You know those futuristic movies with gross industrial developments, towering menace buildings, communication channels that blow your mind? You arrive and the organised chaos is already in place with two separate exits for taxi’s, red takes you to Hong Kong Island and green elsewhere. It all appears so civil until your in the taxi…my journey was late night from the airport to the peak, which entailed the perfect tour up 360 degree windy roads at all possible angles, sharp tiny roads disguised with misty fog, neon buildings buildings with kinetic installations of light and design bouncing off the surfaces and a sea of umbrellas fighting for space.
I woke up to the tail end of a severe storm, the weather was humid and temperamental however to witness this weather from the peak was an absolute treat! You have to hike to the top to see the views. The peak resembles a modern jungle with mega mansions towering over the island, tranquil nature churps away looking over a cubist collage of buildings. First I was to discover Hong Kong Island then Kowloon on the main land.
This was my first trip and I wanted to really discover the diversity of the city. There is a developing underground scene; hangouts housing the hip, hidden between the immense sky scrapers, each packed with office space, residents, shoppings malls, restaurants and more. There are dense malls on every corner offering shopping from the highest level of luxury at towering heights unimaginable with clean surfaces, polished to meet your reflection. In contrast are beautiful authentic streets with colorful enticing signs, windows and new discoveries at every corner; It is on these back streets, where I found the best destination- only hangouts.
The hippest new galleries, boutique fashion stores, drinking hangouts, restaurants and speakeasies are nestling on select roads across Hong kong Island in Central, Wan Chai and Sheung Wan. There are a couple of great breakfast spots, too many to mention but my favourites were Classified and The Monocle Cafe in Chan Wai, St Francis Yard. One of my favourite areas. I also discovered Teakha, a lifestyle concept tea cafe & zakka store aimed at promoting a simple, sustainable and happy lifestyle “love our bodies, love our community, love our earth.”
Classified opened in 2006 veering away from the mall culture, motivated to revive street-level interaction and neighbourhood social ability. I enjoyed a long breakfast at their Hollywood Road venue in Sheung Wan, surrounded by galleries. The European-café was packed with hip westerners mixed with trendy locals who were either having a social breakfast with friends or commencing their working day on their laptop or simply absorbing the international newspapers. The venue had outdoor seating for those to be ‘seen’ as well as a secret private floor upstairs for those wishing for tranquillity and privacy. My eyes lapped up the al fresco style, contemporary design and wide selection of boutique wines, gourmet coffees, specialty cheeses and handmade breads.
I tried the watermelon and mango juice with their healthy option of Toasted Rye Bread with cottage cheese, vine cherry tomatoes, red radishes, springs onions and a side of Loch Fyne smoked Salmon. The bread was fresh and thick and had seeds scattered throughout. My friend devoured the eggs royal with a fresh Orange Juice. I tried their gourmet coffee in the form of a cappuccino, a pleasure to finally get my caffeine fix- good coffee is not the biggest trend in Hong Kong so this was a bonus! There is a classified in all the best areas so slot this into your trip.
The dining scene has exploded in Hong Kong, from your regular luxury followers of Zuma and China Tang situated in glitzy concierge-guarded malls to deliciously tasty and cheap street stalls and new designer ‘no-bookings’ restaurants. London’s hot list chef’s seem to be appearing all over and Hong Kong is housing the perfect multi-cultural dining temptations. So basically if you see a big que in the street then it’s a hit! The newest must be seen in destinations are Yardbird, no ressies 33 Bridges St, Jason Atherton’s 22 Ships and Chichia is their contemporary Peruvian temptation. For those craving for a mega animal fix and iron strengthening marrow then Blue Butcher is your boy and Brickhouse Mexican. I tried the best sushi of my life in a tiny impossible to get in to sushi spot called Rokkaku, 6 Kwong Ming Street, Wan Chai . The Principal offers stunning European-fusion as well as The Pawn with it’s stunning rooftop markets launching this summer and Bistronomique is a great destination for French Dining in Kennedy Town.
