Bokman Chan opened Orchid more than four years ago in Harrogate's Studley hotel, but Chan and his head chef Kenneth Poon go back much further. They met in 1992 at the Dorchester's Oriental restaurant, where Poon won the first Michelin star for a Chinese restaurant. Chan started as a commis waiter before spinning off into running restaurants in places including South Africa.
Poon joined in March this year, immediately bringing his expertise in Hong Kong cooking. However, Orchid's identity is based on a fusion of several different Asian and Pacific Rim cuisines, so the five-strong brigade includes two Filipino chefs (who previously worked at Benihana and contribute Japanese, teppanyaki and Filipino cuisine), one Malaysian and one Thai chef. The chefs cross-train each other in each one's cuisine.
The kitchen also uses a turbo wok, vital to Hong Kong and Malaysian cooking. "Cooking time and temperatures are the most important thing in Oriental cooking," says Chan. "Things have to be cooked but still keep the crunch and the vitamins. But with a turbo wok, 10 seconds too long and it all goes black."
Poon's personal favourite is his signature sea bass dish (£19.95). He combines black bean chilli, pickled plums, yellow beans, garlic, ginger, vinegar and oyster sauce, chopped up and made into a sweet and sour tasting sauce. He then steams the fish with the sauce for six minutes, and finishes the dish with freshly chopped spring onions and coriander and serves with rice.
There's also a specials menu of about eight dishes that changes every six weeks. New dishes planned are deep-fried crispy oyster and plum sauce, Japanese deep-fried oyster with salt and pepper dipped into tom katsu sauce, and from Thailand, beef brandy with sweet pepper, broccoli, fresh chillies and garlic brandy sauce.
What if the customer ends up ordering a disastrous combination? Chan's front-of-house staff are trained to guide diners in their choices. "You would need to balance the spice with something crunchy," he says. "We advise the customer to take a hot, spicy dish first and then, say, crispy prawns for a main."
Communal eating is also advised. Dishes are served either small or regular, and the front-of-house staff recommend that a couple might prefer three smalls rather than two regulars so they can enjoy more.
When Orchid first opened, getting fresh supplies from Asia entailed trips to Manchester twice a week. Now, ingredients such as fresh lime leaves, sweet basil, holy basil, lemon grass and orchids are jetted in once a week direct through Thai supply company Skymarket.
He sees London's love affair with dim sum as a "trendy fashion", but not one he can emulate with any gusto in Harrogate. Being outside the town centre, Orchid is a destination restaurant for evenings rather than pulling in the lunchtime crowds. He does, however, serve classic dim sum like pork buns and pastry parcels during the day, as well as a few Malaysian-influenced snacks such as satay. One thing he does covet from London is Hakkasan's design. "Our cool, minimalist design already needs an update," he says. "I want to recreate that wow factor in Yorkshire."
Most of the wines listed are from the Trimbach estate. Chan reckons that Rieslings are the best match, and recommends that guests start with an off-dry white and, if they want to, move on to a more robust red at the end of the evening.
In general, Orchid serves 680-700 customers a week, with about 140 bookings just on Saturday night. A couple can escape with a bill for £70 including wine.
Whats on the menu
Seafood yum poh teck, £7
Usuyaki beef, £6.50
Crab won ton, £4.50
Gai gratiem prik Thai, £9.25
Black pepper sizzling steak, £13
Calabasha prawns, £13.75
Steamed banana, £4
Coconut ice-cream, £4
Orchid restaurant, 28 Swan Road, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 2SE
Tel: 01423 560425