An insider's guide to Hong Kong
East meets West
There’s this intoxicating electricity about Hong Kong that doesn’t quite exist anywhere else in the world. It is almost midnight and the streets are abuzz with vibrant life. I’m weaving my way through throngs of locals and tourists alike at Temple Street Night Market as I navigate the brightly-lit stalls. Stall owners are middle-aged locals yelling out in Cantonese, displaying their array of hand-embroidered paintings, ornate wooden boxes, radios in the shape of a soda can and an array of semi-precious stones. The breezy night air encapsulates Asia’s distinct scent — a blend of smoke, fresh seafood, and smelly tofu.
I stash all my purchased goodies into my bag and hop on the MTR from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and the scene changes dramatically. I race past a varied cross-section of people—from boisterous expats all along Lan Kwai Fong to hipsters sporting shiny white sneakers in Sheung Wan. I’m now at the far end of Sheung Wan; on the edge of Sai Ying Pun, now a trendy enclave of fashion and craft shops, cafes and cocktail bars that are so hip it hurts. Over on this side of the city, there is a distinct Western influence. International brands dot the storied hilly streets, and restaurants and bars look no different from those in London, Paris or New York City. I feel like I’m in a completely different world.
As I spend the next few days traipsing between Hong Kong's neighborhoods at a relentless pace, one thing remains — there are too many things to do and too little time to achieve them all in this visual feast of a city. Here are your must-visits.
The Upper House
Stacked gloriously amongst Hong Kong’s skyscrapers is The Upper House, a quiet oasis towering above the city’s steroid-charged streets. The sleek hotel was renowned architect Andre Fu’s brainchild for the first of Swire Hotels’ The House Collective brand. Its 117 spacious rooms — massive by Hong Kong standards — are bathed in natural light and offer breathtaking views of Victoria Harbour or Hong Kong Island.
Modern and minimalist in design, this is the perfect place to unwind after a hectic day out. Kick back and soak up the sun and tranquility at the secret garden or enjoy a tipple at the Michelin-starred Café Gray Deluxe. Gray Kunz’s modern fine-dining restaurant and bar serves up a wide range of innovative cocktails alongside a clever array of European classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If time is on your side, try Café Gray Deluxe’s afternoon tea. The restaurant collaborates with fashion brands from time to time for a unique experience. Last year, they brought Elie Saab and Diptyque on board, and during my visit, it was Diane von Furstenberg (DvF) that inspired the culinary experience. The DvF afternoon tea presented a colourful selection of sweets and savoury bites topped with details from the American designer’s logo and bright prints. The scones were warm, delightfully crumbly and served alongside a generous heap of thick clotted cream, while the foie gras on toast was creamy with a melt-in-your-mouth finish.
Back in your room, tuck into the spoils of the hotel’s maxi-bar concept. Lollies, biscuits, juices? They’re all yours without any additional cost. And don’t leave without a languorous soak in the bathtub. Undeniably my favourite bit about the room, the bathtub is perched in front of floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides, enabling an unparalleled view of the city from your personal suds pool.
Lan Fong Yuen
This hole in the wall cha chan teng draws locals and tourists in search of a quintessentially Hong Kong meal. Choose from a mouthwatering range of food such as butter-coated French toast, pan-fried pork chop buns, and the city’s best iced milk tea. Be prepared to share a table with others in this tiny establishment, or get your lunch to go.
With the local seal of approval and snaking lines not for the faint-hearted, expect to wait up to an hour to get into this century-old noodle shop in Sheung Wan. Our advice? Go during off-peak hours and tuck into a steaming bowl of tender beef brisket noodles in broth, curry or oyster sauce. You’ll be slurping it down in 15 minutes flat.
I hear you: Thai food in Hong Kong, really? Yes, and cooked so well that you will want to return for seconds. Mak Mak is restaurateur Yenn Wong’s ninth establishment under the JIA umbrella, alongside famed eateries Chachawan, 22 Ships and Duddell’s. The décor at this chic restaurant is inspired by Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and serves up punchy, aromatic fare to boot. Start off with their refreshing spicy pomelo salad and call for the salmon soufflé, brilliantly steamed and drizzled in an indulgent coconut dressing.
Tai Ping Shan Street has undergone a massive makeover. What was once an old residential neighbourhood is now a magnet for art galleries, independent shops, and cafes alike. While Common Ground does a mean flat white, Teakha’s selection of teas and homemade pastries are an oh-so-divine experience that will have you hankering for more. Go for the beautifully-balanced sea salt yin yang or hojicha au lait and pair it with a fresh fig scone.
Ping Pong Ginoteria
Blink and you’ll miss it. The underground bar’s entrance is an obscure red door with no English signage but once you’ve successfully nailed its location, you’re guaranteed a fantastic night out. With an offbeat vibe and inventive gin drinks that rival tucked-away bars in East London or Brooklyn, this is also the place to “run into” celebrities and fashion bloggers.
Boasting stunning rooftop views and a sophisticated indoor lounge, Sevva is a great option for after-work drinks. Pick from their excellent array of cocktails — and a fancy dessert if you will — and you will be hanging around for a while.
IFC Mall is Hong Kong Island’s most recognized shopping centre and with good reason. Located right above an Airport Express station, it makes an ideal pit stop for anyone going to and from the airport. Lane Crawford is one of the big draws in this glittering mall, as are brands like J. Crew, Sandro, Reiss, Diptyque and multi-label store Rue Madame.
Direct-to-consumer online fashion retailer Grana has taken the world by storm in the last year after its launch of high-quality basics at reasonable prices. Now you can try their pieces at the brand’s first brick-and-mortar space on Hollywood Road in Hong Kong. Like what you see? Order it online at The Fitting Room or from the comforts of your own home and you’ll next see it right on your doorstep.
Star Street and St. Francis Yard
If you appreciate well-curated shop fronts and picking up one-of-a-kind pieces, head down to this little enclave next to Pacific Place in Admiralty. These quiet, intersecting streets are home to The Monocle Shop, Le Labo, Club Monaco Men’s Store and other small local independent boutiques. Coffee pit stop? Hit up Elephant Grounds or Classified for a deliciously frothy cuppa.
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- Image: Getty Images; Sayher Heffernan; Images courtesy of respective establishments unless otherwise stated
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