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Monday 8 June 2015

Ten Unmissable Hong Kong Meals

From slurping noodles at gutterside cha cha tengs to nibbling haute cuisine at chandelier be-decked fine dining establishments, if there’s one thing Hong Kong diners have in common, it’s that they’re serious about their food. You may think that feeding the rumbling stomachs of seven million foodies would be enough of a challenge for Hong Kong’s restaurants, but that’s just the half of it. In a city that burns the candle at both ends and then sets fire to the middle too, hungry Hong Kongers expect to be able to sate their appetite wherever, whenever and however they choose. Add to that the fact that approximately a seventh of the population are expats, which makes for an awful lot of homesick tummies to comfort with dishes from their multitude of home countries.

It’s safe to say that trying to pick the top ten places to eat in the city is a near impossible task (but one that nevertheless, every Hong Konger has a strong opinion on). So, while we may not be able to promise that our top ten nosh spots cover all of the very best places to eat in the city, we can guarantee that a meal at any one of these will be a stellar addition to your culinary itinerary.

Tim Ho Wan
If Michelin-starred restaurants put you in mind of penguin-suited waiters and starched white tablecloths, reset your expectations before you visit Tim Ho Wan. To say that the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world looks unassuming is a bit of an understatement. Set in a neighbourhood more known for hardware stores and oil-streaked garages, you may only notice you’ve reached your destination when you spot the queue snaking round the block. Come well before hunger strikes, as a wait of an hour or more is pretty much guaranteed, but dim sum of this caliber is more than worth the wait. Once inside, expect to be seated elbow to elbow with local pensioners, lunchbreaking construction workers and perhaps a tourist or two (Tim Ho Wan’s reputation has always preceded it, but its Michelin accolade has taken things stratospheric). Décor is basic, service is surly and the menu’s a green piece of paper that you score your selections on, just be sure that one of those selections is the iconic Cha Sui Bao. Buttery golden, flaky baked buns that melt in your mouth to give way to a generous splodge of sticky, sweet BBQ pork – little parcels of heaven.

Tim Ho Wan, G/F, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po.

At the opposite end of the scale is Amber. Set your Michelin-starred expectations back to fine wines, foams and emulsions, this two-starred temple to French haute cuisine flawlessly executes multi-course menus of culinary art.   Interiors are modern and understated in warm walnut and bronze; an elegant backdrop against which the food plays the starring role. Culinary Director, Richard Ekkebus describes his menu as classic French cooking kept light and fresh with an inventive twist. The sort of food that dazzles and amazes, yet allows you to “get up from the table and still be able to dance”. And dancing’s exactly what you’ll want to do as you sample course after course of unspeakable deliciousness from the amuse bouche foie gras lollipops (an Amber signature dish) right through to petit fours almost too beautiful to eat. We said almost…

Amber, 7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central.

Perched at the edge of Soho, this laidback no-reservations Izakaya is the ideal spot for a low key dinner and a couple of seriously strong cocktails. Yardbird’s USP is nose-to-tail chicken yakatori which means that along with the familiar breast and thigh cuts, you can sample more adventurous skewers from tail and knee to heart and gizzard. Polished concrete floors and a stainless steel bartop lend the perma-buzzy space an industrial feel, while the very knowledgeable, uber-cool staff are always happy to have a chat while they shake up a mean Shochu cocktail. 

Yardbird, 33-35 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan.

The New York outpost of American-Italian restaurant, Carbone, is an A-list favourite with the likes of Lady Gaga and Beyonce shimmying to Greenwich Village for a bowl of Carbone’s legendary meatballs and a slice of the pizza-sized veal parm. So it’s hardly a surprise that since it’s opening late last summer, Carbone has been the hottest table in town. With Godfather-esque interiors and a fleet of attentive Captains decked out in maroon velvet tuxedos, the New York export manages to make even a casual lunch feel like a special occasion. Come hungry as portions are generous, and be sure not to skip dessert – the banana flambé, which is cooked up tableside, is not only a culinary spectacle but also quite possibly the most deliciously naughty dessert in the city.

Carbone, 9th Floor, 33 Wyndham Street, Central.

