Chef Ling of Stone Sal, Meatopia on Swanky New 18-Seat Spot HIK9

By Sophie Steiner, April 9, 2021

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Zhengu Ling of Stone Sal and Meatopia opened a test kitchen of sorts at the beginning of March named HIK9, which stands for “Hiding In the Kitchen at 9 Donghu Road.” Seating only 18 people a night, Mr. Ling, and his executive chef Benny Chen, treat guests to a 12-15-course chef’s table menu that will set you back a cool RMB3,280 + 10% service charge per person. We sat down with Chef Ling to find out more about his new concept and to hear what’s in the works.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I’ve been working in kitchens for 29 years, so you could say I’ve always kind of known. I first worked in hotels for seven years before getting hired by Blue Horizon, the then owners of Blue Frog, where I worked for 18 years as executive chef until the end of 2016.

By that time, I knew I wanted to start something on my own. I spent 2017 brainstorming concepts and designing Stone Sal, which launched in the end of 2017. As the owner and executive chef, Stone Sal is my baby – from concept to menu to sourcing to design – I did it all. Since then, we’ve launched Meatopia in Pudong and now HIK9. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

How would you describe your style of cooking?
I keep it simple. I travel a lot; I eat a lot; I search for global ingredients. Each menu has 70% of ingredients that are sourced globally and 30% that are sourced locally. I want my guests to understand me just like I understand them. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

How is HIK9 different than Stone Sal? 
Stone Sal and Meatopia are both casual dining – a place to eat a big piece of meat, drink a big glass of your preferred choice of alcohol and relax. People come to hang out with friends, talk and spend some serious time here. This is why Stone Sal offers full day operation. 

On the other hand, HIK9 is high-end fine dining with only a set dinner menu that changes completely every three months. Each dinner runs 2.5-3 hours for guests to try 13-15 courses. 

Stone Sal is heavily meat focused – we go through roughly six tons of beef per month, whereas HIK9 is more balanced in terms of seafood, poultry and red meat. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

In regards to wine, people can bring their own to Stone Sal, but at HIK9, we offer an extensive wine cellar and selection of champagne and sake available by the glass or bottle. 

Because of this, guests have more than ample selection at HIK9 and aren’t allowed to bring anything from outside. Our wine master consultant, a Master Sommelier sources wine from 28 different suppliers to curate two wine pairing menus for RMB1,980 or RMB2,980, depending on guests’ preferences. 

HIK9 is focused fully on superior service. We have a team of 15 people on any given night to serve between 12-18 people. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

What is your vision for HIK9?
If you never take that extra step or cross the street, you’re gone in Shanghai’s F&B scene; you always need to have new food, new menus and new ideas to keep customers engaged. We will continue to mix up the menu seasonally to keep it interesting for our regulars and new customers alike. 

We believe that we are doing the right things now and that shows in how busy we are every night. The goal is to continue that trend. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

What is your favorite dish on the HIK9 set menu? 
My favorite dish on the current menu is a Yunnan wild morel mushroom stuffed with diced black pork, cuttlefish, sea cucumber and abalone. The morel is then slowly braised in a reduction of Port and Syrah accented by mushroom and abalone jus.

The ice plant acts as a palate cleanser alongside dots of 20-year aged Modena balsamic vinegar infused with 20-year aged tangerine peel and twice fermented Taiwanese muscovado sugar. The sourness helps cut through the fatty richness of the morel, preparing diners for what’s to come in future courses. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Another standout is the torched New Zealand codfish with a honey sea salt glaze. We use dry-aged Patagone Toothfish to make an XO sauce of sorts to bring a hit of umami and spice to cut through the tarragon butter and fermented sherry vinegar sauce that the fish perches atop.  

Even though HIK9 is a 300-square meter restaurant centering around the open kitchen – accented by an extensive wine, champagne and sake fridge, as well as a meat dry aging fridge and wine cellar boasting private dining – we want it to still feel comforting. Like a home away from home for our guests. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

What have been the challenges since HIK9 opened?
I’m pretty tired. I enjoy this lifestyle and that passion keeps me motivated, but I’m happy to see my new baby come to life. Time truly goes fast. We have launched three restaurants in 3.5 years, but so far, so good; everything is under control and going better than expected. During COVID, Stone Sal was minimally impacted because we have our core base of regular customers, and we hope to see that develop at HIK9 too. 

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Image courtesy of HIK9

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I would be a designer, but my love for that field manifests itself in designing the restaurants – from lighting to aesthetic to space design, I enjoy doing it all. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

What’s next for you?
My head is full of ideas, and I have new concepts in the works. Think New American California with high end meat, seafood and pizzas, all with the freshest and best quality ingredients and flavors.


See a listing for HIK9.

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