I stepped off the plane as I often do, with a hotel booking (courtesy of my husband) and no other plans whatsoever. This time it was after dark and we were in Hong Kong for the first half of our summer vacation.
One of the few things I knew about Hong Kong before I arrived was that it is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. This fact was immediately evident in the soaring collage of brightly lit apartment buildings that led our way into the city. As we drove I remember the shadowy dark mountain range that appeared unexpectedly in the distance and the summer clouds that hung heavily over our destination, taking on an eerie grey glow from the sea of buildings below. As far as airport taxi rides go it was actually quite beautiful. Or maybe I was just really happy to be on vacation.
We stayed at the W Hong Kong in Kowloon. Conveniently located on the metro line and only one stop away from Hong Kong Island, I would highly recommend it to anyone.
In addition to the usual trendy style and amenities of a W Hotel, it has a rooftop pool bar on the 76th floor with an impressive position at the height of Hong Kong’s towering skyline. In my case, it also offered a delightful view of the 50+ Abercrombie & Fitch models (the tall, buff, barely 20-something kind) that happened to be staying at the W that week too! Look closely at the picture above for a glimpse of the statuesque scenery.
So, what do you do when you wake up in a foreign city where you don’t know anyone and have no plans for the next five days? You consult your brand new Luxe City Guide and decide on the best way to eat your way through the city! A friend of ours who grew up in Hong Kong said that the next best thing to his personal guide services is a Luxe City Guide which he gave us as a gift. The entertaining, opinionated guide highlights the most stylish things to do, see and eat in a way that is not only engaging, but often makes you laugh out loud. I recommend that you don’t travel anywhere without one.
We spent the first lazy morning enjoying the sights from our hotel room and the rest of our trip wandering aimlessly around Hong Kong between meals.
The first place on our restaurant wish list was the original Tim Ho Wan’s in Mongkok which is famous for its affordable, Michelin star quality dim sum. The luxe guide warned that there are ridiculously long queues and one should avoid lunch hour so of course, we went there just in time for lunch. Lesson learned. There were so many people in line that the scary, non-English speaking Chinese lady at the door (AKA – The Bouncer), wouldn’t even give us a number because there was no hope of getting into the tiny restaurant until after 4pm. We ended up having dim sum at Lei Garden instead which was delicious.
Dinner that night was at Café Gray Deluxe where we leisurely enjoyed the modern European tasting menu and a bottle of wine. Our meal began with fresh bread served with labneh, olive oil and turkish spices followed by a sweet corn soup topped with crispy parma ham. The highlight of the next course was lentil crusted scallops with creamy orzo followed by perfectly cooked beef tenderloin served with a gritty, potato, corn and mustard mashy thing that was fabulous. Passion fruit soufflé arrived for dessert and just in case we weren’t full enough, our bill came with a bucket of chocolate chunks to enjoy while we lingered over the view of Victoria Harbour. I can’t wait to go back next time I am in Hong Kong!
We spent much of the next day wandering around SoHo (South of Hollywood Road), walking off the effects of our dinner. Etched into the side of the mountain range that frames the city centre on Hong Kong Island, the narrow streets and walkways are steep so it is best to take a taxi to the top of the hill and wander back down. This day my husband wanted to try some authentic Chinese food and assured me he found the perfect place in our guide. I’ve heard stories about what authentic Chinese food entails (chicken feet, fish eyes, pig bladders) so when our journey took us into the depths of what I call China Town, I started to get a bit nervous.
The entrance to Lin Heung Tea House looked safe enough but when we walked into the huge restaurant, I felt everyone’s eyes turn to watch us, the lone Western guests. We were waved to the only table with free space at the back of the room and encouraged to sit down with another family. I hesitated. The table in front of us was littered with globs of food and discarded bones. My husband gave me a “be brave” look so I sat tentatively as they cleared some of the debris. While he contemplated what to do next (Do we get a menu? It probably won’t be in English. How do we know what we are ordering?), I secretly planned my emergency exit. When the waiter brought a dish that looked like hairy, black bat wings for the family next to us, I was out the door and down the street before my husband could catch me. He had strategically failed to tell me that the description in the guide had said “Full-on warts n’ all HK trolley experience”. Eventually, we had excellent dim sum a couple of streets over at a famous (and more expat friendly) tea house called Luk Yu.
The rest of our days were spent exploring the crowded, yet surprisingly clean streets, shopping malls and restaurants in the city. Enjoy an afternoon bottle of wine on the outdoor terrace at Isola, a lovely Italian restaurant by the harbour in IFC mall or watch the clouds drift by while you eat lunch at The Lounge on the 102nd floor of the Ritz Carlton.
Eat dinner at Nan Hoi No. 1 near Nathan Road for yummy Chinese food in a contemporary setting. The honey glazed pork and prawns in bang bang sauce were delicious. And finally, don’t miss taking the historic tram 1300 feet above sea level to The Peak for an almost-vertical ride up the mountain, a dramatic 360 degree view of Hong Kong and some hiking if you have time. There always seemed to be a long queue (and an alarming lack of respect for personal space) so I suggest you go early and buy your tickets in advance.
On our last day, despite an otherwise successful holiday, we couldn’t help thinking about our failed Tim Ho Wan’s attempt. We tried again late that afternoon and were happy to find there was only a small line up. Twenty minutes later The Bouncer called our number and we were in! The door opened to reveal the familiar sounds of a busy restaurant and we entered a room, roughly the size of my bedroom, with about 50 people crammed inside. Tables lined both walls, sometimes three people deep, leaving a narrow walkway down the centre for the waitresses. Placemats were quickly laid, our order was taken, tea was poured and within minutes, our food began to arrive.
Steamed dumplings, vermicelli rolls, spareribs with black bean sauce, pan-fried turnip cake. We eagerly devoured each tasty dish as it arrived. However, the star of the show was the baked bun with BBQ pork. BBQ pork buns are one of my favourites but they are usually steamed. These ones were baked, more like a golden pastry than a bun with a flaky sugar coated crust and a gooey filling of sweet BBQ pork goodness. They were so scrumptious that we ordered another round for dessert. Tim Ho Wan’s mission accomplished!
That evening, having successfully eaten our way through Hong Kong, we boarded a flight to Vietnam for the second half of our summer vacation.