Rendez-vous with Madame Fu

By Carolynne Dear for Hong Kong Livng

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Connie Aldao-Worder is the Argentinian chef, mum and expat in charge of one of Hong Kong’s swankiest new dining venues.  Photography courtesy of Michelle J Proctor

 

It’s been a busy twelve months for chef and restaurateur Connie Aldao-Worker. The beginning of the year saw her making the move from New Zealand to Hong Kong with her two young sons, and by mid-year she was managing the launch of the city’s much anticipated Madame Fu Grand Cafe Chinois inside Central’s Tai Kwun heritage redevelopment.

Designed by Christian Rhomberg (founder and chairman of the now-defunct KEE Club – once voted Asia’s ‘best private members’’ club – and early pioneer of the Lan Kwai Fong scene in the 1980s), the space occupies the whole of the top floor of the former Barrack Block. The huge area has been divided into seven lavishly decorated rooms, including a wrap-around verandah, main dining room, two private dining rooms, a lunch room, library and the gloriously pink Pearl Room – which within weeks of opening had hosted a Victoria’s Secrets ‘Angels’ shoot. Not without good reason has Madame Fu been nicknamed Hong Kong’s most instagrammable restaurant.

The backstory to the restaurant evoques a Shanghai-meets-Paris ‘grand cafe’ of the 1920s, based around a mysterious fictional persona named Madame Fu.

Lavish attention to detail, gorgeous soft furnishings in velvets and silks (my favourite are the lanterns on the verandah that have been created using vintage hermes scarves) as well as much colourful artwork – some of it painted by Rhomberg’s son – has made this one of Hong Kong’s most glamorous spaces.

But of course a restaurant needs substance, which is where Aldao-Worker comes in.

Appointed as the restaurant’s executive director, she is Argentinian by birth, married to the New Zealand consul-general in Hong Kong and Macau, Carl Worker, and arrived in the territory less than a year ago.

Nimbly directing staff and answering queries about various dishes during our interview, Aldao Worker admits she first started out in the restaurant trade as an office-based employee.

Back in the ‘90s, she was taken on by Argentinian celebrity chef and restaurateur, Francis Mallmann, and helped with everything from organising his cooking shows and co-writing his cookery books to putting together his busy travel itinerary. Eventually she started helping out in the kitchen “a little bit”, and this led to her eventually spending more time kitchen-side than office-side.  

Her big break came in 1998 when she set up the award-winning 1884 Francis Bodegas Escorihuela restaurant in Buenos Aires. It went on to place seventh out of the top 50 restaurants in the world listed in the UK’s esteemed Restaurant magazine.

“It was a huge honour,” she says. “Of course myself and the whole team were extremely proud of what we’d achieved.”

In 2003 she married career diplomat Carl Worker, who at the time was serving as New Zealand Ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. “Francis Mallmann took care of our wedding as a gift to us,” she tells me as we sit down to tea in Madame Fu’s main dining room. “We had a great party. And Nicolas Catena (owner of Catena Zapata Winery and the man credited with putting Argentinian wines on the world map) took care of all the wine.”

In 2009 Worker accepted the position of New Zealand ambassador to China and Mongolia and the family, including Aldao Worker’s two stepsons, Simon and Alex, and her two younger sons, Ollie and Nicky, moved to Beijing.

As an experienced chef, not-to-mention wife of the ambassador, Aldao-Worker took on the management of entertaining at the New Zealand Embassy, which included running the kitchens as well as organising cooking demonstrations and acting as guest chef in several restaurants across the capital – at one point, perhaps portentously, she spent two weeks in the clubhouse of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Beijing.

“I picked up Mandarin and fell in love with Sichuanese and Beijing cuisine,” she says. When pushed to name a favourite dish, she insists there are too many stand-outs to pick just one.

The Beijing stint lasted until 2015, at which point the family returned to Waiheke Island near Auckland in New Zealand. Here Aldao Worker joined the renowned Stonyridge Vineyard as head chef.

