Hong Kong was my layover on the way to New Zealand.
For six days I walked though this vibrant and densely populated Chinese metropole and former British colony and to be honest I have mixed feelings towards this city. I can’t decide if I like it or not. The ‚not’ was probably due to the bad weather I had there. It was mostly raining.
What I definitely enjoyed is the lively food scene here – from Cantonese dim sum and soup dumplings (xiao long bao) to extravagant Japanese sushi and fancy Thai dishes, not to mention all the yummy cocktails I had.
I liked the skyscrapers and especially the fact that in Hong Kong you can see them from both sides of the Harbour, from Hong Kong Island and from the Kowloon Peninsula.
Somehow when coming here I expected HK to be a bit more like Singapore but found a city rather comparable to Bangkok. Rough, loud and chaotic. Vibrant. I love Singapore and I like Bangkok very much but somehow my story with HK was not the love at first sight I had expected. The more time I spent there the more I started to like the city. One thing I found a bit ‚frustrating’ however – it is not a pedestrian friendly city, with all the motorways, footbridges and hidden paths to reach, for example, a park through a business building. Once you have discovered all the hidden ways to get somewhere you can enjoy the city by walking (which is one of my favourite activities) but until you figure it out, you find yourself disappointed that you can’t enter the park which lies directly in front of you because there is a long fence around and a highway in between and you have to walk a few more blocks to find the entrance.
But yeah, the more I walked, the more I discovered and got familiar with this special city.
Here a selection of things to do and visit I combined for you guys:
– Ride the ‚Ding-Ding’ – an old school tram connecting the West and the East of the HK Island. Get in at the back, grab a window seat, enjoy the city scenery and pay as you leave by the front door (you can use the Octopus card for all transportation methods in HK, simply top up and tap as you ride).
– Take the Mid-Level Escalator up the hill and enjoy the ride on the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. You can walk back through the colourful and vibrant streets of Soho (and grab a drink in one of the bars near Hollywood road on your way down).
– Have a stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade for amazing views of the skyline of HK Island. While being there I was lucky with the sun but unfortunately the biggest part of the promenade was closed and so was the Museum of Art that I was looking forward to visit – closed for renovation until 2019. The Clock Tower on the promenade was wrapped in something, I guess also under renovation work… disappointing. Maybe you will have more luck than me.
– Although the Avenue of Stars is temporarily closed, you can have a little walk through the Garden of Stars and have a picture taken with the Bruce Lee statue.
– You should definitely take the Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side and head to Central on the HK Island side and enjoy the great views of the Hong Kong skyline (for once it was NOT raining when I took the ferry! :)). You can pay with your Octopus card. A cheap and enjoyable little cruise.
– Enjoy the nightly light show at the Harbour, the Symphony of Lights, at 8pm.
– Go to the chaotic Temple Street Night Market and look through the bric-à-brac, watches, cloths, paintings, etc. (even sex toys are to be found here). You can also have a peak into your future by stopping at one of the fortune tellers.
– Take the tram to Victoria Peak for a city view from the highest point (I heard its lovely but I had to pass because the only two sunny days when I was there were on Easter Sunday and Monday and the queue was too long for my patience).
– See the Tian-Tan-Buddha (Big Buddha) on Lantau Island, largest outdoor seated Buddha in the world. Accessible via Sky rail.
– Stroll along Hollywood Street with all the antiques shops, visit the Man Mo Temple , have a drink in Soho and visit the cultural center PMQ. The former Police Married Quarters has been revitalized as a creative hub for local design talents where you can watch a jeweler or a painter at their work. I personally loved this place.
– Visit the Western Market – This Edwardian-style building is the oldest surviving market house in the city. It hosts shops, cafes and bakeries.
– For horse fans there are the Happy Valley Races on Wednesday nights.
– Visit Hong Kong’s busiest and biggest temple, Wong Tai Sin Temple on Lion Rock in the north of Kowloon.
– Visit the parks. I personally liked Hong Kong park, the cities oldest park in the center of the HK Island. There are fountains, Lilly ponds, a lookout and an aviary with more then 80 species of birds in a nicely designed tropical rainforest.
– If you have more time and good weather you can enjoy the beaches around HK.
… and of course DIM SUM!!! As I said, I really enjoyed the food here and especially the soup dumplings. I literally fell in love with them. The whole procedure of eating them is an experience!
