From Michelin-starred fine-diners with harbour views to hole-in-the-wall joints, all tastes are catered for in Hong Kong. But when restaurants close, move, open and transform so frequently, it can be hard to keep up. Chris Wright reveals the best spots to eat in a city that never stops.
Once a British gastropub, The Pawn in Wan Chai was revamped two years ago under English chef Tom Aikens. Inhabiting two floors of a colonial-era building – formerly Woo Cheong Pawn Shop – it now combines a bar and high-end restaurant. Ask to see the roof garden, where some of the ingredients are grown. The Pawn just about hangs onto its British comfort-food origins with staples such as sticky toffee pudding and a gourmet beef burger – but the fact that the burger can be ordered with lobster (and boasts three kinds of onions) tells you something about its new direction. On a hot day, book a balcony table and enjoy the dings of the trams below.
62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai
SEE ALSO: An Insider’s Guide to Hong Kong
Mandarin Grill + Bar
The word “institution” gets overused but the Mandarin Grill + Bar – enjoying its sixth year with a Michelin star under executive chef Robin Zavou – deserves the appellation in spades. It doesn’t boast sweeping harbour views, however, its low-slung site overlooking Statue Square near the HSBC building has its own charm, particularly given the Terence Conran-designed interior with a ceiling that looks as if it’s been moulded out of seashells. The Grill + Bar is where you go to splash out. Whether it’s for a sober business meeting or to mark the end of an all-nighter, breakfasts are as resplendent as dinner. You pay top dollar here but get the finest ingredients, such as Welsh Rhug Estate organic lamb and nine kinds of French, Irish, American and Canadian oysters. Amber, which is located in The Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel next door, has two Michelin stars and gets higher rankings in the world’s best restaurant write-ups but, for me, there’s nothing quite like the Grill.
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road, Central
22 Ships by chef Jason Atherton (of Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social in London) is a high-end tapas place on one of Wan Chai’s quieter streets. It’s deliberately busy: it holds 35 and that’s pretty tight. There are no reservations except for weekday lunch and your entire group has to be there before you can take your table. It has counter seating exposed to the street at the front. A long wait is no fun but the food is terrific, with reasonable portion sizes for a tapas bar. Highlights include chargrilled Ibérico pork, foie gras burgers, scallop ceviche, salt cod brandade and goat’s cheese ice-cream. 22ships.hk
22 Ship Street, Wan Chai
8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana
Back in the day, the finest Italian restaurant in Hong Kong was Toscana at the old Ritz-Carlton. After the building was demolished, executive chef Umberto Bombana headed to 8½ Otto e Mezzo, the only Italian restaurant outside Italy to have received three Michelin stars. Not surprisingly, he has hung a portrait of himself on the back wall. You don’t come here for views but for wonderful food. Specialties include Tajima short rib, cavatelli shellfish ragù, lobster salad and, when in season, white truffle soup – along with the best Italian wine list in town. It’s expensive, for sure, but not eye-wateringly so given the pedigree.
Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central
Hong Kong abounds with good Japanese food, like that at Wagyu Kaiseki Den and Ippoh Tempura, but Koko is a newer offering. Wyndham Street runs off the end of SoHo’s Hollywood Road and the restaurant – backed by Japanese footballer Hidetoshi Nakata and Kee private members’ club – occupies an open terrace overlooking Central Police Station. Koko belongs to the contemporary school of izakaya cuisine. Signature dishes include red mullet escabeche (a garlic-and-pepper-laced starter that doesn’t so much melt in the mouth as explode) and rib eye with pea shoots and shiso miso sauce. Western desserts follow and, naturally, there’s a wide range of wonderfully lethal sakés as well as saké cocktails, such as the must-try Ume Sour.
77 Wyndham Street, Central
PMQ stands for Police Married Quarters, which is what the building was before being revamped into a hipster-ish combination of creatives, fintechs and establishments like Sohofama. The huge Lego-like model of Bruce Lee, mid-kick, at the entrance helps you get the picture. Sohofama aims to mix urban farming (there’s a garden at the back, beyond the heavy wooden picnic benches, where ingredients are grown) with what it calls “comfort Chinese cuisine”, meaning traditional Chinese dishes with a twist. Examples include 24-hour drunken organic egg (not as scary as it sounds), fried tiger prawns with salted egg yolk, tea-smoked duck and locally caught mud crab. No MSG – unusual in Hong Kong Chinese restaurants.