Her husband was offered the role of New Zealand consul-general in Hong Kong and Macau in August 2017 and Aldao Worker moved up at the beginning of this year with her younger boys Ollie, 14, and Nicky, 11, in tow, and who are now happily ensconced at The Australian International School in Kowloon Tong. Her two older stepsons have these days flown the nest. This is Worker’s second stint as New Zealand consul-general in the SAR – he took up the reigns for the first time between 1994 and 1998.

Having settled the family into Hong Kong life, Aldao-Worker landed her current role at Madame Fu just four weeks before the restaurant opened earlier this summer.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she says. “It’s a great location and a super set up. As with all new venues, there have been challenges (tense moments include electricity not being fully installed until just hours before the launch party – “it’s pretty normal stuff,” she shrugs, unruffled), especially as it’s a big kitchen. Divided into four sections – main kitchen, dim sum, barbecue and pastry – there are 25 chefs covering all stations, so yes, it’s very busy.”

She admits that being in Hong Kong she’s keen to learn more about Cantonese food. “Our dim sum chef has 39 years experience, so I feel I have a good master to follow. I’m hoping to learn a lot from him and his team.”

At the time of our meeting, the restaurant was just about to launch afternoon teas in the Pearl Room. The main restaurant menu is Cantonese with selected Chinese dishes from the northern provinces – for me the standouts were the braised five spice beef shin and the crispy cod with vinegar glaze and ginger.  

Of course holding down a role such as this requires judicious juggling with family demands. And her husband is caught in a similar balancing act. But she remains unphased. “Family is very important and I have to find a balance. Sometimes the kids come in to see me here. And on weekends I try and participate in their activities as much as I can,” she says. “At the end of the day, I enjoy being busy.”

madamefu.com.hk

Coming soon…

Tai Kwun is set to welcome several more dining venues this autumn.

Under the helm of renowned chef David Thompson, Thai specialist Aaharn moves in on the first floor of the Armoury building.

Bar at Armoury on the ground floor will be serving wines by the glass, cocktails, draught beers, premium teas and coffees and a simple menu of modern Thai bar snacks.

hc:Bistro brings light gourmet dishes and community spirit to the complex. The local bistro is the 13th catering social enterprise project of the non-profit Hong Chi Association, which provides training and a safe working environment for people with intellectual disabilities.

And Aqua restaurant group hosts two flagship restaurants and a ‘luxury’ lounge in the main police headquarters block. East-meets-West with The Chinese Library (Chinese specialities) and Statement (British classics), while The Dispensary lounge channels a colonial Hong Kong vibe.

Kennedy Town welcomes Fishteria Waterside

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Casual seafood dining is the name of the day at Fishteria

Relaxed seaside eatery Fishteria has opened on Kennedy Town’s New Praya. Boasting a menu stuffed with seafood delights – think lobster rolls, tuna poke focaccia, lean tuna and creamy burrata, scallops and apple ceviche and dover sole – the venue  has maximised its waterside location with floor-to-ceiling glass windows along the length of the dining area.

The restaurant is positioning itself as an laid-back venue for weekend brunches or casual family dinners, with sharing-style plates and a foosball table. Fishteria also offers a wide range of craft beers and wines.

According to chef Gianni Caprioli, the menu features “some of my most exciting creations yet. I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends dive into our lovingly made food.” Caprioli also oversees Fishteria’s flagship restaurant on Queens Road East, Wan Chai.

Fishteria Waterside is now open for dinner and weekend and public holiday brunch.

New Fortune House, Shop 3 G/F, 2-5A New Praya, Kennedy Town, fishteria.hk

 

Gordon Ramsay announces restaurant opening on Victoria Peak

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Gordon Ramsay’s maze Grill in Ocean Terminal is now open for business

Gordon Ramsay is in town this week and has announced he will be opening a second Bread Street Kitchen in the new year, this time on Victoria Peak. The British chef closed his inaugural Bread Street Kitchen eatery in Lan Kwai Fong earlier this year citing building refurbishment issues.