Looking for some classics? Two amazing places which kept creeping into conversation, Din Tai Fung (dumplings), apparently the chili wontons are next level and Tim Ho Wan for the cheapest quality dim sum, there are over 3 different venues on Hong Kong Island and also new openings in Kowloon. I visited the IFC venue, be prepared to que but it’s worth the wait; you wont spend more then $100 each for a feast, that’s £10 each). Maxim’s is still an amazing option for more classic and traditional chinese dining or grab a reservation at the quirky and cool Mott 32 in central.
If you have a sweet tooth then you’re in trouble. Bakeries are never out of sight, wafting the scents of fresh waffles and pastries. Hong Kong is famous for its egg custard tarts and egg donuts as well as tea houses such as Lok Cha Tea House. Obviously if your not feeling local love then then whip over to Causeway Bay for frozen yoghurt at Crumbs , the brownie is the one and then there is the new Via Tokyo, specializing in matcha and mung-bean japanese desserts- this place was immense; there was a large bamboo swing chair!
When it came to discovering the nightlife, I galavanted across Hong Kong Island like a puppy being let of the leash for the first time! There were a few select places offering a social arena for the young professionals and creatives; the island is deifnitey up and coming with new shhhhhh gems popping up behind guarded doors. You can of course find commercial spots but I wanted to find a more underground music scene and creative community. My favourite hangout was Salon No.10, Hong Kong’s most talked about private club, a meeting place for the city’s top international creative entrepreneurs from the fields of fashion, art and design. Another was Ted’s Lookout in Wan Chai, just off Star Street, a regular haunt for the cocktail fanatics and finally the latest opening; a drinking dive called 001- Speakeasy 001, L/F, Shop 1, Welley Building, 97 Wellington St…near Graham Street, Central and a more casual Senses 99 99F Wellington Street, Central.
I had an incredible night at Kee Club, a private members club hidden up a lift with a ‘tuff’ entrance policy! I managed to make it in after extended puppy eyes and enjoyed their incredible old fashioned cocktails while fluttering to a sexy disco, afro-funk DJ set. There was also a live performance from FKJ (French Kiwi Juice). There were many hidden dark seated areas for VIP’s to hide and a restaurant on the floor above. If you don’t want to end the night early then the late night animals gather at Drop Club or Dragon Eye.
Shopping is a juxta between high-end luxury brands in sparkling malls, stacked 15 floors with multiple lifts and escalators. You can actually walk through in-door malls and stand on a flat escalator to travel most of Hong Kong Island and then Kowloon is more outdoor. Boutique shopping is a must but the main shopping areas are the IPC, Pacific Place and Causeway Bay. In Causeway Bay try avoid the mainstream and head to Kimberley’s Mall, offering up and coming designers who are stocked in the likes of Urban Outfitters. I.T is another great fashion boutique on Patterson Street, similar to matches or Liberty of London. There are also new boutiques sprouting around Sun, Moon and Star Street and in Sheung Wan’s arty neighbourhood. For the vintage vultures there is Select 18, located near Yardbird at 18 Bridges St, Sheung Wan. I spent some serious dollar here!
Kowloon on the main land was a long day trip for me; you have to take the MTL, Ferry or a taxi ride to travel over. There is a true cultural offering in Kowloon, the real local Hong Kong. I went on a tour with Urban Adventures. I took ‘Around Kowloon in 8 Markets,’ ask for Danny as a tour guide- he’s incredible! I really felt connected to the city after this day, it was full on and active both visually and physically, exploring the flower market, bird garden, herbal medicines, Jade Markets, transformations in the area buildings, city facts and delicacies! We wound our way through the world’s most densely populated neighbourhood. This was the ideal opportunity to shop for bargains!
The cultural to do’s are Horse Racing in Happy Valley, watch traditional performances at theatres in Kowloon, visit their incredible museums. Hangout at PMG on Hollywood Road. Hike up to the peak (there are tons of amazing hikes in Hong Kong, but this one is easy to do if you’re on your own). Taxi to one of the beaches on the south side; South Bay beach. Bop around Sheung Wan galleries, grab a foot massage and finally head to Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung to hike and swim.