Eclectic Hong Kong

by Kelly Magyarics

May 1, 2019
May 2019

APPROACHING HONG KONG from the air, it can be difficult to appreciate this vibrant metropolis is deemed the world’s most vertical city. But the dichotomy of Tai Mo Shan and Lantau Peak forming a hazy backdrop, sprawling Victoria Harbour separating Hong Kong Island from Kowloon and, yes, those formidable buildings seemingly constructed on top of one another all serve as a metaphor for the city. Here East meets West, traditional commingles with modern sensibility, and Chinese and British history still influence while locals protectively hold onto a decidedly Hong Konger identity.

The city’s economy, originally built on farming and fishing, transformed into that of a financial powerhouse with a bustling commercial port. In 1997, after 156 years of British rule, Hong Kong was turned over to the Chinese government, which guaranteed autonomy for 50 years. Today it’s the world’s fourth-most densely populated region, with 92 percent of residents of Han Chinese descent. While 95 percent of the population speaks Cantonese, 53 percent speaks English.

It’s easier than ever for travelers to get to Hong Kong since Cathay Pacific recently launched non-stop service from Washington Dulles International Airport (its longest route). Once at Hong Kong International Airport, visitors quickly see how effortless it is to use mass transit with an Octopus card, a contactless refillable card valid for all public transportation and accepted at retail shops. And in a most ingenious travel solution, complimentary flight and bag check-in is available in the city for a hands-free return to the airport.

Each of the city’s 18 districts presents its own personality. SoHo (south of Hollywood Road) houses the Mid-Levels Escalators, a network of 18 escalators, three travelators and several footbridges offering a quirky tourist attraction and an easy way to see the neighborhood’s shops and upscale dining as well as a commuting option for 85,000 locals. Wan Chai is home to offices, bars and a thriving arts scene.

Central, Hong Kong’s business, financial and administrative center, features the luxest hotels, restaurants and shopping, including the Mandarin Oriental, the iconic brand’s flagship property boasting unflappably impeccable service. Book the private room at Michelinstarred Mandarin Grill + Bar for a working breakfast overlooking Statue Square Garden. The 2-Michelin-starred Pierre serves progressive French, and 1-Michelin-starred Man Wah specializes in Cantonese cuisine; both are fantastic for lunch meetings, as the 25th-floor location provides unparalleled views of Victoria Harbour. M Bar next door offers a sleek spot for cocktails with tea and infusions with local ingredients.

Hong Kongers generally take five daily meals: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and the late-night supper, siu yeh. Dining etiquette rules are strictly followed, said Jenny Johnston, director of marketing communications, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. Always arrive at least 10 minutes ahead of your invited guests and seat them on your right. Never use (even unused) cutlery to share food; keep chopsticks on their holder; pour tea for your guest first; and tap your index and middle fingers together on the table when someone pours tea for you, which means “thank you.” Avoid ordering four courses, as this number sounds similar to the word for death. (Hotels often avoid designating a fourth floor, too.) Finally, when giving out a business card, pass it flat with both hands; receive one in the same manner.

121BC pasta dish

121BC pasta dish © 121BC

The wine scene here has really burgeoned since 2008 when the city eliminated duties; today Central is dotted with wine bars that make for fitting post-workday gatherings. Cristobal Huneeus, owner of La Cabane Bistro and Cellar, is a proponent of natural wines that see minimal manipulation. Nearby 121BC focuses on Italian regions and varietals and an ever-changing menu of dishes like spaghetti sea urchin with samphire and salmon roe. To impress savvy oenophiles, head to James Suckling Wine Central, where the menu offers 300 wines by the glass and 500 by the bottle, all awarded at least 90 points by the renowned wine critic.

For crafty cocktails in a swanky space, take your client to The Woods. (The eight stools at the experimental bar are reservation-only, while the small tables are first-come, first-served.) Founder Tori Chow riffs on the negroni by infusing gin with beetroot and uses pickle brine and mustard seeds in her savory martini.

There is much more to Hong Kong than the Central District. Although only a 20-minute MTR ride away, the Southside feels a world away. Funky boutique Ovolo Southside Hotel pumps out a 1980s soundtrack and includes comfortable workspaces and common areas for collaborative meetings, and Kömune’s rooftop lounge’s happy hour dishes out flatbreads and craft beers. The beach and bars at Repulse Bay lie only 15 minutes away if a sunny day stirs the inspiration to play hooky.

If you and your colleagues need a little break from dim sum and congee, Te Quiero Mucho in nearby Sheung Wan serves tacos, tostadas and tequila from Guadalajara-native chef José Alfonso Rodriguez and a casual vibe to unwind.

Of course, with that impressive harbor never far out of sight, a trip across is a must. Central might be the city’s hub, but Kowloon has the better view. The journey takes just 10 minutes or so on the Star Ferry, and a short walk along the water leads to a property with arguably the most thrilling vista. The owners of The InterContinental Hong Kong actually purchased land underneath the water to be assured the hotel would always retain that backdrop. The 2-Michelin-starred Yan Toh Heen recently relocated to a harborview venue (the name, after all, means “appreciate the picture”) with elegant jade accents, Cantonese cuisine and a selection of Chinese wine. Alain Ducasse and Nobu Matsuhisa also have concepts, and the lobby bar feels like it’s actually on the water, serving cocktails that embrace heritage with local ingredients, historical anecdotes from British and Chinese rule and pop culture. Peruse the stories, order a drink and soak in the skyline: This is Hong Kong.

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