They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. So if Andrew Tjioe (pronounced “Chew ”) wants to revolutionise the world’s ideas about Chinese culture, then there’s no better way to do it than through food.
“What I’d like to tell the world is that the new Chinese are very open minded,” says Tjioe. “We’re more open minded than other cultures. Other cultures absorb all things Western and forget their own roots.”
Tijoe is to the food and beverage industry as what Richard Branson is to the aviation industry. He’s the founder of the Tung Lok Group, the umbrella name of 30 different restaurants based around Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, India and China. With the company going strong since 1984 - with its ups and downs, of course – it has built a solid reputation in the food and beverage industry as demonstrated by Tjioe’s many awards, such as Singapore Restaurateur of the Year in 1997 and 2001; Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year 2001; Hospitality Entrepreneur of the Year 2006/07; and the International Star Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award 2008.
My Humble House (MHH) is one of his restaurants and for anyone wanting to experience the fashionable food scene in Beijing, they need not look any further.
Based at two Beijing locations, MHH takes all the traditions and changes everything you’ve ever thought about Chinese dining and food culture. From the sexy midriff-revealing qipaos worn by the waitresses to the minimalist interior with a slight hint of chinoise, MHH is a chance to experience modern exoticism in fine Chinese dining.
“Before China opened up, there were only luxurious restaurants in…Taiwan and Hong Kong. Now that China is changing, we’re inviting more modern cuisine,” says Tjioe.
New Chinese Cuisine embraces the use of global ingredients, traditional and modern Chinese cooking methods, with artistic presentation, and My Humble House presents a unique dining experience that blends Chinese flavours with international influences.
Whether it’s pairing green apples with Chinese wine or shaping king prawns into a tight little ball then wrapping it in Chinese ham, the MHH way of cooking will revolutionise your experiences in Chinese food culture, and it all starts from the moment you walk in.
At the China Central Place location, schools of goldfish will surprise you at your feet as they swim underneath the granite squares that lead into the rustic themed space. In front of you, a large stained glass window of naked tree branches reflects a light green colour onto the polished wooden floors as the sun streams in. Leather-backed chairs and wooden tables sit in the middle with simple place settings of wine glasses, silver cutlery and chopsticks. On either side lie private booths and two large dining areas with specially designed lights hanging over the large round tables. Made by German designer Ingo Maurer, the lights look akin to a chandelier, except instead of tiers of crystals, it is made out of wires with paper clipped at the ends and hand drawings and words scribbled on them. There are even bookshelves displaying glossy hard-backed books related to fashion, art, design, travel and, of course, food, all of which are personally owned by Tjioe himself, adding a very unique and personal touch to the otherwise minimalist surroundings. There’s no clanging of pots or traditional Chinese paintings or anything else you’d associate with a Chinese restaurant, but rather a neo-Chinese elegance, as if it was someone’s home.
“The Chinese are known to be humble. Even if your home is a palace you don’t say that. Instead you say, ‘My God, this is anything but!’ ” laughs Tjioe.
Whilst the surrounds may be simple, the food is definitely not. For entrées, there is the marinated eggplant with a trio of scallop, pork and wagyu beef appetizers. The eggplant has been cut and sliced into long strips and marinated in a spicy sauce, then moulded into a compact rectangular shape and sprinkled with sesame seeds. On top sit the trio of appetisers looking like precious gemstones. First up the opal, a soft and fleshy scallop that’s been pan-fried and garnished with mango bites. In the centre, an emerald, pork and asparagus wrapped in a crispy shell bringing two textures of tenderness and crunchiness together. Finally a ruby, a square cube of Australian wagyu beef that looks deliciously reddish-brown and soft, like quality wagyu should be.
But the richness and presentation doesn’t stop there. For mains, there’s the steamed rock lobster with preserved vegetables and pickled chilli in chef’s blended sauce. The golden rock lobster sits on top of the circular mound of preserved vegetables surrounded by a shallow pool of thick chicken consommé. The steam from the fresh lobster rises and it’s picked up - not with fingers or with a fork and knife, but rather with a chopstick. After all, this is a Chinese restaurant.
