Monday, May 04, 2009

Miscellaneous Food: Hong Kong - a 3-Day Itinerary

I am always asked about HK itenaries and I prepared this one for some colleagues, so I thought I'd post it here as well. This is an extremely biased 3 day itenary based on what I would do, eat and see. Enjoy!

HK: Day 1
Arrive in HK and take the high-speed Airport express into HK Island, since I use the MTR extensively, I always find it worthwhile to buy a stored value Octopus card bundled together with my Airport express train ticket. For shopping and eating purposes, I find it easier to stay on HK Island as it more compact and accessible. Some of the lovely hotels in HK are the imitable Four Seasons, with it's beautiful bouquets of lily and gardenias and tastefully large rooms, the hip Hotel LKF by Rhombus and the boutique JIA hotel, designed by Philippe Stark.

For the more cost-concious, there are good deals to be had in HK, such as the Hotel Lan Kwai Fong (not to be confused with the former), a tiny but newly and keenly-decorated hotel at the brilliantly central Wellington Street. Double rooms used to be available here for as low as $120SGD a night but after they won the best boutique hotel in Asia award, I'm sure they've gone up. There are other good rates to be had in Central, namely at Jen Hotel ( $140SGD at Queen's Road West and the Ramada Hong Kong $130SGD at Des Veoux Road but other cheaper budget options to check out would be the L Hotel in Tin Hau, which is nearer to the city than similarly cheap hotels in Cyberport.

After checking into the hotel, spend the day eating and shopping at Central. Almost the entire of Central, in a tribute to the MTR's extensive access, is connected by underground or inter-building passages. Start your browsing at IFC where the quality of shops and gourmet produce at City Super definitely trumps anything we have in Singapore. Walk to Landmark to ogle at items you can't buy- check out the Valextra store, the Miu Miu store, the Aveda store, the NARS boutique and the DVF boutique, all carrying lines largely unavailable in Singapore.

Walk out onto Pedder Street and visit the Club Monaco flagship, the Bathing Ape flagship and the On Pedder flagship, all pretty much in a row, walking your your way toward D'Aguilar street. If you are lucky enough to come during sale season, the sales in HK go down to 80% off regularly, unlike the 15% that Singapore's retail seems to understand as a 'sale'.

As you approach D'Aguilar/Pedder/LiYuen Street entrances of the Central MTR, this is where the real shopping begins. Next to Shanghai Tang, you will find an opening for Pedder Building, a 7 story mecca of warehouse and outlet merchandise. Ignore the security guard and take one of the lifts to the 1st floor, where you will find a store that sells Armani suits with their tags cut- these retail for $200SGD and they are some of the best suits you can buy, soft yet supple and perfect for Asian women. They also sell ad-hoc jacket tops, pants and skirts for as low as 99HKD/20SGD. On their racks you will also find, if you have sharp eyes because all the tags will have been cut, some luxe dresses- my friends have picked up Missoni, DVF and Catherine Maledrino dresses here for $100SGD. Other stores on this level sell cashmere cardigans, on level 2, there are stores that sell Banana Republic merchandise, then on the level 3 there is Pantry Magic and Bumps to Babes children's merchandise. On some of the higher levels, there are two jackpots- a two-storey shop that is packed full of BCBG/Hugo Boss/Chloe dresses for $100SGD and another more expensive store that a beautiful collection of branded outfits, curiously arranged by colour!

Exiting the building, stop at the back of Shanghai Tang to appreciate their cheongsum tailors at work. These are where some of the most expensive and innovative cheong sums in HK are made and you can run your hand over the bolts of heavily embroidered lace, tulle and chiffon, awaiting their wedding turn.

From here you have two options, walk up the hill to Wellington Street and you will be at Yung Kee in time for a roast goose lunch and Kee Wah Bakery is right next door to buy Cantonese biscuit snacks and gifts. Or walk down the hill to Queen Street, where you will come to the giant 3 storey H&M. If you walk up to Wellington, try to do so along the cross-streets of Li Yuen East or one of the sharply-pitched streets, where I am always amused by the tourists groaning their way up the cobblestone, the Halloween stalls lining the road catering to expat LKF madness and the little tailor shacks which retail the most innovative cheongsum buttons, lace, chinese fans, tassles and trinkets.

