Hong Kong Tips

Here are some Hong Kong tips. I created this list for a friend visiting from London and have kept it as the foundation of my recommendations since then. I’ll try to keep it updated as I find new gems, and as things close as they inevitably do in HK. The turnover is higher than ever here…

Stay: Four Seasons – You can’t go wrong at a Four Seasons, and Hong Kong’s doesn’t disappoint. This is where we stayed on our “look see” when we wanted to convince the kids that HK was the best place in the world to live. It worked. The hotel is gorgeous, with amazing view of busy Victoria Harbor where you can watch junks, cruise ships and the Star Ferry from your floor-to-ceiling window. The hotel has a great infinity pool and a nice spa, and is located right above the IFC luxury shopping mall with many solid restaurants (Isola being my personal favorite). It’s well located for adventurous exploration of Central too.

Upper-House – All the luxury of a 5-star with a twist. It’s cool…not corporate!  Upper House has a great restaurant, Café Gray Deluxe (Chef Gray Kunz), with arguably the best views on Hong Kong side. Upper house has a sister-hotel in Beijing called “Opposite House.”

The Peninsula — Located across the harbor on Kowloon side, the Peninsula is so historic you feel like you’ve stepped back into graceful timeless luxury. First opened in 1928, the Peninsula has been the site of everything from the Hong Kong Governor’s surrender to the Japanese in 1941 to a regular location for films from James Bond (I think) to Batman. The hotel also boasts a few top restaurants including Philippe Starck-designed Felix with awesome views of Hong Kong island. W Hotel – Located on the Kowloon side, the W Hotel is as you would expect. Great views, nice contemporary rooms, beautiful bar, pool & spa.

The LKF Hotel (on Aberdeen Street) – I haven’t been here, but Sonya swears it’s a fantastic value and in a great location. Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) is the Soho of Hong Kong — party central — with bars, restaurants and foot massages all night long.

Eat:

If you’re feeling homesick, Hong Kong has many of your London and New York favorites including Roka, Nobu, Alain Ducasse (Spoon), BLT Steak, Joel Robuchon… shall I go on? They are all great and most have gorgeous décor and some great views, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try our Hong Kong one-of-a-kind places. I’m giving you safe bets as well as hole-in-the-wall places. You decide how intrepid you want to be.

China Club – It’s the closest thing to an art-gallery in HK and offers a memorable Chinese food experience. Technically a private club, a good maitre d’ (or an AMEX black card) can arrange a reservation. Designed like an old Shanghai’nese home, the ambiance and art is spectacular. Each evening there is a little show for out-of-towners. It’s an experience and a great meal all in one.

Hutong – Not only is the ambiance something out of 18th century china, (not an easy feat on the 28th floor of a skyscraper) but it has the best views of the city. You can make an evening of it, enjoying a cocktail on the red-sailed Aqua Luna junk boat across the harbor from central and then getting off on the Kowloon side near Hutong. Each dish is a work of art, some more delicious than others, but all photo-worthy!

Jumbo Floating Restaurant – This has popped up in many Hollywood movies. It’s an amazing site to see – five floors of restaurants on a giant, ornately decorated, floating “junk.” It’s more of an experience than a culinary destination, but actually I was surprised how good the food really was. The most fun part is the short sampan ride from Aberdeen to get there. Top Deck is the best place to go for brunch on Sunday.

Life Café – This is more of a lunch place, but my favorite spot in town for the Life salad, complete with flax seed crackers! The garden roof terrace is an absolute oasis in the busy city. It’s h-e-a-v-e-n for anyone who is vegetarian or vegan. And being a vegetarian is no easy task in a town where eating chicken’s-feet is normal.

Under Bridge Spicy Crab – Arguably the best soft-shelled crab in SE Asia., it’s all about the food. Located off Jaffe road in Wan Chai district (about five minutes from Central), Under Bridge is not fancy, but the crab is amazing. You’ll have to do a lot of pointing to order and you’ll be seated at an oil cloth covered table with an endless supply of tea from a pitcher (stick to beer!), but when they bring out the live crabs for you to select and minutes later bring the same smothered in garlic, you’ll be thrilled. Yum!

City Hall – For an authentic Sunday dim-sum experience, go where you’ll be the only Gweilo in the place. It’s a grand ballroom style room with big round tables and waiters pushing carts of dim sum up and down the aisles. Point and enjoy!

Po-Toi Seafood Restaurant – If you have time for an adventure, you’ll get a completely fresh steamed fish with ginger and spring onions or, my personal favorite, salt & pepper chili lime squid at Po-Toi Seafood. It’s located in a little fishing village and you need to take a ferry or private Junk to get there. Don’t expect glamour, but it is authentic seafood dining in HK.

