menus shrink and restaurants becoming more specialised on individual cuisines.  Many customers prefer going to a restaurant for a particular dish, giving rise to small joints that really only do a handful of items.
  • The SOL Movement:  In recent years, we see the rise of SOL – seasonal, organic and local. With more concern of the environment and the growing trend of healthy living, there are many more Healthy and Green choices on menus and solely vegetarian restaurants are growing in numbers.
  • Importance of Wines & Cocktails: As Hong Kongers become far more wine savvy, wine lists are factored into their choice of dining destination (special thanks to the lifting of the wine tax). Cocktails have made a comeback as well, and we see classic cocktails and innovative creations on restaurant drinks lists – and people are drinking them before, during and after their meal.
  • No Reservations: No reservation restaurants used to be for quick bites only, such as wonton noodle shops. These days, many restaurants have adopted this policy. This has partially fuelled the previous trend, encouraging customers to enjoy a drink while they wait for their table.
  • Cameras Eat First:  The rise of social media has changed the way we eat. Thanks to the invention of digital cameras and smartphones, diners want to broadcast their meal right away. Like it or not, cameras usually eat first.

 Which trends have been your favourite?

“Out of the 10 trends we discussed at the award, Fergus’ favourite must be the tax-free wines! For me it is eating healthily —go green.”

 Which dining neighbourhood do you frequent the most?

Samanta:  “Tai Hang”

Fergus: “Don’t have one, have favourite places in most neighbourhoods!”

Who, according to you are the top chefs (over the years)?

“Tricky question! There are so many outstanding chefs in Hong Kong. Our favourites include David Lai from On Lot 10, Richard Ekkebus from Amber, etc.  But really, too many to name here.”

In a carnivore city like Hong Kong, ‘Going Green’ is slowly becoming a lifestyle choice. How and when did this transition begin?

“Hong Kong is a truly international city and it takes on trends from the rest of the world at lightning speed. From SOL (seasonal, organic and local) to eating a healthier diet.”

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Heta Shah

A Mumbai, rather ‘Bombay’ girl at heart, Heta (our new Senior Editor) moved to Hong Kong seven years ago and has been exploring and loving the city ever since. After working full-time for the last seven years, she’s waltzed into the world of freelance, and written for titles such as South China Morning Post, Asia Spa, National Geographic Traveler (India), Gafencu Men, among others. Her work covers everything from lifestyle, travel, food, health, grooming, design and related topics.

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