Ramsay made the announcement during the official press launch of his maze Grill restaurant in Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui. This is Ramsay’s third partnership with Hong Kong’s Dining Concepts restaurant group and the first time the steakhouse has opened outside of London. Ramsay currently manages three maze Grills in the British capital.

He described the restaurant as a “modern, family-oriented steakhouse with a huge Asian influence in one of Hong Kong’s best locations.” The venue cannot be faulted for wow factor, with a large outdoor patio boasting views over the harbour and to Hong Kong Island. It occupies a corner space in the new Ocean Terminal glasshouse extension and there doesn’t appear to be a ‘dud’ table in the space – even the bathroom has a view.

“Aesthetics are crucial to the success of a restaurant,” said Ramsay at the launch. “I’m a big stickler for lighting – I’ve taken my wife to venues where the overly bright lighting has totally killed the vibe. Equally, a space should enable service to be unobtrusive.” 

Asked how he hopes to prevent maze becoming little more than a ‘concept’ restaurant while he is based in London, Ramsay admitted that it was all down to good infrastructure, with staff shuttling back and forth. “Look, we’re not a fine dining place and we’re not aiming for three Michelin stars. I make sure I’m up-to-date with how my venues are performing via social media. I read all the negative comments because that’s how you improve. I love how social media keeps chefs like me accountable. Long may food bloggers continue.” The space is to be helmed by head chef Gareth Packham, who has worked with the Gordon Ramsay Group for over seven years.

The menu features Ramsay’s signature dish, Beef Wellington, plus charcoal-grilled steaks, rare breed cuts, fish and poultry dishes, as well as a number of options exclusive to maze Grill Hong Kong.

The restaurant is located in the glasshouse extension of Ocean Terminal, Lvl 4, Ocean Terminal Deck, dining concepts.com.

Don’t miss this week’s deadline for the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts prize

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Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize director Katie Vadga at work in her studio

Director, photographer and former winner Katie Vadga speaks to Carolynne Dear for Hong Kong Living

“The Hong Kong Human Rights Art Prize (HKHRAP) is now in its fifth year. It’s open to all Hong Kong-born or based artists who are aged 16 or over and who enter work around the theme of human rights. The event is also an important annual fundraiser for Justice Centre.

My own path first crossed with the Justice Centre HK when I entered the HKHRAP in 2014. I had been working with my friend Eva Sultiana who is a domestic helper and together we made a series called “Can you see me yet?”. My lecturer Dr. Edwin Lai encouraged me to enter and the series went on to win the prize. In 2017 co-director Peter Augustus and I stepped up to help run the arts prize when resourcing it became difficult.

My career as a photographer began accidentally. I came to Hong Kong in 2009 from Sydney, where my husband and I were working in the media industry. I had loved art all my life, so I decided to go back to university to study Fine Art at Hong Kong Art School. Having spent many years working with newspapers and magazines, photography was a language where I could draw from my experience and reference it in my work. I never imagined the level of politics and social theory at play in visual culture.

We accept all mediums, there is no fee to enter and there are no size restrictions. The judging is conducted blind and therefore without bias. We receive entries across the spectrum of practitioners from emerging to established artists.

The judges will be looking for an artist’s ability to translate the theme into a fine art context. And also their ability to articulate their stories through their chosen medium. Last year saw a record-breaking number of entries and an incredible shortlist, with artists exhibiting work across painting, photography, video, installation and sculpture.

Entries are judged by a panel of noted experts from Hong Kong’s art community. They include Claire Hsu, co-founder & executive director of Asia Art Archive, and Kacey Wong, a prominent Hong Kong- based artist. Hsu and Wong have both been advisors to the prize since its inception in 2013. To be honest I don’t envy them; judging this competition is always a difficult task!

The winning artist this year will receive a cash prize of $35,000 and a trophy created this year by leading Hong Kong artist Jaffa Lam. Two runners-up will also receive cash prizes, and a directors’ choice award will also be given on the night.