However if you’re after something with a slightly more recognisable Chinese taste, there’s always the deep fried fish in Chinese vinegar and egg white base. The flavours here are simple but rich and the presentation, as always, is divine. The traditional combination of chilli, garlic and coriander paired with the vinegar make the crispy fish full and flavoursome. Sitting underneath is a delightful surprise of fluffy scrambled egg white that maintains its softness and airy texture as if it was whipped from the clouds.
All these exotic concoctions of elegant shapes, colours, sights, smells and tastes have only been made by the best chefs, and Tjioe puts in a tremendous amount of time and energy into working with the most creative minds, preferring chefs under 35, not for any power play reasons, but because of their flexibility and freshness of ideas, ensuring that all of their dishes are original and unique.
“I make people feel ashamed if they copy. That they’re not good enough and they have no sense of innovation,” he says in relation to the chefs he chooses and works with. “It’s painstaking to create a new cuisine. You need a person with passion and only the best people.”
This is very important to Tjioe, because like a true restaurateur, he collaborates with his chefs in creating new dishes. Executive Chef Ken Poon has been working for the Tung Lok Group since 2001. Guided by multi-award winning chef Sam Leong, who is based in Singapore as Tung Lok Group’s Corporate Chef and Director of Kitchens, Chef Ken is responsible for overseeing and ensuring the quality and presentation of each dish, and he personally made and prepared the above dishes.
“I don’t have time to cook but I like to experiment with tastes. I like to imagine tastes,” says Tjioe. “For example I might think about a certain type of herb, pair it with something like pistachio, then talk to the chef about it and they will make it.”
In this sense, Tjioe is like an artist, thinking differently, creatively and individually to continually come up with fresh concepts that ensure he stays on top of the game.
“Wherever you are, you need to understand the local country and culture,” says Tjioe, a culinary traveller, especially as he owns other restaurants around the world.
“If you give somebody something contrary then you’re asking for trouble. What I do is guide them.”
And this is how Tjioe intends on changing the world’s ideas about Chinese culture. Even with China’s long history and deep traditions it may be hard to shake off the old hats, but Tjioe believes with the new modern pace of China things are slowly changing, with the hope that one day China will have its own cast of world renowned “celebrity chefs.”
“I think it’s [the celebrity chef idea] changing, slowly but surely,” says Tjioe. “There’s better education and the chefs are behaving more professionally. Chefs these days are creating instead of copying.”
Creativity is a high priority for Tjioe and it’s what has made his restaurants so unique. All his restaurants under the Tung Lok group have different names and concepts. Whether it’s vegetarian, seafood, or his latest, Zhou’s Kitchen, based on the recipes of his mother and father, Tjioe thinks beyond just creating a restaurant, but a lifestyle. At MHH, everything reveals a personal side of him, including the music, often playing things like nu-jazz and chill out, making the whole experience more than just about food.
“MHH is all about lifestyle. We created this to give you a total experience, so this restaurant is very personal. That’s why it’s called My Humble House. If you don’t like it, then too bad,” Tjioe laughs.
It’s highly likely though that you will like it – love it even – and whilst there’s a sense of irony about dining in a place called “My Humble House” when what you’ve just tasted is anything but humble, you’ll know that you’re in the surroundings of something intimate, personal and loving. It’s a humble dining experience of modern Chinese food at its best.
My Humble House is found at two Beijing locations:
China Central Place, Beijing
Chaoyang District, 89 Jianguo Road
China Central Place, Block 19
Club House, Level 2
Tel: +86 -10 - 6530 7770
Beijing Oriental Plaza
Podium Level W3 (Office Towers), Unit 01-07
No. 1 East Chang An Avenue
Tel: +86 - 10 - 8518 8811
More info: http://www.tunglok.com
Written by Shuk-Wah Chung
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