Din Tai Fung – I know it’s a chain (in fact, I think there’s even one in California now), but I absolutely love the soup dumplings here. It’s spotless, efficient, friendly and so, so good! My kids, who require encouragement to eat veggies sometimes, can’t get enough of the sautéed kale and dumplings here. There’s one in Causeway Bay and another in Tsim Tsa Tsui (TST) across the harbor.

Lung King Heen – This restaurant gets three Michelin stars for Cantonese food, so it must be good, and it has a view. I must say I haven’t tried it, but if you’re looking for the best of Cantonese food, Michelin usually doesn’t disappoint.

The Pigeon Restaurant (Lamma Island) –Yep, pigeon. It’s a local favorite and is apparently delicious minced and served in lettuce leaves. I have to admit, this is one of Sonya’s recommendations. I have not had the guts to try it yet!

Lucy’s – Tucked away in Stanley Market, Lucy’s is the go-to ladies lunch spot on the south side of the island. Always fresh, tasty and healthy, Lucy’s is the closest to California dining I have found.

Mozarella Bar – Located in the hip Star Street area of Wan Chai, and one of the few street-level places, the Mozarella Bar reminds me a bit of the Fromagerie off Marylebone High Street in London. Wood common tables, floor to ceiling wine and delicious cheese and charcuterie plates to sample; you can sip a delicious glass of wine and people watch before a great dinner nearby.

Posto Pubblico – I think you’d really like this place. It’s in Soho on Elgin Street, known for restaurants, but at the moment Posto Pubblico is the anchor. Started by a team of two with a vision to bring Italian osteria style dining combined with fresh local ingredients, they offer pizzas and simple Italian food like you like it. I’m thrilled because they have recently begun home delivery of locally grown organic vegetables from their own farm in the new territories. Now I’m enjoying amaranth, choi sum, wild mushrooms and pink dragon fruit picked within hours of arrival on my counter.

Drink -Most of the hotels have great bars with views and quiet ambiance, but if you’re looking to venture out on the town, here are a few recommendations. Again, some local adventure if you’re up for it and some reminiscent of the Sunset Boulevard scene.

Sevva – there’s no bigger (or better) terrace in the city. It is the happy hour place to see and be seen by Hong Kong’s finance crowd. It’s the place to be on a clear night in the city. If you fancy dessert, the Sevvaa crunch cake is out of this world!

Sugar – Tucked away in off-the-beaten-path neighborhood of Taikoo Shing on the 32nd floor of Hong Kong’s EAST hotel, Sugar’s huge outdoor patio, bar and lounge is the club-du-jour.

Dragon-I – for dinner, drinks or late-night…Dragon-I has been the HK hot-spot for the cool-crowd for years. It’s a bit disco style and has huge cages of live birds on the patio. Apparently the scene is completely different depending on what time of day you’re there. They also have an all-you-can-eat dim sum brunch that’s a favorite among the lunching set.

Alfie’s Bar – the upstairs of the Alfred Dunhill store – ”suitably” cool for after-work drinks RACKS – the best billiards/bar in town. Book your table in advance….it gets busy.

The Pawn – Located in Wan Chai, The Pawn is a colonial-era institution with an updated look. Moving fans on the ceiling, you can sit on the small second-story patio and watch the street trams go by, picturing a Hong Kong of a few decades ago.

Feather Boa – it’s what old “speak-easies” used to be like. Dark, small and hard to find, it’s a great late-night drinking-spot with fantastic chocolate martinis! This place is a trip and the grouchy yet efficient female bar tenders keep the place in order.

Do — Most tourists don’t get beyond the Star Ferry and the Peak Tram, both fabulous introductions to Hong Kong, but not the only thing in town. With a little bit of research and some creativity, Hong Kong is so much more than shopping and food.

Hiking – most people don’t’ know that Hong Kong Island is more than 50% parkland. Yes, that’s green open space, but unfortunately mostly vertical, so a lot of stairs! Only 10-mins from downtown, you can be on a trail that feels a million miles from anywhere. Go over to the Kowloon side/New Territories for some of the most spectacular hikes, beaches and waterfalls, and a few wild-monkeys on the trails!

Water sports – Hong Kong is a city of islands…and that means water. You can do just about every water sport out there. Wake-Boarding is hugely popular along with kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing and surfing. Don a wet suit and grab a board and head to Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong’s version of Topanga Canyon, complete with a surf shack that serves pancakes, breakfast burritos and steaming cups of coffee for those early morning surfs. I can almost transport myself back to Malibu!

