7 ways in which Vea delivers a hospitality experience unlike any other

Kat Odell - 31/03/2021

At the recent Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 awards ceremony, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, Chef Vicky Cheng’s restaurant Vea in Hong Kong won the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award. 50 Best caught up with the cook to learn seven aspects of service that set his restaurant apart and allow his team to consistently leave a lasting impression on guests

1. Intuitive hospitality

When you sit down in a restaurant for a meal, there’s a fine line between just the right amount of service and over-the-top attention to the point where constant interruptions become disruptive. At Vea, chef and owner Vicky Cheng nails that delicate balance, leaving guests feeling cared for but not over-awed. To the Vea team, it’s all about reading guests’ body language.

Cheng explains that, to him, “hospitality is something that should be natural,” an act that “should come from your heart.” He acknowledges the need for employees to be properly trained, but ultimately, he believes that “treating people naturally and genuinely” is what matters most. Cheng offers an example: “Are you the type of person who opens the door and looks back to check if there is somebody behind you, and would you extend your hand to keep the door open until that person is here? Or are you the type of person who will walk straight in?” He explains that when hiring employees, he looks for personalities who would hold the door and wait.
Vea's fish maw dish

2. A long, open kitchen

When Cheng first started cooking 20 years ago, he considered working front-of-house instead of in the kitchen. It was precisely this affinity for interacting with customers that led him to build Vea with a lengthy, snaking open kitchen. Not only does this design afford every guest the best seat in the house, but it enables “extra sets of eyes everywhere to observe”.

He explains that his goal is “to always be there to top up the glass before it’s empty,” or help a guest out of a chair before they have made the effort to push the chair away from the counter. Of course, napkins must always be fresh and folded when a diner returns from the restroom. Cheng says: “We basically want to be in front of you before you raise your hands to call us over,” and this is made possible with an unobstructed view of diners for all employees.
The counter and open kitchen

3. An edible tribute to Hong Kong

Cheng is classically trained in French cookery, having worked under iconic chefs such as Daniel Boulud at his flagship restaurant Daniel in New York. Keen to merge his French background with ingredients and customs from his home country, the chef coined his culinary style asChinese x French’. Cheng explains that, while he does incorporate prized ingredients commonly associated with high-end tasting menus – such as golden Ossetra caviar and white truffles – into his menu, he prefers to focus on products that are considered luxuries in China , such as dried seafood like fish maw and abalone. He says: “Dried seafood is something that I discovered a love for because it is really something that hasn't been [applied widely]. It is only used and discovered in Chinese cuisine and nowhere else.”

Cheng also notes that he likes to honour Chinese holidays and celebrations through his food. For example, during Mid-Autumn Festival (annually in September), Chinese people often eat lotus seed paste moon cakes. As a tribute, Cheng created a lotus seed paste gâteau (French for cake) with salted duck egg caramel and topped with sea salt ice cream. He also offers a few sweet variations on lotus seed paste, such as turning the ingredient into a cream and caramel.
Lotus seed paste, salted duck egg and caramel

4. Drinking in the atmosphere

Typically in fine dining restaurants, patrons can select from a couple of beverage pairing options. At Vea, Cheng presents not one or two beverage pairing options, but five. In addition to the already extensive wine list, the restaurant offers a wine pairing, a premium wine pairing, a Chinese wine pairing, a cocktail pairing, or a non-alcoholic cocktail pairing. Although if a guest prefers, Vea will create a mixed beverage pairing built of both wine and cocktails.

5. Acting on constructive feedback

Cheng and his team take constructive feedback “very seriously”, he asserts. While he understands that people are not perfect, he does try to deliver Vea’s very best in every possible way to make sure that, internally, employees do not repeat mistakes. “We always strive to be better every day,” he explains.
Cheng and Vea's team celebrating their Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award

6. Going above and beyond

Cheng explains that he and his team research each diner before they arrive and once the diner leaves, the team keep notes on said person’s dining preferences, dietary requirements and the specific menu they consumed. If a guest has come into Vea recently and the current menu is similar to the last one they previously tried, the Vea team will call them and ask whether they would prefer a bespoke menu inspired by Cheng’s discoveries at the market, or some of his new inspirations. Furthermore, if a guest makes a simple request, such as asking for a soft drink that the restaurant doesn’t have to hand, Cheng and the team will go out of their way to procure it.
Kristal caviar, Alaskan king crab and conpoy

7. Behind-the-scenes work makes service seem effortless

Cheng notes that many of the details that go into Vea’s expert service happen behind the scenes. He recalls sitting in the restaurant’s bathroom for 20 minutes before the restaurant debuted, considering all the amenities that guests might want. He also calls out the daily pre-service practice where all employees line up and managers check things like employee grooming, tidiness and hair style. And, after the ‘family meal’ for the team, all employees brush their teeth. “These are the things that we include in the Vea dining experience ­­– it is not just about the food,” he concludes.

Now go inside Vea in the video:

The list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2021, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, was announced on 25th March , via a virtual awards ceremony – visit the website to discover all the winners. To stay up to date with the latest news, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.