Block A, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central
Walking through the ornate stone arch into Hutong, you’re greeted with a fine harbour view. The atmosphere is really something; hutong means small street or alleyway and the restaurant is set up with birdcages, lanterns and wooden doorways to look the part. While Hong Kong’s native food is Cantonese, this restaurant takes a more regional – and particularly Sichuan – view. Its renowned crisp soft-shell crab, for instance, is cooked with dried Sichuan peppers and served in an ornate bamboo basket that’s worth the order in its own right. Other favourites include deboned lamb ribs, crabmeat and turnip rolls, and scallops with pomelo shreds. Sunday brunch features free-flowing Champagne.
1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
If Hutong gives you a taste of Sichuan, Chilli Fagara gives you the whole fiery experience. As it says, “Our Sichuan specialities are for the daring palate.” It uses the ma la tang concept: ma means numbing and la means burning. (Knowing the distinction will serve you well when ordering.) The deep-red accent walls befit your temperature but it’s not really an exercise in bravery. This Michelin-recommended restaurant, which has twice been awarded a star, has elevated humble fried rice to new levels. Another great option is ma po tofu covered in a peppercorn chilli sauce.
7 Old Bailey Street, SoHo
Ho Lee Fook
Once you get past the chucklesome name – it means “good fortune for your mouth” in Cantonese (truly, the Cantonese love a pun like no other) – Ho Lee Fook is a place of the highest quality. Taiwanese chef Jowett Yu, who made his name at Tetsuya’s in Sydney before coming to Hong Kong, aspires to create a vibe reminiscent of late-night Chinatown in New York in the ’60s. Forget Cantopop; you’ll rock out to The Rolling Stones and The Who and the walls are covered in comic-book art. For many, the rule of thumb for judging any Chinese establishment is the quality of its dumplings and the ones here are a tour de force. The emphasis is on simplicity done well rather than reinventing the wheel. The signature dish is Wagyu short ribs in a soy glaze. Oddly, the open kitchen is on the ground floor and the restaurant is in the basement. Somehow it works.
1-5 Elgin Street, Central
High-end Chinese restaurants in Central are a shootout between Mott 32, Duddell’s and roast-goose legend Yung Kee but we opt for the first for its newer and fresher décor and fabulous Peking duck. Mott 32 – named after the address of New York’s first Chinese convenience store – says it makes the best dim sum in town and while that’s a hotly contested claim, theirs is up there with the finest. The restaurant occupies a cavernous space in the basement of the Standard Chartered Bank building and a lot of effort has gone into its appearance: calligraphy on the walls, wine fridges that look like Chinese herb cabinets, ancient vases and the much-prized air-drying duck fridge (preparation is everything when it comes to Peking duck, apparently). mott32.com
￼Standard Chartered Bank building, 4-4a Des Voeux Road, Central
Countless fine Indian restaurants are hidden away above Hollywood Road and the surrounding streets but Jashan can make a decent claim to be the best of them. The lifts you take to get into Jashan, like many counterparts, are shoddy to the point of instilling slight nervousness. But once you’re inside the restaurant, you’ll find deep sofas, burnished-red walls and friendly staff. The menu offers the usual standards done exceptionally well (plus they deliver). Order the tandoori lamb shank.
Amber Lodge, 23 Hollywood Road, Central
This Vietnamese place is unpromisingly located on the busy corner where Lyndhurst Terrace meets Hollywood Road and was covered in bamboo scaffolding on my last visit. Agreeably quirky, it offers fine and reasonably priced noodle-and-broth dishes. Two of its most popular offerings are the “godfather of pho” combo and the “not-so-typical pho”. The latter is the more southern style of pho – the broth is darker and the noodles are chunkier. Whatever its provenance, it tastes mighty fine.
58 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central; +852 2803 1938
These are noodles with heritage. Founder Mak Woon Chi pitched up in Hong Kong during World War II after serving his famed wonton noodles to Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Chinese Nationalist government (before Mao’s People’s Republic of China). Starting out as an open-air street stall, Mak’s has grown to become a chain of six restaurants across Hong Kong and one in Singapore. However, it’s the Wellington Street original that has made Mak’s the byword for wonton perfection. Don’t expect five-star ambience: it’s an ordinary-looking shopfront with unforgiving benches but you’ll get resplendent wonton noodles.
