What is arguably Hong Kong's most exclusive restaurant isn't found behind imposing doors at Admiralty, or bathed in the bright lights of Kowloon. It's tucked away on the upper level of Hong Kong airport, and inside an airport lounge no less.
The menu is crafted by Lau Yiu Fai, Executive Chef of the InterContinental Hong Kong's two-Michelin-starred Yan Toh Heen restaurant. The guest list is limited to travellers whose names are laser-etched into an invitation-only titanium American Express Centurion Card. The restaurant is the AMEX Centurion Dining Room.
The AMEX Centurion Dining Room is nestled like a Matryoshka doll inside Hong Kong airport's main AMEX Centurion Lounge, which primarily welcomes American Express' Platinum-grade cardholders.
The lounge has its own dining area, and it's a pleasing alternative to some of the airport's alternatives.
But the best pre-flight meals are to be found behind a dark frosted glass door in the lounge's far corner.
Presenting your titanium American Express Centurion Card at the separate reception desk sees those doors slide open, for a complimentary dining experience that's at least equal to many of the world's best first class lounges.
Two à la carte menus are available: one for breakfast, served from 5:30am until 11:30am, followed by an all-day selection covering lunch and dinner through to when the lounge closes at 12.30am.
The breakfast menu offers the expected line-up of morning dishes: reliable go-to items such as eggs to order, Eggs Benedict, pancakes and an Asian 'Eastern Set' assortment of congee, fried egg noodles and Dim Sum.
You can mix and match, such as pairing an Egg Royale with salmon with Eggs Benedict and ham for a tasty start to the day.
A barista is on hand to pull that much-needed morning brew.
While the AMEX Centurion Dining Room's breakfast selection sticks to the safe territory of a café brunch – perhaps to the relief of harried executives who already face enough tough decisions in their day – it's the all-day lunch and dinner menu, combined with excellent and attentive service, that sets the Centurion dining room apart from your typical airport lounge.
I'd barely taken my seat and already, my preferred water arrives, as does a glass of Champagne.
AMEX pours G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge in the general Platinum cardholders' Centurion Lounge (along with a Prosecco and a Moscato), but the Centurion Dining Room upgrades this to G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon.
The Grand Cordon proved an excellent pairing to an opening course of Oscietra caviar.
Served in the tin atop a mix of Dungeness crab meat, crème fraîche, chives and guacamole, this sophisticated starter balances flavours that might normally be enjoyed on blinis, instead with more locally-inspired seaweed crackers.
They're sturdy enough to hold that caviar, but soft enough that pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth is still possible, to appreciate the caviar's natural taste and that of the accompaniments.
Oscietra is known and appreciated for being less salty than other types of caviar (and sits one rung below Beluga in the caviar ranks), but there's no harm in adding a pinch of salt to your spoon to experiment with the flavour.
The Combination Platter is a fixture of the Centurion Dining Room, although the individual items are seasonally rotated: during my visit these were a tasty baked barbecued pork in puff pastry, crispy tofu sheet rolls with prawns, and wok-seared pork dumplings with preserved vegetables.
With plenty of time to spare before my flight, I took the chance to enjoy the lounge's signature Blue Door cocktail.
Deceptively coloured orange, this mix blends Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky, Myers's Dark Rum, Benedictine, lemon juice and a hint of star anise: the perfect cocktail for a hot summer's day (or evening) in Hong Kong.
Continuing with something more casual, the mini black truffle burger – essentially, a slider – proved delicious with caramelised onion and melted Brie, aside perfectly crisp and crunchy fries with a choice of dipping sauces.
I followed that with the locally-inspired wok-fried beef shoulder with spicy sauce and steamed rice. It proved beautifully tender.
As a main course for dinner, I was tempted by the pan-fried sea bass and Hokkaido scallop (with a ratatouille emulsion and a basil lobster sauce) – but my waiter highly recommended the beef short rib pot-au-feu instead, sharing that it was one of the lounge's most popular dishes.
While I'd still try the sea bass on a future visit, the beef short rib came artfully presented and adorned by vegetables and shaved truffles atop a small bed of noodles. It all went excellently with a glass of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon.
There was a riot of dessert choices, from which I selected the simple baked egg tartlets with bird's nest, the latter being a rare and rather prized Chinese delicacy.
For the sake of completeness, here's a look at one of your other options as enjoyed on a previous visit.
The blueberry mille-feuille is no longer on the menu – replaced by a dark chocolate orange cake – although the artisan cheese board next to it, served with apricot compote, walnuts and grapes, remains a staple:
All things considered, Hong Kong's AMEX Centurion Dining Room is one of the finest airport restaurants anywhere in the world.
You'll find everything from locally-inspired favourites through to Western fare and plenty of vegetarian choices, and no shyness in using premium ingredients such as caviar, truffles and bird's nest.
Chris Chamberlin was a guest of American Express Hong Kong.