City Guides / Hong Kong
Hong Kong means ‘Fragrant Harbour’ in Chinese, which pretty much sums up why it exists. It is an excellent natural port, and it’s for this reason the British wanted possession of it, which came about in 1842 after the First Opium War with China, Hong Kong was ceded in perpetuity to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under the Treaty of Nanking. The British officially established a Crown Colony and founded the City of Victoria the following year, there was a population of 7,450 when the Union Flag was raised. There is now a population of 7,349,000, of which 91% is ethnic Chinese.
In 1898, Britain obtained a 99-year lease for the surrounding islands and mainland peninsula. It was this lease that sealed the eventual fate of Hong Kong, in 1997 both the Crown Colony and the leased land were returned to China in a transfer of sovereignty, aka the handover. Hong Kong became the first special administrative region of China.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s most significant financial centres and the world’s 8th largest trading entity, it has the second largest number of high rises of any city in the world, and according to the Guinness Book of Records has the most densely populated place in the world in Mong Kok.
In a nutshell, Hong Kong is a mad and crazy place, it makes New York and London feel sleepy.
Mandarin Oriental – one of the world’s truly great hotels – when opened in 1963, was the tallest building in Hong Kong. Although now it is dwarfed in size by the surrounding skyscrapers its stature has not been diminished in the slightest. Everything about it feels special from the entrance through the main reception doors till the moment you walk through your bedroom door - at which point it gets even better. If you can, stay there.
China Club (Bank St, Central) – David Tang’s place in the old Bank of China building, a private club, but if you can muster the will, find a way to go. It is a truly memorable dining occasion, it feels almost 1920s Shanghai but with a strange imperceptible 21st century feel, probably due to the art that covers the walls. The food is fine Chinese dining. The bar is phenomenal, feels like a speakeasy, and the roof terrace has views to die for and a door to squeeze through.
ChaChaWan (Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan) – Hole in the wall place for interesting regional Thai food. No bookings, so good to get there early.
PotatoHead (Third St, Sai Ying Pun) – Cool bar with very good Indonesian food. There’s a proper restaurant attached but the bar is more lively and has more or less the same menu and you don’t need to book.
Sichuan House (Wellington St, Central) – SPICY
Ho Lee Fook (Elgin St, Soho) – Have heard good things, if you can get a table you’re winning.
Din Tai Fung (Irving St, Causeway Bay also in Silvercord on Canton Rd in TST) – Michelin starred Shanghaiese dumpling place although not pricey.
Crystal Jade (various places around town, including Causeway Bay, Wanchai, Central) – Decent reasonably priced Shanghaiese food, also reasonably western-friendly.
Aqua (Peking Rd, TST) – Asian-euro fusion menu, all dark and moody and (s)wanky, but worth it for the view. It’s all about the view. But be careful, the bill can add up quickly.
A very expat thing, it is essentially a long (very) boozy lunch with a buffet, there is a fixed price and everything is included.
Zuma (Landmark, Central) – Surprisingly good value considering it’s Zuma and all that entails (FREE POUR CHAMPAGNE). They brunch on Saturday and Sunday; with Saturday there being fewer children around.
Kitchen (W, Kowloon) – Bubbly Sunday Brunch is a winner. La Veuve is on free flow and the shellfish on the buffet is to die for… lobster, oysters, anything really. he spot is fantastic, great design and airy open feel to it with the big windows looking out over the harbour. Only down side is it’s a long walk down for a cigarette.
Little Creatures (Kennedy Town) – Good brunch, craft brewery/bar if you’re into that type of thing.
Mandarin Oriental - If you’re staying at the MOHK then you’re mad not to kick off affairs at the Captain’s Bar with a cold beer in one of their trademark pewter tankards. And if you’re not staying there then go and experience it all the same.
Fox Glove (Duddell St, Central) – In what appears to be an office block, disguised as an umbrella shop, when the fake wall display slides away a speakeasy bar is revealed. Top notch cocktails and when I was last year amazing live jazz.
Miss Pound (Pound St, Sheung Wan) – A casual and buzzy bar disguised as a mah-jong shop.
Rooftop bar at the China Club (Bank St, Central) – Beautiful bar, both in design and vibe. Feels like what 1920s Shanghai should be have been like.
Little Creatures (Kennedy Town) – Craft brewery.
Wooloomooloo Wanchai (Hennessey Road, Wanchai) – Actually a so-so steakhouse but with a great rooftop bar.
The Pawn (Johnson Rd, Wanchai) – Classy Pub in an old pawn-shop in Wanchai.
Sugar Bar (East Hotel, Taikoo) – Another good rooftop bar with great views, can get rammed.
HK is without doubt one of the greatest shopping destinations in the world, there is a full spectrum of options, from street markets to luxury shopping. Here are a few of my favourites:
Mong Kok – This is deep Kowloon, and they have everything; differing street markets on different days, electronic goods (new and used), fashion of all sorts. It’s a mad place and can seem quite daunting yet worth visiting even if you don’t intend on purchasing anything.
Tsim Sha Tsui – This is like a bigger version of Mong Kok, there is everything here and a mixture of big brand stores as well.
Flying Ball Bicycle – My old shop, where I used to loiter for hours and hours and hours. When I was a ‘customer’ it was in the heart of Mong Kok, a bolt hole of a shop with one of the most impressive stocks in the world. I’ve stayed in touch with the owner, Mr Lee, ever since.