From multiple sources, both online and in person, word is that private kitchens provide some of the best dining experiences to be had in Hong Kong, and they specialize in a variety of cuisines ranging from French to Shanghainese to Southern comfort. Though I had heard vague references to the concept while living in New York, most of what I knew about it revolved around the hyperpriceyness and ‘haute’ connotations of such affairs, two things that really turn me off.
Still, I found the notion of private kitchens highly appealing for several reasons. One is the very basic idea of sitting down for a high-quality meal at a home (albeit not generally one’s own). You, the diner, directly interacts with the individuals who shop for and cook the food you eat, allowing for a heightened knowledge of the contents on your plate and a deeper appreciation for the person who has prepared your meal. Sure, the producers of your food are a few steps removed — ideally, just one — but life isn’t perfect. There is also the sense that those running the kitchen have designed and cooked the meal specifically for you. As the experience brings both of you together, it ensures that the chef likewise feels a stronger connection to those for whom s/he is cooking, making it likely that more TLC will go into your meal and that your specific taste preferences will be taken into consideration (for example, see the first kitchen review mentioned in this article). This personalization of the dining experience signifies something precious to me that seems sorely lacking in today’s restaurant culture, even at high end dining establishments.
I’ve been scoping out the private kitchen scene here (though have not tried any yet), and I’m glad to report that while prices vary considerably, they are generally much cheaper than their counterparts in the States (and I think I am justified in using NYC as a benchmark because both New York and Hong Kong Island are densely populated and cosmopolitan urban centers). These kitchens seem to be an underground thing here as well, though I can’t be sure that they are free of the pretentions that defines my impression of those in New York. In general though, food appreciation in Hong Kong is incredibly pervasive and more of a cultural attitude than a cultivated habit — it’s more democratic, in that sense. My goal is to cook more often and save up the money to indulge in these kinds of places — while they’re cheaper, they aren’t cheap. I’ve also realized recently that I will often go out to a nice restaurant only to restrict myself to a limited portion of the menu, because I’m being stingy, and thus not afford myself the dining experience I could have had. I deeply dislike that feeling, that unhappy oscillation between guilt and regret, and I think my resolution will help me avoid putting myself in that undesirable position.