Along Wellington Street, stop in for a bowl of wanton noodles and dumplings as big as your palm at Tsim Chai Kee, for HKD15. It is opposite Mak's Noodles but please don't get cheated there, the quality is much superior at Tsim Chai Kee. Opposite the store, there is a shack with good fresh orange juice and another one with interesting bead necklaces. Continue down Wellington Street and at the base of Cochrane Street, make an appointment with Happy Foot Massage. They are regularly called to the Peak by the who's who of HK society, so they are really good and after a hard day, you will need a good acupressure massage (about SGD$50 for an hour, tip $20HKD).

From here, you can go up Cochrane Street where there are two good food stalls, one on the right, hidden by the trolley shacks, selling the most incredible HK milk tea and XTC gelato for the best scoop in HK (try their vanilla bean which is chock-full of fresh Madagascan specks). You can also continue up Lyndhurst Terrace to Chris Patten's egg tarts, stand on the corner and burn your lips on these still wobbly custards.

After snacking, walk to the top of Lyndhurst Terrace and visit the creative GOD homeware/clothing store that specialises in HK-savvy products. Then turn right and walk along Hollywood Street visiting all the comtemporary and modern Chinese art and antique galleries as you go. I have spent an entire afternoon here and thank God they are so expensive that it is impossible to do any damage. Along Hollywood Street, you will eventually come to Expat Centrale where you will find the achingly laid-back cafes (not pubs, mind you, pubs are in Wanchai) and eateries of the Press Room (similar to our PS Cafe but food is better), Wagyu (set up by a bunch of Australians, good to know they are colonising HK as much as Singapore) and Mint.

If you really want to, ride the Escalator (I find this a giant waste of time but different strokes for different folks!) and peer into people's apartments or continue into Sheung Wan to the Western Market area (a quaint little colonial Dutch house cum textile market) and go to Honeymoon Desserts for some of the best local cold-fruit-and-hot-bean desserts

Start back to the hotel to put down your shopping, wash up and dress for dinner. Being the first day, there might be excitement enough to go out big for the night and there's no place for fancy like Hong Kong.

Some of the posh eateries to consider would definitely be Nobu at the Intercontinental in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST- forget about the crappy and hardly visible laser light show but take time to walk out onto the groyne at the TST pier, especially if the waves are dark and stormy), Hutong at One Peking Road in TST, or if you're not keen to go far, M on the Fringe in Central is a cosy little gem of a restaurant at the top of a squat brick tower. There are many, so many other posh places in HK, after all every high-end culinary name is represented there. To be honest, for most part it's a feast for the eyes and a no-go on the wallet I'm afraid. In terms of food, you are best placed at Nobu or M on the Fringe but I will say that Hutong has the most beautiful and evocative restaurant decor. Remember though, never never take a car across from HK Island to TST unless it's the middle of the night, the train ride is 10 minutes underwater, a taxi stuck on the bridge can take an hour.

After dinner, head to the Lan Kwai Fong bar street for drinks at FINDS and clubbing afterward- the proximity allows you to hit up as many as 5 clubs in a night, including Drop, Prive and the iconic Dragon-i where you might come face to face with many celebrities or Zhang Ziyi in her pre-Vivo days. A lot of the young HK expats will hit the clubs several nights a week so chances are you will probably find what you're looking for. If you are too old, like me, then you could try a drink-with-a-view at Felix at the princey Peninsula, Zuma, the Silk Road-esque Water Margin or my personal favourite, Feather Boa, a little tucked-away bar in Soho, decorated to look like a Victorean lounge. Part camp, part bordello and with a seriously watchable crowd, it serves the most delectable chocolate martinis and strawberry daiquiries.

It sounds like a lot but look at it this way, you can do all of that today and never have stepped food outside a 3km sq area if you choose the dinner retaurant in Central. Welcome to HK!

