Leading Nation opens The Hawk & Aster and Grand Café concepts at the Pacific Place luxury shopping mall, bringing a cosmopolitan vibe that bridges the gap between a café and a restaurant with an intimate bar offering delectable cocktails and wines at everyday prices.
When approached by Swire Properties to create a new concept for Pacific Place, it was a dream come true for restaurateur Gerald Li, co-founder of Leading Nation. Pacific Place has always been close to Li’s heart, from multiple summers spent interning at the Island Shangri- La to the countless visits to the High Courts during his time as a law student.
“Pacific Place is a luxury shopping mall without any of the pretentiousness. It’s comfortable and spacious and has been an iconic part of my life growing up in Hong Kong. It always had something for everyone and every occasion,” says Gerald Li. “The Hawk & Aster and Grand Café concepts reflect the mall’s multifaceted nature.”
The Hawk & Aster’s distinctive ceiling is the first feature that catches the eye. “The design brief was to create a café that can easily double as a restaurant – a dining destination that is open every day and combines the unique elegance and casual atmosphere of Pacific Place. It’s a place for business lunches and dinners, social drinks in the evenings, and also family-friendly dining on the weekends,” says Linc Mok, founder of design agency MagStudio, about this first-time collaboration with Leading Nation.
Café culture has grown considerably in Hong Kong since Li and business partner Kevin Poon founded locally grown speciality coffee brand Elephant Grounds in 2013 – but The Hawk & Aster is far from being a coffee shop. Grand Cafés boasts a highly cosmopolitan vibe, bridging the conceptual gap between a café and a restaurant with an intimate bar offering delectable cocktails and wines at everyday prices.
Enlisting the help of his talented team of culinary experts, Li has curated a menu inspired by his recent travels and upbringing. “I have enough humility to know that I’m not a chef, and it would be a bad business decision to charge for anything I cook,” laughs Li. “However, I am fortunate enough to have a strong team managing our restaurants and bars. They aim to take my vision and elevate it to another level.”
Not since the launch of Elephant Grounds has Li taken such a hands-on approach to the culinary side of one of his many F&B projects. He has spent the past eight months researching and deep diving into ingredients, vendors and local producers to be used.
Developing a strong network of suppliers and producers has become more important than ever due to the significant increase in the cost of imports and ingredients due to the pandemic. “This is the case for all our restaurants, not just The Hawk & Aster. Moving forward, it will be critical for us to have a strong relationship with our primary vendors and farmers so we can continue using the best available products without compromise.”
The starting point for Li was sourcing the ingredients; the next step was to work on the classic or ‘mother’ sauces with his culinary team. The first was the hollandaise as The Hawk & Aster offers three types of eggs benedicts for breakfast and brunch. The Florentine is topped with Avruga Smoked Caviar, and the Boston Lobster Benedict with a generous mixture of perfectly seasoned Boston lobster is served on a house-made English muffin from Li’s central bakery. The first is a thick-cut Smoked Salmon Benedict with crushed avocado on country-style sourdough toast.
There is an emphasis on brasserie classics for lunch and dinner. The Steak Tartare using Alexandre Polmard Beef topped with shavings of 30-month aged parmesan gives the brilliantly seasoned tartare two textures on the bite. The Lobster Bisque is lusciously rich and creamy, finished off with a touch of Fino Sherry; adding an aromatic and balanced complexity is served with a homemade Cheese Flute.
Spaghetti Alle Vongole (above) uses local sand clams Li found this year to be of amazing quality, spiced with a crushed peperoncini from Sicily. The Chicken Rice dish uses Man Cheong chicken with its glistening white skin poached in a ginger-infused broth served with fragrant multigrain rice. The crispy golden Potato Rosti is inspired by one of Li’s favourite restaurants growing up in Toronto and is made from finely grated Agria potatoes from Spain.
For dessert, one of the big favourites and recommended for sharing is a decadent Five-layer Dark Chocolate Cake made with Valrhona Equatoriale Noire and P125 Coeur de Guanaja, rich and moist chocolate. Rounding off the desserts prepared by Eane Wong, Leading Nation’s Executive Pastry Chef, is a classic Creme Brulee made with Tahitian Vanilla and also an array of house-churned ice creams and sorbets.
The Coffee and Beverage Program
The coffee program is powered by Elephant Grounds and is conveniently designed and integrated into the circular bar creating a separate kiosk capturing coffee aficionados before heading up to the office towers.
Leading Nation Beverage Director John Nugent has decided to collaborate with Suze, a pleasingly bitter French apéritif with earthy and floral tones, in creating signature cocktails for The Hawk & Aster.
The White Negroni makes the most refreshing pre or post-dinner patio drink, consisting of London Dry Gin, Lillet and Suze Gentian, maintaining a bitterness which defines the original version while also being light and floral with a hint of sweetness. The Canadian Li had to convince Nugent his list would not be complete without a Bloody Caesar mixed with Vodka, Aquavit, Tomato Concasse and Clam Nectar.
The Hawk & Aster – Where and how?
Opening Hours: Mon–Fri 08:00 – 22: 30
Sat-Sun and Public Holidays: 09:00 – 22: 30
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