Taking over Central’s acclaimed rendezvous spot in LKF Tower, Silencio has caught the attention of many food enthusiasts since its opening in March. The contemporary izakaya is helmed by Chef Sean, the former head chef of Nobu, serving sophisticated Japanese izakaya favourites and a curated selection of junmai sakes and hand-crafted cocktails, alongside live music entertainment. We sat down with Chef Sean to talk about his culinary vision and his view on social media food photography.
Can you tell us more about the fusion izakaya dishes you have created for Silencio?
We want to do a new style Japanese cuisine with ingredients from Japan and other countries, so you can see Korean, Argentinian and Colombian influences on the menu, like the Pablo coffee cured hamachi. We want to showcase that izakaya can be done in a refined and elegant combination.
Where do you source your ingredients?
A lot of our ingredients come from Japan, especially all the fish, like kinmedai, toro and hirame. Everyday, we order directly from the Japanese market at 11:30 at night and it comes the next day by 6pm. On the other hand, we source a lot of the produce locally and also a few of other countries like France, New Zealand and Spain as well. All in all, majority of the ingredients are from Japan.
What is the biggest challenge for you so far running such a new restaurant?
It would be staffing, the same struggle I think every restaurant in Hong Kong faces. When it comes to a new venue, the long hours and heavy work are really challenging, so retaining the initial staff is the biggest challenge for us. Other than that, having worked in Nobu for 4 years here in Hong Kong, I have got a lot of contacts from suppliers and the people dealing with equipment, so this part is relatively easy.
Do you like this boutique dining environment as opposed to your previous kitchen in a hotel?
I definitely like it. I have nothing against restaurants in hotels, but after 6 years working in a hotel, I know it’s not for me. I get more thrills and it’s more fun being in a free-standing restaurant, and to overcome my own challenges instead of going through the hierarchy. Also, I have always wanted to open my own concept being in the kitchen for 19 years, so this is finally part of my dream comes true. I am very happy with it.
As a Japanese cuisine master, what is it that you love about Japanese food?
Haha, no, I am not a master. I just love the ingredients. I think what is unique and cool to me about Japanese cuisine is the simplicity of the food. Japanese cuisine is all about taking the least amount of ingredients and making them all stand out at the same time. So unlike classic European cuisine, which have a lot of components, sauces, seasonings, this and that, Japanese food is mainly about one of the sauces and one of the ingredients. I think it’s harder to execute simplicity than something complex. That’s what intrigues me about Japanese food.
Can you give us a “chef recommendation” from your menu?
For me, Sando (wagyu katsu tenderloin with kewpie mayo and katsu sauce on milk bread), Pablo (coffee cured hamachi, watercress puree and pickled shallots) and Foie Gras (foie gras on house bao with pickled apple) are the must-try on the menu.
What do you think of social media’s food photography trend and how does it affect your work?
Long before social media came into play, one thing I was always told by my mentor was that people come into the restaurant, sit down and eat with their eyes first. I think the concept of social media enables you to get your products out there without having it advertised with a large budget. I think it’s a good platform to showcase any chef’s ability too. I don’t think it affects the way that most chefs craft their food. If they have an idea or vision, and they think it’s beautiful, they will do it whether there’s somebody taking a picture of it.
Do you get inspired by others’ work on social media?
Yes, absolutely. I always save photos to get ideas. I follow a lot of chefs, and food art pages too.