Shanghai Tang
12 Pedder Street
Pedder Building, Central
Mon-Sun 11am-7pm

Tsim Chai Kee
98 Wellington Street
G/F Jade Centre, Central
9am to 8pm daily

Happy Foot Massage (chain)
11/F Jade Centre
98-102 Wellington St, Central
Opened till 12 midnight daily

XTC Gelato (chain)
G/F, Shop B, 45 Cochrane Street, Soho

Chris Patten's Egg Tarts/Tai Cheung Bakery
32 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central

The Press Room
108 Hollywood Road, Central
Tel: 852 2525 3444

M on the Fringe
2 Lower Albert Road, Central

Honeymoon Dessert (chain)
Store 4-8, G/F Western Market, Sheung Wan

Feather Boa
38 Staunton Street, Soho

HK: Day 2
If you wake up early and not confused and hungover (the more realistic HK experience actually, I think), one of my favourite things to do in the morning is take the touristy tram up to the Peak, enjoy the misty view in the relative quiet of the early morning and then run back down to get some exercise and the nighttime excesses out of your system.

My local friends generally look at me like I'm mad when I say things like that (and no, I don't karoke so don't expect those kind of tips from me) but downhill, it's not that tough a run.

When you are through with the morning ritual, head to Admiralty and take a look around the Pacific Place complex or skip it completely for two shops.

The first, from the MTR's exit A is at Admiralty Center Tower 1 and is a customized shoe shop. There are two stores on the 1st floor, a cheaper one called Edwina and a more expensive one known as Lili or Alan Chan.

Wall to wall of Christian Louboutin-like red soles and beautiful stiching, exotic skins, buttery soft calf leathers in every colour of the rainbow- even if you are not intending to purchase anything, it's quite a sight. The shoe makers here will take an imprint of your foot and I would suggest, if you have the restraint, that you don't get shoes here becuase after a customized shoe that only fits your foot, every other shoe you own will feel uncomfortable!

The other shops in this complex are also interesting, it has a bit of a reputation of being a discount complex, so many stores offer merchandise that you see island-wide but here, they are on a particularly hefty discount.

The second store is at Exit B of the Admiralty MTR, in Far East Corporation building, on the 9th floor. This is a store called Acetex, but it is in an office space. Acetax is one of the distributors for Max Mara, Chloe, Stella McCartney, Prada, Bottega and a number of other high-end labels (unlike in Singapore and say, Club 21, European brand owners hardly ever grant exclusive licenses to distributors in HK, this explains why there is more competition and also more of these random distributor wholesale spots) and this office is the space where they pull together a lot of collections at a deep retail discount. The prices are not as low as in the true outlets but the trade-off is that the collections are complete and edited so you're not sifting through any junk.

Today is local food day and the best food is available in the seedy underbelly of Wan Chai and Causeway Bay. The best dim sum is probably found at the Peninsula Hotel, Maxims at the pier and Che's Kitchen in Wan Chai.

After lunch, take a cab from Wan Chai to Ap Lei Chau (WanChai is the nearest place on the island to take a cab there) to spend the afternoon at the outlet stores. There are two places in Ap Lei Chau, one is the famed Space/Prada Outlet, which is a lovely suited up showcase of discounted Prada/Miu Miu/Jil Sander merchandise and the second is the South Horizons Building at Yi Nam Street, which is a 27-storey mecca of warehouse outlets.

I think the building is taller than that but it's irrelevant because 27th floor is Max Mara, 25th is Lane Crawford and 21st is Joyce Warehouse. (Something like that, my memory fails me) Go to Blumarine at 22nd floor because they have new Armani and a Moschino outlet that also has collection of Jimmy Choo shoes for $200SGD.

If you have time, check out the home furnishing and furniture stores that populate the rest of the floors, the Italian wholesale produce/food store on the I believe, 9th floor and the Early Learning Center kid's toys outlet, as well as the baby emporium on the 21st floor.

That should keep you busy up to dinnertime, though note that these complexes are not open on Monday and close at 7pm at night on other days.

Take a cab back to the hotel (beware of traffic stuck at the Aberdeen tunnel should you choose try to get back to HK Island at peak hour) and choose between local food and Japanese food for dinner.