Sushi Shin
For the best sushi outside of Tokyo, nab yourself a reservation at Sushi Shin. Sit at the counter and order Omakase - Japanese for “I’ll leave you to it” and the key to the trio of white uniformed counter-front sushi chefs whipping you up a feast of dishes you’d never know to order. While the décor is standard issue sushi joint - all zen, blonde woods and overly bright lighting – it’s the sublime, ocean-fresh fish and the precision skill of the chefs that the droves of sushi aficionadas flock for.

Sushi Shin, Shop 1-2 Ground Floor Wing Hing Court, 110-114 Tung Lo Wan Road, Tai Hang.

Some like it hot? Chachawan serves it hotter. Wander past the antique stores and temples of Hollywood Road until you reach a giant pair of emerald green sliding doors, behind which is Hong Kong’s hippest Thai restaurant and home of the city’s most fiery, chili-spiked cooking. Chachawan works a strict no reservations policy, but propping up the bar with a cocktail or a Singah Beer is hardly a hardship and gives the chance to take in the restaurants décor – a riot of beautiful Thai murals, vintage floor tiles and a giant poster of a dinosaur cleaning his teeth. Don’t expect Pad Thai and creamy curries though. Chachawan draws on the cuisine of the North-Eastern Issan region of Thailand with a menu focused on charcoal-grilled meats and seafood, as well as plenty of colourful, fragrant salads with that all important spicy kick.

Chachawan, 206 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan.

The Chinnery
In lieu of a time machine to whisk you back to colonial Hong Kong, a dinner at the Chinnery, preceded by a gin & tonic in the Captain’s Bar downstairs, is the next best thing. With a clubby atmosphere and one of the world’s most extensive whiskey libraries (we’re talking a collection of over 100 single malts), little has changed since the days when the Union Jack flew over the harbour and the only method of transport up and down the Peak was a rickshaw. The menu features a host of staunch British favourites from Pork Pies to Arctic Roll with an array of comfort food and the city’s best curries in between.

The Chinnery, 5 Connaught Road, Central.

121 BC
It’s hard to imagine a better start to an evening than sitting perched at the low-lit bar of this petite Soho gem sipping on a Negroni while perusing the array of scrumptiousness chalked on the blackboard menu hanging on the wall – think gnocchi with braised beef cheeks and crispy sage leaves, and ravioli fritti stuffed with homemade buffalo ricotta. Dishes change weekly to make the very most of the best produce available and many breads, pastas and cheeses are made in-house. The menu is fresh, inventive and served in tapas-like portions ideal for sharing. Service is charming and the cheerful staff are always on hand to help pair your food with one of 121 BC’s impressive selection of Italian biodynamic wines.

121 BC, 42-44 Peel Street, Central.

Sitting in the fading rays of a sun-soaked day, cucumber and jalepeno margarita in hand, curled up in the cushion be-decked aquamarine snug of Limewood, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Tulum or the Caribbean or at the very least, Sydney. The menu draws influence from a melting pot of cuisines with a focus on fresh, bold flavours and barbequed meats. The spicy tiger prawn roll and charred corn fritters are the perfect snacks to help soak up those eye-wateringly awesome margaritas, before moving on to BBQ lamb rack with peanut coconut sauce or ginger, orange and pineapple-glazed Hawaiian roasted baby pig leg. Leave a corner of room for dessert though, you haven’t lived until you’ve devoured every last crumb of the house-made churros with salted caramel dipping sauce and coconut ice-cream.

Limewood, Shop 103 & 104, Ground Floor, The Pulse, 28 Beach Road, Repulse Bay.

Yung Kee
No culinary tour of Hong Kong is complete without a Cantonese feast of epic proportions served up in a brightly lit dining room to a soundtrack of the clatter of dishes and high-decibel chatter. Safe in the knowledge that Yung Kee has been sating Hong Kongers’ appetites for almost eighty years, you can settle in around your Lazy Susan and let the Cantonese fare flow. The glossy, bronzed roast gooses strung up in the restaurant’s streetside windows, gives diners a preview of the evening’s main event before they’ve even crossed Yung Kee’s threshold. Just one bite of the juicy, succulent bird encased in crisp, honey-glazed, smoky skin and we’ll wager you’ll be booking a return trip back to the city before you’ve pushed your chopsticks together in satisfied defeat.

32-40 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong.

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