Entries are open until October 5. The prize ceremony will be held at The Hive Spring, 3/F Remex Centre, 42 Wong Chuk Hang Road on December 8, Justice Centre

Your Hong Kong ‘Christmas’ markets guide – October

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The sun’s out and it’s time to start shopping Christmas goodies…

Discovery Bay Sunday Market

Jump on a ferry and head over for heaps of stalls hosting some of Hong Kong’s best-loved local businesses.

11am-6pm, October 14, Discovery Bay Main Plaza, Discovery Bay, Lantau, handmadehongkong.com.

 

Gold Coast Autumn Gift & Fashion Fair

Head over to Hong Kong’s one-and-only Gold Coast to shop jewellery, fashion, lifestyle products, cosmetics, fine wine and more.

10am-6pm, October 20, MCH Lobby, Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club.

 

Momentai Pop-Up Market

Sai Kung’s favourite waterfront hang-out is hosting a host of local businesses, from eats to homewares to womenswear. Drop in, enjoy some lunch, grab a bargain.

10am-5pm, October 21, Kiosk 1, Wau Man Road, Sai Kung, momentai-la-com.

 

Fashion & Fun Pop-Up

Channel your inner Diwali diva as local event specialist Mums@PLAY hosts a three-day shopping event to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. Shop precious stones, ethnic ‘kundan’ jewellery, traditional ‘gota’ pouches and bags, cotton and linen saris and homewares.

11am-8pm, October 25-27, Usagi, Wah Shin House, 6-10 Shin Hing Street, Central, mumsatplay.com.

Pinktober support

Join OnTheList for its month-long Breast Cancer Awareness Charity Sale. Shop Marc Jacobs, Mischa, APM Monaco and more – all proceeds go to Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre.

Throughout October, G/F Printing House, 6 Duddell Street, Central, OnTheList.

 

Entrepreneurs’ pop-up

Drop into Culture Cover in Central for a month-long pop-up shop. Browse style, self-care, home and adventure labels from some of Hong Kong’s best loved small businesses.

Throughout October, 67 Hollywood Road, Central, Pink Lotus.

 

Ethical kids’ clothing

Eco-chic children’s boutique Retykle will be showcasing hundreds of designer children swear brands throughout the month of October. Pop along for pre-loved and new pieces from newborn to 12 years at this eco-conscious shopping event.

Throughout October, 57-59 Hollywood Road, Central, retykle.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danang welcomes Sheraton Grand

 

Sheraton Grand Danang Resort, overlooking the white sands of Nun Nuoc beach, opens its doors this month. The 258-room resort boasts an infinity pool, private beach, watersports, spa and six restaurants and bars. Special short-haul packages, including Spa Indulgence and Stay and Play – which includes a round of golf at the nearby BRG Danang Golf Course – are now available. sheraton.marriott.com

Hyatt Regency opens in Bali

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Pools and plenty of family-fun at the new Hyatt property in Sanur, Bali

It’s looking to be a busy autumn for Hyatt Regency with the opening of three new properties in Asia. The sites in Okinawa, Bangkok and Bali are all set to launch by the end of the year.

The family-friendly property in Sanur on Bali’s south-west coast aims to keep guests entertained with 400m of beachfront, three swimming pools and a Camp Hyatt kids club. The hotel is also happy to organise babysitters so parents can enjoy a relaxed meal in one of the two restaurants, perhaps followed by a nightcap in the piano bar.

The Bangkok property is located on buzzing Sukhumvit Road – a bridge connecting guests directly to the Skytrain makes this a convenient location for those wanting to explore the city. Designed in the style of a modern Thai house, the hotel is particularly proud of its two-storey, ‘urban forest’ style rooftop bar with a ‘bubbly bar’ dedicated entirely to champagne.   

The Japanese venture is situated on private Seragaki Island and boasts no less than eight restaurants and two bars. And with four flights a day into Okanawa, it promises to be an easy escape from Hong Kong. hyatt.com