Pick one of Hong Kong’s many fine Chinese restaurants and eat until your trousers won’t fit you anymore! ; )
Here a few restaurant suggestions:
Yardbird – a modern style yakitori restaurant in Bridges Street, near the above mentioned PMQ. Cool and trendy place with large windows, Izakaya-style where you can hang around the bar with your laptop and enjoy the best parts of a chicken. It’s ALL about chicken! I personally am not really a yakitori fan but I heard of this place from Anthony Bourdain (I love his food & travel documentaries!) and also I am with someone who is crazy about both yakitori and chicken…So we went, sat at the bar, talked to the guys behind the counter (very entertaining and great service), enjoyed ALL of the chicken parts possible (I think we literally ate our way through the whole menu! Yummy!), tried different kinds of Sake (oh yeah I’m becoming addicted), some good whiskey, spent a lot of money and left super content! Highly recommended! No reservations possible, go there straight after they open (6pm). My tip: sit at the bar, it’s the most fun…
On Easter Monday friends took us to a sushi brunch with Champagne ‚free flow’ at Zuma (in the Landmark building, Central). Very classy and elegant with fancy decor and fantastic food! Amazing choice of starters in buffet style with the main à la carte. Honestly after all the delicious sushi, sashimi, yakitori, teriyaki, tataki, sashimi carpaccio, oysters etc. from the buffet I was not hungry anymore for the main (which was equally delicious) and the best was yet to come: the dessert! An exorbitant tower made of different ice creams, cakes, sweets and tons of fresh fruit.
My verdict: Chic and delicious! What more do you want?
Honestly that might be one of the best brunches I’ve ever had! (PS: I have to share a secret with you: When I woke up that morning with a mid-range hangover and thought about sushi and Champagne ‚à volonté’ I felt sick…thank god that feeling passed as soon as I walked into Zuma and saw the amazing buffet…I would definitely have missed out on something!)
One day we felt like having something Thai and found Chachawan on Hollywood road. As soon as we walked in I instantly liked the restaurant, without even trying the food yet. This cute little place has a very friendly, bright atmosphere. The wallpaper is artsy and the rest of the decor matches this colourful place which reminded me a little of Mexico rather then of Asia – but my association was ‚art gallery meets bar’ and I really liked it. As I told you before, my artistic eye always ‚eats with’ as we say in Germany (‚das Auge isst mit’ – German expression to say that one can enjoy the food better if it’s not only delicious but also nicely presented and you consume it in a pretty place).
However… The food was delicious too. Fresh ingredients, nice presentation, portions not too big. Lovely cocktails to round off the experience.
I had Nahm Dtok Moo (spicy grilled wagyu beef salad with shallots, coriander, mint, lime, fish sauce and toasted rice dressing) and a Mojito Royale. For dessert Kanom Dtom (warm coconut rice dumplings served in salted coconut cream) and a fresh coconut to go with it. YUM.
For more Suhi we went to Tokio Joe. Located on the middle of the Lan Kwai Fong action a cosy restaurant serving delicious food. we went with a group of friends and decided for the chef’s special degustation menu. Everything was fresh and super tasty! From oysters, creative sushi rolls and sashimi salad creations over to yummy Kelp-Grilled Sea Bass. Accompanied with Sake. Fantastic.
One day we wanted to treat ourselves and went for both lunch and dinner to two Michelin star restaurants: Lunch at Tim Ho Wan and dinner at Mott32. I have to say that although both were good and served tasty food I was a bit disappointed. I guess from a Michelin star restaurant I had expected more.
For Tim Ho Wan we queued one hour, were finally seated in a booth alongside the queue so that the hungry and impatient people in the queue were hovering over our heads while waiting and the food that came did not compensate for the inconvenient waiting-seating experience. It was good dim sum, it was not expensive and the service was quick and efficient but somehow at the same time we felt rushed, the service was impersonal (not a smile, not a ‚hello I’m here for you’) and I was happy to eat as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. Afterwards I couldn’t shake the ‚McDonald’s’ feeling off me. Quick, crowded, cheap…Go, eat, pay and leave. That’s it. Don’t get me wrong, the food was OK but there are hundreds of other restaurants serving good or even better dim sum! It’s worth the experience though if you want to eat in a Michelin rated restaurant for peanuts. Tim Ho Wan is the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant!
Mott32 was our dinner venue for that night. A very classy modern Chinese cuisine restaurant in the basement of the Standard Chartered Bank Building. I liked the decor, dim light, elegant and classy. The service was a bit ‚stiff’ but very attentive. I guess the word for it would be ‚impeccable’ rather then ‚friendly’. Unfortunately we were seated at the back and the sofa I was sitting on was so low (and I am not a very tall person) that I had to change seats with my partner. Now I reached the table but the price was the view. I was looking at the wall and the only people I saw (and unfortunately heard) were the two very pretentious ladies at the next table. Despite that, I enjoyed the evening and the food. The cuisine is high-end Chinese. Basically ‚posh dim sum’ like ‘Soft Quail Egg, Iberico Pork, Black Truffle Shu Mai’ or ‘Crab & Caviar, Iberico Pork, Shanghainese Soup Dumplings’.
My verdict: Good food, somewhat uptight ambience, expensive. I had the feeling it’s a place where you go with your business associates or a first date to impress.
Another restaurant we went for traditional Sichuan cuisine was Da Ping Huo.
Prior to our dinner there I read about this restaurant – ‚a private kitchen where the owner sings Chinese opera between the courses’. Unfortunately this article was old and in the meantime the owner has changed and no one is singing the opera anymore. Such a shame! I love opera!
