Before it became known as a nightlife brand associated with globetrotter DJs and lavish bottle service presentations, Hakkasan was a global pioneer in contemporary Asian food. Hakkasan’s international chef Ho Chee Boon opened restaurants for the high-end gastronomy group in London, Moscow, Bangkok, New York, San Francisco and beyond. Under Ho’s leadership, Hakkasan restaurants received Michelin stars in both London and New York.
Now in 2021, a year that hospitality giant Tao Group acquires Hakkasan (which closed its restaurants in New York and San Francisco in 2020), native Malaysian Ho is making his own way in a new hip San Francisco restaurant Francisco. On June 18th, Ho Empress by Boon opens with modern Cantonese cuisine at the former location of the legendary Empress of China restaurant in Chinatown.
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“I was fortunate enough to visit San Francisco for the first time 10 years ago when we were preparing for the opening of Hakkasan, and I fell in love with the city immediately,” says Ho. but they were not comparable to the ones I met here. It created a dream for me to one day have a restaurant in San Francisco. “
For the first month, Empress by Boon serves a family-style, fixed-price menu that includes steamed prawns with Kaluga caviar and grilled ribeye with tofu and mala sauce. There will also be Ho’s interpretations of salt-baked chicken and hand-pulled noodles with enoki and shiitake mushrooms. And Ho plans to add a la carte menu with frequently changing dishes.
The chef describes his food as “modern Cantonese,” but Empress by Boon is also a very Californian restaurant. It even has its own farm in Northern California, where Ho and his team grow peppers, cauliflower, onions, and more.
The story goes on
“I serve modern Cantonese cuisine with different ingredients than typical Chinese food,” he says. “The menu will be seasonal and feature fresh ingredients from local suppliers and organic produce grown on our farm in Gilroy. With the farm that supports our restaurant, I can really constantly change our menu so that our guests are never bored and a seasonal menu is always offered. “
Outside of California, Ho only serves Empress by Boon duck exclusively. He worked with the renowned duck breeder Joe Jurgielewicz from Pennsylvania on a bird that was raised appropriately and fed organically.
At Empress by Boon, which has taken over the location of a popular restaurant, banquet hall and wedding venue for almost 50 years, where guests enjoyed family celebrations and celebrated special occasions, a lot is known to be at stake. British design studio Atelier LLYS updated the space and restored details from Empress of China, including carved panels and the original wooden pergola. And the restaurant’s perch on a building on Grant Avenue in the heart of Chinatown offers breathtaking downtown views of the bay.
“We are delighted to be able to restore the restaurant to its former glory and to pay homage to the special place it has held in the hearts of the community,” says Ho. “Our team was honored to not only be responsible for the restoration of important original furnishings but also the important role that the restaurant has played in the community as a place to celebrate and get together with loved ones. “
Empress of China delighted a diverse audience with its high-quality Chinese cuisine. It was opened in 1966 by Kee Joon Lee, an immigrant from Canton, China, who envisioned a rooftop restaurant that would add to the offerings and add to the sophistication of Chinese cuisine in San Francisco. He wanted Chinese food to feel like a big event.
“He didn’t just want to serve people of Chinese descent, he wanted to bring everyone – Westerners, Easterners, foreigners – closer to Chinese cuisine in an exquisite, elegant way,” said Lee’s daughter Barbara Yee to the San Francisco Examiner in 2014: the restaurant was closed for the year. “When it started, people couldn’t even go to eat there unless you were wearing a tie. If you didn’t have a tie, they had a tie ready for you. “
It’s now 2021 and the San Francisco Bay Area is a place where many Silicon Valley titans and tech bros may not even wear a tie this year, but Ho certainly feels like the empress of China’s heritage.
“Fifty years ago, Empress of China introduced diners to fine Asian cuisine, and now Empress by Boon offers diners a more modern take on Cantonese cuisine in a beautiful atmosphere with city views,” said Ho, whose opening menu will also be included Clove-smoked ribs with plum and lemon; crispy quail with chillies, garlic and 20 year old Huadiao wine; and baked cod with kumquat sauce. “We expect to attract locals and visitors alike. Ultimately, we want to serve as a culinary destination. “
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