For local food, my favourite Cantonese restaurants are still Yung Kee, the China Club (very different from ours) or Futong Cantonese Restaurant in Wan Chai, which has the most kick-ass Cantonese style food, their soups, stir fried fish and crab roe and braised yellow chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and mushrooms were truly excellent.

For Japanese food, which, in HK is some of the best in Asia, my two favourite places are the hidden, unknown and very affordable Etsu in Tin Hau or the counter of Sushi Immamura in Causeway Bay, which has the quintessential chef-diner atmosphere and some of the most innovative Japanese sushi I've had for a long while.

After dinner, walk around the local shops at Causeway Bay, which really comes to life and bustle in the night, when the pedestrain-only streets are shut off. There are lots of bargains on the street-front shops but also a lot of local brands, like Joy & Peace, Mirabell, Staccato, IT, Izzue, Massina, Zucca. Along Causeway Bay to Paterson Street, there is the giant Sogo, the Island Beverly (which is like Far East Plaza here for local young HK designers), the Fashion Island and Delay No Mall.

The reason I would come to Causeway Bay after outlet shopping is that you will probably realize that the outlets on sale are cheaper than the local shopping not on sale but you may find the taste and trendiness of this stretch irresistable as well!

There is nothing like supper in Hong Kong and my favourite place is Yee Shun Milk Company for double-steamed-skin milk. That sounds quite horrible but the actual product is the most heavenly thing on earth, sweet, soft, cool and refreshing, reminscent of cold milk but a much cleaner, smoother taste. These come in cold, hot or ginger varieties and you can also order the steamed egg (not as heavenly, in my opinion) and the mango or papaya milkshakes. There are many outlets but a good one is in Causeway Bay just outside exit C of the MTR, on Hennesey and Patterson Road.

My brother, more of a street junkie than I, in his time in HK did an exhaustive survey while eating a horrifying amount of his favourite beef brisket noodles, which you can find by searching his old posts in the blog.

HK: Day 3
In the morning, take a hike on Dragon's Back in Shek O country park, so named because the humps of the mountains resemble the scales on a dragon. One of my most treasured gifts from a HK friend is on all the hiking trails in HK, there are so many and they are so beautiful, often winding round the fishing villages or the green Chinese-style mountains.

One of the big benefits of going in winter, is not just that the food tastes better but that the best hiking weather is during this season, which gives you a great chance to explore some of the islands that surround the HK city. It may sound paradoxical that in a city full of eating and shopping, hiking is actually one of my favourite reasons to be in HK.

So far, I've done some mountain hikes, a beach hike across Repulse Bay and a fishing village in Saikung. Do some research and choose one that is suited for your health and fitness and don't forget to bring a cap and water!

For those who aren't interested, other things you could do would be to go to Kowloon and visit the Bird Market and the Flower Market, especially in the mornings. You can take a stroll to see the Jade Market in Kowloon as well. For those with children, you could go to Ocean Park or Disneyland and spend the day there (get ready to elbow rude Chinese children out of line!). For those who have more shopping and some er...counterfeit ambitions, you can take the KCR train and alight at Shenzhen's Luohu station.

If you do go up to TST, there is a wonderful local dim sum place on Canton Road called Happy Garden, which is virtually next door to Sweet Dynasty (88 Canton Road), which is where you can get your fill of HK desserts.

One hidden place in TST is on 17 Carnervon Road, called Excellent Tailor/Fabrics, it's a little store selling bolts of discontinued or retro cloth. When I first went to this place, I almost died, they sold silk scarf cloth that had been woven in Hong Kong (the textile industry in HK has been non-existent for at least 30 year years) and they had flawless reams of rare geometric and chinese prints.

I would use Day 3 to eat at the restaurants that I didn't get to the first two days or visit a local 'cha chan teng' for lunch snacks like thick coconut-spread bread or crispy HK noodles. If you can't, squeeze in the massage that you booked on one of the nights then perhaps after the hike would be a good option.

The last flight to Singapore out of HK departs at 6.30pm and before you leave, you could swing by Yung Kee or the Cafe de Coral at the Airport Terminal to pick up some roast duck rice and milk tea for dinner.

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