By Adam Hyman
The last time I visited Hong Kong was in 2006, when I stopped off en route to Shanghai. So, I was looking forward to returning on a recent tour of the Far East.
Our A380 touched down on a balmy Friday lunchtime at Hong Kong International Airport and we made our way into the city for a weekend of restaurant fun.
Our home for three nights was The Upper House (upperhouse.com), as recommended by industry friends Paula Fitzherbert and Thomas Kochs. We were met upon our arrival by general manager Marcel Thoma and whisked straight up to our room where check in was done. A nice touch.
Café Gray Deluxe and Café Gray Bar at the Upper House is a popular spot for dinner and drinks in Hong Kong and is a great place to start your Friday night with a Martini or two whilst looking down over the harbour and Kowloon in the distance with the light display working its magic. Our first dinner of the trip was to Ho Lee Fook (holeefook.com.hk). A few people had told me to dine here, one of the latest restaurants from Black Sheep restaurants who recently brought Carbone from New York to Hong Kong.
The ground floor of the Elgin Street restaurant features an open-plan kitchen with a basement dining area that you access down a staircase flanked by the infamous waving cats you see all over China. Taiwanese-born chef Jowett Yu is serving up modern Chinese food with pan-Asian and European influences. From the snacks section we ordered “prawn toast x okonomiyaki”, wagyu steak tartare, and shredded chicken salad with Sichuan pepper and chilli oil. From the “roast meats” we selected the Kurobuta pork char-siu followed by grilled pork belly with Taiwanese caper salsa and the roast wagyu short ribs with jalapeno puree and soy glaze. If you’re wanting traditional Chinese fare then Ho Lee Fook is not the place for you but for something fun, adventurous, and unlike anything we have in London, it’s perfect.
Little Bao (little-bao.com) had recently been over in London to do a pop up with Soho House (which I missed out on) so we visited the original on Staunton Street near Aberdeen Street. The funky shop front with it’s big pink neon logo was set up by former Yardbird chef May Chow. Little Bao started out as a small stall in the Island East Markets serving Chinese burgers (steamed milk buns filled with pork belly). Their first permanent venue is perfect for a pit stop in between shopping and exploring the city. Sit at the bar in front of the open kitchen and order a few bao and cold beer before venturing back out in the heat.
For more traditional Chinese food in somewhat formal surroundings but with polite, westernised service we headed to The Chairman (thechairmangroup.com). A few insiders - both in London and Hong Kong - had recommended going there, and the night before we visited Ferran Adrià had dined there. We were led upstairs where there were large tables of locals celebrating what seemed like a birthday with magnums of First Growth wine. We stuck to cold beers and ordered a selection of dishes to share including Szechuan spicy New Zealand crispy lamb belly and Sichuan-style shredded pig’s ear and tripe salad with freshly sliced guava.
We sadly missed out on the signature dish of steamed fresh flowery crab with aged shaoxing wine, fragrant chicken oil and flat rice noodles. My friend, food writer Bill Addison from Eater, had recommended it despite its hefty price tag of around £80. Instead we ordered the Chairman’s soy sauce chicken and slow roasted chicken with caramelised shallot and onion - with both chicken dishes actually tasting of the bird. Quite a rare thing these days. The beef neck fillets with ginger and shallot in chicken broth were also excellent.
One of the leading restaurant groups in Hong Kong who own Yardbird and Ronin have gone out to the upcoming area of Kennedy Town and have opened Sunday’s Grocery (sundaysgrocery.com). The small takeaway spot is modelled on a bodega that you’d find in New York or LA. They’ve got a great selection of bottled beers and Mexican Coca-Cola as well as wines on the tap, which is still quite a novelty in Hong Kong. However, it’s all about the sandwiches and fried chicken here. We ordered the chicken schnitzel, Banh Mi, and a katsu sando. If the weather is pleasant, pop around the corner to eat them on the benches in the park overlooking the bay.
Din Tai Fung (dintaifung.com.hk) is somewhat of an institution in Hong Kong and also has a number of sites around the globe. We ventured to the one on Causeway Bay for Sunday night dinner. The space located in the ground floor of the shopping mall was heaving with diners. You take a ticket and wait in line but the queue normally goes quickly. It’s all about the dim sum here.
It’s a long way to Hong Kong - it makes for a great stop off when en-route to somewhere else. But it’s definitely worth visiting for a couple of days to check out the vibrant restaurant scene that has a great offering both when it comes to Western-style restaurants as well as more traditional Chinese ones.
This article was first published in Issue 5 of the CODE Quarterly.