Vicky Lau at the Tate HK

The recipient Asia’s Best Female Chef is Vicky Lau, who runs the elegant Tate Dining Room and Bar at the top of Elgin Street in Hong Kong. Today, Lau officially accepted her Veuve Clicquot-sponsored gong for best Asia’s Best Female Chef at the Singapore-based awards ceremony of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Two years ago, the Hong Kong-born, US-educated graphic designer decided on a career change — she would turn her hand to running a restaurant. Within two years, Tate has earned a Michelin star and now a weekend table requires booking four weeks in advance.

Petite 34-year-old Lau introduces herself and immediately deflects the praise and attention to her staff, calling them “the reason behind our success”.

But before even before the first dish is served, Lau’s creativity is evident. Tate’s walls provide a glimpse into her graphic-design days, decked with stylish hand-drawn prints of whimsical inventions, while the lavatory (which, as everyone knows, is just as important a style signifier as the restaurant itself) is quirkily but tastefully decorated.

The dishes are also drawn with the hand of an artist. The menu resembles a pack of white cue cards and contains mini poems and odes to the ingredients in her kitchen. The eight-course Spring Menu (there’s no à la carte, but it is well worth its HK$1,238 price tag) is a nod to the five elements of the earth, created in Japanese-French fusion style.

To whet our appetites Lau serves an amuse-bouche dish called ‘5 elements’, a neat palette of jewel-like canapés symbolic of metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The water canapé, in particular, stands out as an impressive feat of science. She calls it a coconut water ravioli. It’s a marble-sized transparent sphere, filled with coconut water and nestled on a nasturtium leaf.

Over the next hour and a half (the staff operate like clockwork), we are served slivers of bonito sashimi in a cute, Tate-branded caviar tin. There’s black truffle-infused scallop foam mixed with rose-coloured crab meat, topped with a dollop of glossy caviar and decorated with a wisp of petal-studded rice paper. Sweet pink Maine lobster on a bed of barley and fennel is offset with a streak of bright sweetcorn puree.

Melt-in-your mouth Kagoshima beef (the upmarket alternative to Wagyu) is marinated in kinome miso and dotted with red-wine beef jus and al dente asparagus.

Lau leaves the prettiest dishes for dessert. Using honey from bees at a local Shatin farm, she makes silky ice-cream paired with chamomile white-chocolate mousse, yogurt meringue crowned with honeycomb-printed white chocolate slivers. And we’re not done yet. A miniature Japanese garden arrives with our coffee. This is a stylish plate of petit fours, with matcha green tea and dark-chocolate mignardises sprouting like Bonsai trees out of coarse grey sugar sand, complete with a little wooden rake, should the diner wish to try some gardening.

Not everything works. Lau likes to combine sweet and savoury in a typically Japanese way that doesn’t suit every palette, and the liquorice soup with oyster and the tomato with Longjing tea and dried plum is not to everyone’s taste. But it is a unique experience and, above all, just as much a feast for the eyes as the tastebuds. Since being awarded the prize, Lau has made plans to set up a second restaurant in Hong Kong, so getting a table will soon become a lot easier, hopefully…

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