How Hong Kong Chef Vicky Cheng’s VEA Gave Him Wing

Vicky Cheng's Wing Restaurant

The success of VEA, a restaurant where Vicky Cheng creates dishes that marry French and Chinese cuisine – and where sea cucumber and fish maw are served with shavings of truffles and scoops of caviar – has let the chef fly with Wing, his Chinese fine dining restaurant on the floor below that opened in early 2021, and which has just been ranked at #5 at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2024. 

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

Despite its proximity to Hong Kong Island’s bustling office buildings in Central, Vicky Cheng’s Wing (and VEA, which garnered a MICHELIN star in 2016 and climbed to #12 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020, before it) has always taken inspiration, and ingredients, from the family-run dried seafood shops on and around Wellington Street in Sheung Wan. 

“I’ve been so interested in dried Chinese seafood – which are more than simply preserved products – since the beginning of VEA eight years ago. All the signatures up there use dried Chinese ingredients,” Vicky tells us. 

Something completely different at Vicky Cheng’s Wing Restaurant.

Withdrawing Everything That Was French 

But, at Wing, which means ‘eternity,’ he wanted to do something completely different in terms of technique from VEA.

“It had to be completely different from upstairs,” he nods. “So, we withdrew everything that was French from the cooking techniques, which I think you will feel in the menu.”

Dried Is More Prized

The pungent smell of dried abalone, sea cucumbers, scallops and lap cheong hangs heavy in the air as soon as you step out of Sheung Wan station. It’s said the residents used to dry products like those out on the rooftops of the walk-up buildings around here before bringing them downstairs to sell. 

But the aging process, Vicky says, adds something special to the flavors. “It’s counter-intuitive,” he shugs, because people might expect dried goods to be lower quality and by virtue of that cheaper than fresh products. “Particularly the fish maw and abalone, as they age – it’s kind of like wine – the amino acids change and the texture changes and the flavor changes for the better. Dried really is more prized than fresh.”

The “gentle and elegant” Salted Raw Crab influenced by Vicky’s Shanghainese mom.

Vicky Cheng’s Wing Restaurant Is 100% Chinese 

And so, Wing is Vicky formally reconnecting with his Chinese roots, and with those ingredients, in authentically Chinese ways.

“We always try to create dishes that have our own identity,” he decides, “but at the same time we want to remain Chinese. They may not be completely traditional, but they’re all 100% Chinese – there’s no truffle or caviar, and the dishes are presented in a Chinese way.”

It might read like an elegantly-written apology letter from an errant son. Vicky Cheng was born in Hong Kong, but grew up in Canada, and trained in Europe. His extensive resume included stints at MICHELIN 2-star Restaurant Daniel in New York, and Auberge du Pommier and Canoe in Canada, by the time he returned to Hong Kong in 2011 with a deep understanding of French culinary techniques, but, he admits, with some lackluster skills with the wok. 

“I’d watch these guys under me in awe. But I couldn’t show them any weakness in my repertoire as they were supposed to look up to me. So, every night, after they’d gone home, I’d try to replicate what they were doing,” Vicky laughs at the memory.

Wing Restaurant’s dry-aged Baby Pigeon.

Nostalgic Nods To Childhood 

There are other more distant memories too, from being a young kid. “Fighting for the teapot to pour tea for grandma.” Or “Picking out the best pieces of chicken to give her, and mom too.”

At Wing, Vicky wants to revive those feelings of reverence and respect, even though, he concedes, in a fine dining setting, there’s usually someone to serve you. 

He begins with a nostalgic nod to childhood, allowing for shared dishes. “We start by sharing, a tradition dear to the Chinese,” he says with a smile. 

The starters arrive in an exhilarating rush: Chili Japanese Oyster and Century Egg, Smoked Eggplant with Housemade Sour Sauce, Drunken-Style South African Abalone, and Geoduck with Yunnan Chili. Each dish is a masterpiece of presentation – from the intricately woven eggplant to the perfectly arranged abalone.

“Dried really is more prized,” Wing Restaurant’s Vicky Cheng says about the goods sold in the family-owned dried-seafood stores around Wing and VEA.

From Spicy To Subtle Without Sacrifice  

Every detail is meticulously crafted. From the silky smoothness of the century egg — aged for a month, not a year — to the chili’s heat that flares and fades with equal swiftness.

“In Chinese cuisine, purity is a hallmark, as seen in dishes like steamed fish. Our aim is for diners to traverse the spectrum from spicy to subtle without sacrificing the chili’s floral, aromatic essence. By fine-tuning the mix of chilis and oils, we achieve a flavor that’s bold initially yet vanishes swiftly,” he explains with a nod. “Of course, this entails enduring countless taste tests with the chilis to perfect that concept…”

The key ingredient should always maintain its main character energy, he says. “With the abalone, for example, what hits you first are the two types of wine. But what should linger on your palette is the taste of the abalone.” 

The corridor at Wing Restaurant that leads to the main dining area and two private dining rooms.

Gentle And Elegant

And so it is with the “gentle and elegant” Salted Raw Crab too, which, following the Shanghainese style, in tribute to Vicky’s mom, who’s from Shanghai, replaces soy sauce with vinegar. The Japanese-sourced crab is in season – a period of only three-weeks a year – when it takes on a creamy texture, tasting totally different to at other times. 

Then there’s a double-boiled hot and sour soup with crab meat and sea cucumber, into which Vicky carefully grates a candy-scented, locally grown lemon, just for the aroma. 

Then the menu delivers with its mains. There’s the impossibly crispy Sea Cucumber Spring Roll – where the sea cucumber has been braised until it achieves a texture like fatty pork – which Vicky chops in half table side and serves in a ginger and scallion sauce. And the 3-day dry-aged Baby Pigeon smoked in sugar cane, that gives its crispy skin a little moreish sweetness. 

Finally, the fruit is served: bayberry, watermelon, and Japanese peach. Vicky’s enthusiasm and eloquence shine as brightly for these selections as for every dish on the menu. “The bayberries are quite extraordinary,” he explains, gesturing towards the succulent, purple fruit. “At its core is a seed, encircled by 10,000 tiny beads. Biting into it triggers a burst of flavor.” 

He’s particularly fond, he says, of fruits like these. Ones that blend sweetness with a hint of acidity, served at peak freshness and the perfect temperature.

Wing Restaurant’s House Preserved Pork Clay Pot Rice with Dried Velvet Shrimp.

Vicky Cheng’s Wing Is A Profound Spiritual Homecoming

This is Chef Vicky Cheng’s gastronomic journey, a return to the familiar, to authenticity, to home.  An ode to the dried seafood stores of Sheung Wan alongside fresh seasonal ingredients.

The evolution from VEA to Wing represents not merely a change in altitude but a profound spiritual homecoming. It’s a journey he seems content to explore for all eternity at Wing Restaurant.

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