Junking – A junk is an old antique Chinese fishing boat that has been remodeled for leisure adventures and can be rented out for the day. It’s an amazing way to get out on the water and see parts of HK you would never be able to see on land. You can also hire a speedboat to come along for all the water sports mentioned above!

Helicopter Ride of the City – organized through the Peninsula Hotel, there’s no better way to see this town of contrasts; from stunning parkland, to Disneyland. From gleaming sky-scrapers to crystal white beaches, you can see it all from the sky in less than an hour.

Horse Racing – No visit to HK is complete without a day at the races in Happy Valley. Horse-racing (more specifically gambling on horse races) is a favorite HK past-time. I am told that more money is bet in a single race-day in HK then all the casinos in Vegas.

Foot Massage – No visit to Hong Kong is complete without taking advantage of the opportunity to try out a little reflexology treatment on those feet. There seem to be foot massage places on every corner, but one in particular I can recommend is called FOOT. It’s located on Queen’s Road Central just minutes from IFC and it combines a soothing zen-like environment with a relaxing foot massage for as long as you want.

Shop — I have to admit, this is an area I have not mastered in HK. I usually wait until I return to the U.S. on a visit to do my shopping, but there are a few places I know and go in a pinch.

Ap Lei Chau, Horizon Plaza — 27 floors of furniture, clothes, home goods and specialty culinary stores, Horizon Plaza has become a one stop shop. When I first arrived in HK 4 years ago I was warned to take my own water bottle, snacks and toilet paper when I went, but it has since been renovated and upgraded and is a nice experience.

Pacific Place, Times Square, Landmark, Harbour City & IFC — Somewhat indistinguishable, these are the high-end shopping malls that combine luxury shopping and gourmet food, coffee and more. They are shopping experiences, usually decorated to the hilt, especially at the holidays. The prices go up with the floors at some of them.

Lane Crawford — This reminds me of Fred Segal in Santa Monica. A gallery of hip boutiques divided by designer. When I want something special, I might splurge here.

Sonjia Norman – hidden down an adorable old alley, her store is one-of-a-kind. In a city that is label-obsessed this is a rare-treat. You won’t find designs like this anywhere else in HK, and best of all, everyone else on the street won’t be wearing it!

Faux – there’s nothing fake about Faux Home-wear. It’s amazingly original. At their show-room, lunch-time is a proper sit-down affair. If you happen to be there then expect to stay for a few hours. They take dining as seriously as they take designing!

Sofia Suarez – the most in-the-know private shopper you could ever want. She grew up here and knows …well…everything! Clothes, Ming-ceramics, kitchy Chinese art…etc. she’s gorgeous, stylish and will have you fully-outfitted in Hong Kong’s finest in record time.

The Right Kind of Like

I wrote this a few years ago, sent it to some friends, but mostly it sat on my computer.  Recently, at a gathering of graduate school friends, I told this story and a woman who works with military wives told me that she was going to take my suggestion and use it.  I decided that if it was useful for her, maybe others would find it useful too.  Let me know what you think:

One afternoon I was invited to lunch at a friend’s house.  She is married to a rather high profile and somewhat intimidating man I had never met.  Her warning that I should not be offended, as he probably wouldn’t say much to me didn’t do anything to alleviate my discomfort at the thought of making small talk with him over lunch.  So I was surprised when he sat down at the table in his backyard, turned to me and asked,

“So, what do you LIKE to do?”

With the addition of that one simple word, “LIKE” — a word I’m usually trying to erase from my family’s California born and bred vocabulary — he so chivalrously lay down his cloak, welcoming me to step daintily across that first impression hurdle.  With that one word the possibilities were opened and her husband got a real answer.

“Well,” I gulped.  I decided to go for it.

“I like to take my children on cultural adventures near our adopted home in Hong Kong.  I like to cook and have friends over to enjoy healthy meals with me.  I like to run, hike, paddle board and do yoga.  I like to write, but I’m not as good at it as I’d like.  I like to organize events, watch TED Talks, drive in Hong Kong, and read about neuroplasticity, compassion and mindfulness.”

“What kind of yoga do you do?  Because your arms are very fit,” he replied.  I liked that question too.

With that one word, he spared me that awful other question that stay-at-home moms have not yet figured out how to answer with the force and authority we used to be able to muster when we “really worked.” Had he asked me, “What do you do?” my answer would have been an apologetic jumble of volunteer parent advisory groups, ad hoc writing gigs, glorified travel agent and bus driver for my family, that trailed off with, “You, know, that kind of stuff.” Just think for a moment how much better his question is, and what a difference it could make if we all added “LIKE” to our vocabulary in the right places.

And, it was a good thing he had built up some good will with that question, because I had a bit more trouble answering his next one.

“Are all bankers assholes?” he asked.

“Well,” I gulped.