HONG KONG — Yardbird is not the world’s best restaurant.
But if you were to pool the world’s best modern restaurant trends and traits — the polished technique of Tokyo, the sophisticated warmth of Sydney, the design acumen of Copenhagen, the nose-to-tail ethos of San Francisco, the tattooed bartenders and strong drinks of Berlin, the beautiful people of Los Angeles and the global culinary mix of New York — Yardbird is pretty much the restaurant you would end up with.
That is why, eight years after opening, Yardbird remains one of the most popular and influential restaurants in Hong Kong, a city with no shortage of amazingly delicious food.
Chefs from all over consider Yardbird their clubhouse when they visit the city: It’s a place they often say they wish they had opened themselves.
“It occupies that rare sweet spot,” said Corey Lee, the chef at In Situ in San Francisco. “It’s just progressive enough, just traditional enough and just affordable enough that it satisfies a huge range of diners.”
“它罕见地做到了一种不偏不倚刚刚好，”旧金山In Situ餐厅的大厨科里·李(Corey Lee)说。“它刚好足够前卫，刚好足够传统，又刚好足够平价，可以满足许多形形色色的食客。”
The two owners — Matt Abergel, the chef, and Lindsay Jang, the business manager — grew up in Canada. Like droves of other expatriates, they are entirely at home in this multinational city, where both Chinese and English are official languages and the food is multilingual.
两位店主——大厨马特·阿伯格尔(Matt Abergel)和商务经理林赛·张（Lindsay Jang，音）——都在加拿大长大。像大批其他外籍人士一样，他们在这个中英同为官方语言、有着多元美食的国际都市倍感亲切。
Later this year, the partners will expand to the United States, opening a Yardbird spinoff in Los Angeles, a city that has proved itself as an early adopter of Asian dining trends.
On its face, Yardbird is a chic and modern Japanese-style izakaya — a casual restaurant where drinking is as central as eating — with a specialty in yakitori, charcoal-grilled chicken skewers. (The same combination is easy to find in Japan, at places like Toridori in Tokyo and the Michelin-starred Torisho Ishii in Osaka.)
But in other ways, it’s a restaurant that could be anywhere — and be cool anywhere — right now.
It has a crisp, black-and-blond visual identity, from the custom-designed chairs to the labels on the house line of Japanese whiskey. The partners have collaborated with streetwear brands like Vans, Carhartt and Stüssy. Staff members gather for yoga stretches before the dinner shift. There are Mexican-style beer cocktails and Korean-style fried cauliflower. On any given night, the servers, cooks and customers have arrived here from all over the world.
As at other modern classics like the Momofuku restaurants and Relae and Joe Beef, the food is unfussy, the room is bustling and there is not a tablecloth or chef’s toque in sight. (Abergel usually wears shorts and a T-shirt in the kitchen; the 6-foot-long grill filled with binchotan, Japanese charcoal that burns bright red and superhot, is relentless.)
“The secret is that it created a community that everyone wants to be part of,” said Richard Ekkebus, the Dutch-born head of culinary operations at the elegant Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong. “The vibe is addictive, the food is delicious and unpretentious, and who doesn’t like grilled chicken? But it’s all done with a high level of technique.”
“秘密在于它营造了一种每个人都想置身其中的群体氛围，”李察(Richard Ekkebus)说。他生于荷兰，是雅致的香港置地文华东方酒店(The Landmark Mandarin Oriental)厨艺总监。“这种氛围让人欲罢不能，况且食物那么美味低调，谁不喜欢烤鸡肉呢？但这些都是以高水准的技能做出来的。”
Abergel’s signature dishes nod to international classics: a cool tomato salad with tofu skins and shiso leaf that is a play on the ubiquitous Caprese; French-style chicken liver mousse with toasted Japanese milk bread; a Caesar salad seasoned with dried seaweed, miso and fried baby anchovies.
But in the realm of yakitori, grilled chicken skewers, he hews strictly to Japanese tradition. Every part of the bird, from Achilles’ heel to soft knee bone to neck, is used, each one butchered, skewered and seasoned in a specific way.
“You can train someone to use a knife, but it’s hard to train someone who doesn’t have heart,” chef Masayoshi Takayama wrote in an email. Abergel worked for him at Masa, in Manhattan, New York’s most elegant sushi temple. “Matt understands that it’s important to dig into tradition, to know why something needs to be done a certain way.”
Most important to local customers, the birds are the famously fatty Chinese breed called “three yellow” (skin, beak, feet) that arrive, alive and squawking, each morning at the nearby Sheung Wan wet market.
Since most Hong Kong cooks and chefs shop daily and expect extremely fresh ingredients, the city has multiple hubs for vendors who sell — and butcher and trim and chop — produce, fish and meat on site. (They’re called “wet” because the sidewalks and floors are constantly hosed down to remove scales, leaves, blood and other debris.)
“Until Yardbird opened, expat chefs would come here and dismiss the quality of local products,” said chef Jowett Yu, who runs a similarly informal restaurant nearby with a Taiwanese-inspired menu, Ho Lee Fook. “But philosophically, Matt just didn’t believe you had to fly in frozen chickens from France that took two days to arrive, instead of using fresh chicken raised 30 kilometers from the restaurant.”
“在Yardbird开业之前，来到这里的外籍厨师对本地产品的质量不以为然，”大厨乔伊特·余(Jowett Yu)说，他在附近经营一家同样随意风格的台湾风味餐厅口利福(Ho Lee Fook)。“但是从理念上来说，马特就是不信，你不能使用餐厅30公里外生产的新鲜鸡肉，非得花两天时间从法国空运冷冻鸡肉。”
Abergel and Jang have a strong restaurant philosophy, summed up as excellence without pretension. They arrived there after decades of restaurant work, both together and separately.
Instead of going to culinary school or college, Abergel spent months traveling in Asia, then did a long stint at an izakaya in Vancouver, British Columbia. Jang was drawn to the service end of the business; she was working as a captain at Nobu Fifty Seven in Manhattan when she persuaded him to join her in New York. They spent their nights off eating yakitori and talking about the different kind of restaurant they would open someday. “When I left New York I never wanted to work a restaurant again unless it was mine,” Jang said.
They ran out of time on their United States work visas around when Jang was pregnant with their first child, so when Abergel was offered a job running a vast restaurant in Hong Kong’s swankiest mall, he took it, and they moved here together. But the corporate feeling of the place didn’t work for him.
“I knew that there could be a restaurant that was fun,” he said. “Even if I had to build it myself.”
He was right. Yardbird was an instant hit in 2011, stayed popular, moved to a larger space last year, and has proved surprisingly influential.
“Yardbird has really changed the way front-of-house works in Hong Kong” said Yu, the chef, who is originally from Taiwan. Before, he said, service here was stuck in an old-fashioned mode: either too deferential and formal (at expensive restaurants) or indifferent bordering on neglectful (at cheap ones).
“Yardbird was the first restaurant that made you feel like going to someone’s house party, " he said, “where the waiters call you by your first name and give you a high-five and a hug.”
Another regular, the British chef Daniel Calvert of Belon, said that Yardbird is so popular among visiting chefs that he wonders if Yardbird is now creating, not following, food trends.
“Maybe it does reflect the way the whole world wants to dine,” he said. “Or does the world reflect how Yardbird wants us to dine?”