77 Wellington Street, Central; +852 2854 3810
The Alchemist Café Bistro
On a fairly nondescript road near Kowloon’s Prince Edward MTR Station, it doesn’t look much from the outside but within is a colourful and lively traveller-themed bistro. Flags of many nations and shelves full of books adorn the walls. Time it right and you’ll get cracking live music, too. The food is mainly Western, which can be a mixed experience in Hong Kong. In truth, people tend to rave about the coffee and the waffles more than the mains. They don’t take reservations so sometimes there’s a queue.
27-29 Poplar Street, Kowloon; +852 2779 0559
Café Gray bar
Great harbour views on the Hong Kong side can be enjoyed from the popular Café Gray Bar and restaurant. It’s run by celebrated New York chef Gray Kunz, whose menu is a mix of European and Asian influences. It also serves a luxurious brunch.
The Upper House, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty
It’s on the south side of Hong Kong Island but The Ocean is more than worth the journey for its lovely sea views through floor-to-ceiling windows and its excellent sustainable seafood menu, which includes slow-cooked abalone and smoked scallops. Argentinian executive chef Agustin Balbi was named the Best New Chef in 2016 by Hong Kong Tatler. À la carte is available but the eight-course dégustation is the signature attraction.
The Pulse, 28 Beach Road, Repulse Bay
Housed in the same building as Hutong, Aqua boasts an insane view (generally, the best views of the harbour are from the Kowloon side, as you can see Hong Kong Island’s towers and The Peak). Enjoy the panorama while eating unique Italian-Japanese fusion. In fact, there are two separate menus and you can stick with one cuisine or dip into both. If you can’t tear yourself away from the view, stay for a drink at the bar, which is open until 2am.
1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
You can’t get much higher than this. When you score a table at Tosca, you’re on the 102nd floor of the International Commerce Centre, knowing that Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank are beneath your feet. Obviously, the view is absurdly good and, better still, Tosca does a great job of making the venue feel less like a tourist attraction and something more Tuscan and Romanesque, with high ceilings and stately chandeliers. Try the sea tiramisu.
Ritz-Carlton, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon
Wildfire Pizzabar & Grill
Cafe Deco was the go-to for breathtaking views and decent food on The Peak until it closed its doors in July after 20-odd years. The mantle has passed to Wildfire, whose window seats offer panoramic views of Victoria Harbour and the skyscrapers that flank it. The menu is not haute cuisine but it’s more than decent, with lobster risotto, Wagyu tomahawk steak and no end of pizzas. There’s also a good-value lunch menu with a buffet that includes smoked salmon and mussels. The restaurant is in the tower where the Peak Tram pulls in. ￼
The Peak Tower, 128 Peak Road, Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, private kitchens occupy a curious no-man’s-land between fully licensed restaurants and home cooking. They are usually in converted apartments – or even unconverted apartments, the chef’s home – and often take a considerable effort to find. By calling themselves private clubs, they avoid the more onerous licensing requirements for restaurants but they are a unique experience and can offer outstanding food (and usually free corkage, too). Here are some of the best examples.
Quest is at the top end of the concept and the customer will barely notice any difference between this and a regular restaurant. It is perched 28 floors up in a Wan Chai tower block and has a 30-diner main room as well as something of a celebrity chef in Que Vinh Dang, who previously ran private kitchen TBLS. There is a set tasting menu of eight courses, bringing in elements of Dang’s native Vietnam but plenty of other cuisines besides. The menu will evolve but on our visit included a Hamachi sashimi, black cod and pork belly.
28/F, 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai; +852 2554 0888
Da Ping Huo
Da Ping Huo is more typical: no sign, just an address, and then out of the most unlikely surroundings appears a 13-course Sichuan dégustation meal prepared by a husband-and-wife team. Not only that, but when the food’s done, the wife comes out and sings Chinese opera. The menu changes from time to time but typical dishes include fried taro, black fungus with ginger sauce and sesame, chicken and Chinese cabbage soup, ma po tofu and spicy pork belly and peppers.
49 Hollywood Road, Central; +852 2559 1317
The owner of Gitone, artist Terence Lee, believes dining and art should go together. No wonder then that here you dine in a pottery and art studio. In fact, you can have an art class before your meal if you like. The food is Shanghainese.
45 Tai Hong Street, Sai Wan Ho; +852 2527 3448
SEE ALSO: The Foodie’s Guide to Hong Kong