Mario Tolentino, chef de cuisine of Henry

Hong Kong boasts one of the most dynamic dining scenes on the planet, filled with culinarians and tastemakers galore. In our Cheat Day column, we spotlight some of the top players in the kitchen and behind the bar, delving into their personal favourites during their days off. 

At the very heart of American food — if you can see beyond greasy, supersized portions — is comfort. The kind that you instinctively name as favourites when ambushed with questions demanding for your staples. Your Go-To Must Haves. Burgers typically will rank high up top and then closely behind, American barbecue. Baby-back ribs, steaks on the grill and all.

Rosewood’s very own steakhouse, Henry, might be less rustic than those on Chef’s Table: BBQ, but the menu, the concepts and the flavours all subscribe to the same time-honoured, authentic techniques of American barbecue. Only that while here in Hong Kong, no less the Rosewood, a typical American-style steakhouse finds itself sporting a little extra sparkle from the sleek brass fixtures and dark wooden accents and little extra help from experts like newly arrived chef de cuisine Mario Tolentino, who — just from a short email interview — seems to exude a warm friendliness that in line with the restaurant’s comfort-first serves.

“My objective is to create a timeless modern steakhouse at Henry,” explains chef Mario explains as he talks of his new position. “At the core, it’s contemporary classic American dishes that take inspiration from regional American cuisine and giving them a fresh new look and taste.”

cheat day chef mario tolentino henry

San Francisco-born chef Mario counts culinary experience in various cities across America including New York City, Miami and Los Angeles, where he notably opened café and roastery flagship Verve Coffee Roasters in 2019. But his love for food doesn’t stop at replicating menus in Michelin Star kitchens (he worked at two-starred AQUA back home in SF) or conceptualising new venues. It continued on-screen, where chef Mario enjoyed a little break in the glamorous world of reality TV when he competed in Bravo’s Recipe for Deception and claimed first place on Season Four of Food Network’s Chopped.

“My passion for food, dining and travel began from my roots in San Francisco,” chef Mario shares. “I have focused the last decade on creating dining concepts, rebranding restaurants and opening new concepts.”

Back in Hong Kong, chef Mario’s new Henry receives a menu rehaul. It’s one that continues what the contemporary steakhouse has always done since opening its doors in 2019 — keeping American culinary tradition close to heart — albeit now with refreshed roster of ingredients, new flavours and renditions on all-time classics.

New signatures are enthusiastically shared by chef Mario below, but he also pays close attention to those small accompaniments that make a meal whole. The addition of eight new sides is one example, which includes black truffle macaroni gratin that stars four types of cheese and roasted garlic potato purée. Another is the selection of desserts, now complete with sweetcorn ice cream sundae, a rum-spiked coconut cream pie and the coffee chocolate creameux, a coffee-infused chocolate ganache tart in a chocolate shell, topped with yoghurt sorbet, cocoa nibs and popping candy.

Of course, the beloved highlight of the menu remains the same: barbecued and grilled staples, including delicious cuts of beef brisket and baby-back ribs smoked in the in-house smoker, coated in a generous slather of house BBQ rub and served with the restaurant’s inspired take on ketchup — Bloody Mary style. A new raw seafood bar and, of course, the grilled slabs of steaks. The premium, quality cuts are prepared — butchering and meat curing — in-house at the on-site Butcher Shop, then seared off on either one of the dedicated live-fire ovens or charcoal grills for an honest homage to authentic methods of preparation.

What are your signature dishes? Can you tell me about them?

The devilled egg is always a classic. At Henry, we gave it an update by adding Calabrian chilli oil to really give it that “devil” spicy component and a touch of luxury with uni and caviar. It has become an instant signature dish.

cheat day chef mario tolentino henry

Another remix we’ve done is the Lobster Oscar. Traditionally when you add crab to a steak, it becomes Steak Oscar. In our case, we doubled down on the seafood with both crab and lobster. We finished the dish off with trout roe and whole grain mustard in a butter sauce. It is really delicious and showcases seafood which is also an important part off the menu, not just steaks.

What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve received?

Early on in my career, I had a chef tell me not rush to get the title of “Chef”, but to take my time and learn as much as I can before making the leap, because once you become a chef you don’t learn about food as much since you will be pulled in many directions. This advice really stuck with me.

What are you looking forward to doing at Henry the most? Can you share any in-the-works details?

I have made the initial menu change, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve! I am very excited to add our trolley service to the dining room, we have some exciting programming for table-side service. 

Are there any new creations at Henry that you are most proud of? 

What I am most proud of at Henry is the new Meat Program we have put in place. We dry age 45 days in-house and have an entire section of large format steaks such as, 36oz Cowboy Ribeye, Snake River Farms Tomahawk and 42oz Porterhouse steaks.

I also take a lot of pride in the way we cook the steaks. We start with lump charcoal, binchotan and almond wood — the combination of these heat sources impart flavour and create the perfect heat for the signature char on our steaks. We then brush the steaks in what I call “Beef Love”, where we render down the beef tallow from our trimmings and infuse it with spices and herbs. We then give the guests a show with our Signature Whiskey flambé, where we flame the steaks with rosemary, thyme and finish it all off with our smoke bone marrow butter. It is deceptively simple.

Do you cook at home? What is your best home-cooked dish?

I do cook at home! Some of my go-to’s are Thai green curry and carnitas tacos with all the sides and homemade salsas.

Your preferred cut of beef?

Dry Aged Bone in Ribeye, all day, every day!

One snack/ dish you can’t live without?

Wow, that’s a hard question… “What can’t you live without?” I have a sweet tooth so it would be hard to give up dessert! I have been eating some local ones I love: almond pudding with mango and pomelo and sago pearls!

Now for Cheat Day! Tell me your five go-to dishes or drinks you’ve enjoyed in Hong Kong.

cheat day chef mario tolentino henry
From left to right: Pain Perdu at Censu, Pho Ga at Chôm Chôm and Coconut Pandan Dessert at Samsen

For a good old fashion comfort food meal, we love Chôm Chôm and Samsen. The pho ga at Chôm Chôm is one of the best I have ever had! Samsen has some of the best Thai food out of Thailand I have ever had, I really love the beef khao soi and do not sleep on the coconut pandan dessert!

The paloma at COA is one of the best and I really love the gusano salt on it, plus the selection is world class. Another dish that we love is the tuna sashimi and pain perdu with uni at Censu. There are more but these are some of the ones I recently had.

With current dining restrictions, Henry is open from 12 to 3pm, Monday to Fridays and 12 to 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations can be made here.

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