Anyhow I liked the very nice interior design with large paintings in an art-gallery-style (which I absolutely love, as you probably know by now if you read my blog;)). The service was not very friendly and attentive (I had to ask for the rice which was normally included in the menu but didn’t come along). I have to admit that the food was good…and VERY Spicy!
I would say that you can find other Sichuan cuisine restaurants for a better price but all together I liked my dinner at that place. We had the following set menu that night:
Sichuan Appetizers: Spicy black fungus, Cucumber mixed with XO sauce, Sour & spicy glass noodles.
Mains: Braised chicken in chili sauce, Barley and winter melon soup, Steamed shrimp in Sichuan style, Stir-fried beef in spicy & sour sauce, Fish fillet in chili broth, Minced pork sautéed with string bean.
Dessert: Sweetened bean curd with snow fungus.
A friend recommended Oola for our Easter brunch. For this occasion it was definitely the best option. Sunny terrace and international food where I found Eggs Benedict (or Royal) and a Mimosa. Situated on Bridges Street right next to Yardbird. Good place if you seek a little taste of home after having eaten dumplings for a week… ; )
But speaking of eating dumplings for the whole week, I have to admit that I fell in love with soup dumplings! Xiao Long Bao! Oh my god!
My very first ones were the Rainbow Xiao Long Bao I had last year in Singapore and I didn’t miss the opportunity to go to the very same restaurant here in Hong Kong – on my very first day actually. Paradise Dynasty is a chain with restaurants in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan, Taiwan and Dubai.
I have to admit I only ate the rainbow dumplings there so I can’t really judge the rest of the menu but that experience was the opening of my heart for soup dumplings…
The colourful dumplings have these flavours: original, cheese, crab, garlic, Sichuan, ginseng, foie gras, black truffle. YUMMY!
Since then I had many Xiao Long Bao in Hong Kong and Taiwan… and I loved them all! Just the procedure of eating them is a little adventure! First you lift it out of the steamer by the topknot, rest its back on the spoon and nibble a small hole or jab a little whole with your chopstick to let out the steam. Sip the tasty soup from the spoon. Dip it gently into the little dish with vinegar (vinegar with ginger is the best or alternatively if you are not a vinegar fan, use good old soy sauce). Put the whole dumpling in your mouth and… ENJOY!
Of course I won’t let you eat without drinking;) Here some bar suggestions:
I personally love drinks with view from rooftop bars (did I mention it already?;)), so in HK I was happy to find a few of them.
Aqua Spirit is basically a sister of London’s Aqua Shard. An elegant cocktail bar with floor to ceiling windows and great views of the HK harbour. Located in one of the towers of Kowloon (Peking Building, 29th floor). A bit expensive but the view is worth it. There are also two restaurants under the same roof (30th floor): Aqua Tokyo with Japanese, and Aqua Roma with Italian cuisine. If you fancy a drink while cruising the harbour, there is also the Aqua Luna – an elegant sailing boat in authentic pirate style. You can book a sunset cruise, a light show cruise, excursions and even a wedding reception.
Another bar with great views is Sevva, situated in Central among the bank towers (just next to the HSBC HQ). The drinks are not cheap and the service is not the best in the world but they have a big terrace with a lovely 360 degree view from the 25th floor. My advice is to go there after dark to enjoy the view of the nicely illuminated skyscrapers, and if you go there during the light show your money will be worth it.
If you want to enjoy the Symphony of Lights from the other side of the harbour, go to the Eyebar on the 30th floor of the iSquare Shopping Mall. Connected to a modern cuisine Chinese restaurant, frequented by expats and locals.
In Hong Kong you can actually have your drink in what is apparently the highest bar in the world. Ozone is situated on the 118th floor of the ICC and your view is – the clouds! Should the outdoor terrace be too packed you can enjoy the unusual interior design. The bar in situated in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, so be prepared that the drinks are not cheap.
If you prefer a party spot / clubbing feeling try Ce La Vi, located on the rooftop of California Tower, north of Lan Kwai Fong. Should you like to enjoy the view without the party in a chilled lounge, go there a bit earlier for a sundowner cocktail at happy hour.
Let me now take you back to street level and introduce you to a bar I liked as much, that I returned to 3 times. We basically went there until we tried ALL the cocktails on the menu. They were unusual, creatively presented and all of them were yummy! It’s a small bar with a very chilled out ambience. Welcome to OZU bar. Funky decor hip, laid-back style, Japanese Beer, Japanese Whisky, and Sake…
My tip: try the amazing sake cocktails! ‚Roses & Sake’ (sake, fresh roses, roses syrup, elderflower and lemon), ‚Kyu’ (sake, Hendrick’ Gin, green tea, ume juice) or ‚Pasabi’ (sake, plum wine, apricot brandy, apple juice, fresh wasabi root). The last one is spicy… Cheers!