When celebrity chef David Chang and actor Seth Rogen hit Metro Vancouver for Chang’s new foodie-themed Netflix travel show Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, there was one local eatery they couldn't wait to visit. But rather than filming at a posh five-star restaurant, they chose a fancy-free Richmond joint that’s been a local legend for 20 years.

HK B.B.Q. Master has long been known for its authentic eats. One of the oldest Cantonese-style barbecue eateries in Richmond, it’s tucked into an anonymous-looking parking garage location in the city centre. But that hasn’t stopped countless locals and savvy visitors from discovering it, and a clutch of prestigious Chinese Restaurant Awards has also come their way.

And while Chang’s recently-screened show—you can hear all about it in this CBC radio story—may have introduced the restaurant to a global audience, chef Eric Leung, his restaurant manager son Anson, and the entire team has worked nonstop over the years to hone the techniques of preparing great food at reasonable prices.

HK BBQ Master
Eric (left) and Anson from HK B.B.Q. Master. | Photo: John Lee

That workload has taken on a different character recently. HK B.B.Q. Master closed its doors in October, expanded into the space next door, and has been renovating ever since. The idea isn’t to change a restaurant that diners already love, but to double the kitchen size and thereby improve the way it works. The downside? Regulars must wait until December for their favourite dishes.

In the midst of the project—with contractors beavering around us—we sat down with Anson to chat about HK B.B.Q. Master, the renovation and, of course, the visit of Chang and Rogen.

Beyond Hollywood

“David Chang is very passionate about food, so it was great to hear him say how good he thought our dishes were,” says Anson. “And Seth Rogen really loved it, too. It was a really positive experience. But, in the end, it doesn’t change what we’ve always been trying to do here which is focus on making great food.”

That food, of course, is the reason HK B.B.Q. Master has remained a firm favourite for so long. The foundation of its deceptively simple menu is five items: Barbecue Pork, Roast Pork, Barbecue Duck, Soy Sauce Chicken, and Sautéed Chicken. Each is served in a variety of combinations on rice, with green vegetables and soup sides (plus cold drinks) also available.

“The menu was bigger in the beginning,” says Anson. “But these became the favourites and we’ve worked really hard to perfect them.” Is there a secret to their delicious dishes and succulent barbecue? “I think it’s about the attention to detail—my Dad is very serious about that. For example, we cut the pork to a very particular thickness and he always wants it to be exactly right every time.”

And then there’s the marinade. “We have our own organic natural marinade—it’s kind of a secret—but we go the extra step with it. If we’re marinating for two hours, we’ll turn the meat every 15 minutes. It’s very labour intensive and, from a business perspective, it probably makes no sense. But we never cut corners and we think it’s worth it.”

HK BBQ Master
Some of the delicious dishes available at HK B.B.Q. Master. | Photo: Tourism Richmond

The backstory

Hosting international celebrities wasn’t the intention when HK B.B.Q. Master quietly launched all those years ago. Eric had been managing a Coquitlam restaurant kitchen, but his aim was always to earn enough to open his own place. When the spot just off Richmond’s No. 3 Road came up—the previous tenant had operated a short-lived barbecue restaurant—the price and location seemed right.

“Back then it was just Dad, Mum, and me. And Richmond was really different—even the city centre was quiet,” recalls Anson. But Eric couldn’t wait to start making and serving his own barbecue. “He’s been making it since he was 21—barbecue is in his blood.”

HK B.B.Q. Master makes their own marinades. | Photo: Tara Lee

It’s also in Anson’s blood. “I was eight or nine years old when we opened. I grew up here and I was always inquisitive about how it all worked,” he says. As time progressed, though, he made his own plans, eventually attending university and taking a job in structural drafting. That all changed five years ago. “My Dad asked me if I wanted to come back—he was thinking about retiring. I had a feeling this conversation was coming, and I always knew I would return one day.”

Now, with Eric in his early 60s and looking forward to cooking in his new kitchen, Anson knows he made the right move. “I really enjoy it here; it’s part of me as well. I love it much more than my previous job.” As manager, he has the freedom to work throughout the business, from chopping in the kitchen to chatting with diners, many of whom expect to see his smiling face when they arrive. “There’s a real sense of community here. We see the children of some diners grow up and come back with their own kids, which is great.”

Renovation progress

Anson’s management role also means he’s been fully involved in the renovation. “We were way too squished in the old kitchen; it had become a real problem. Now we’ve designed it the way we’ve always wanted it—something my Dad has been thinking about for years. We’ve looked at everything, from the best place to put the salt and pepper to how we should position the knives.”

But how will those who’ve been dining here for years react to the new place? “They don't need to worry. We’re not going to change much and it will still be the same familiar place inside. Even the menu will be exactly the same: we’re not adding anything and the prices will stay the same. We want everyone to come back and feel like it’s the same place with the same food.”

HK BBQ Master
You can try a variety of barbecue combinations at HK B.B.Q. Master. | Photo: Tourism Richmond

First timer?

It’s not all about keeping the regulars happy, though. The Netflix show will likely bring a few new diners to the door. And if you haven’t been to HK B.B.Q. Master before, what do you need to know? “We don’t tell anyone what to order—everyone has their own favourite, anyway!” says Anson. “All I can say is order what you like because we’re confident about everything we serve.”

The team, he adds, can’t wait to start cooking again. “We’re really looking forward to getting back to work and making our barbecue. All we want to do is make good food for everyone.”

If you go

HK B.B.Q. Master is at #145 - 4651 No. 3 Road in city centre Richmond (where the Real Canadian Superstore is located). They’re expecting to reopen in the first week of December and, at time of writing, the project was on track. Watch for reopening announcements via the restaurant’s Instagram account @hkbbqmaster.

Check out the official trailer for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner.