Hong Kong isn’t what it used to be. Maybe that’s a good thing.
No-one taxi surfs in Hong Kong these days. The old practice of riding home from night clubs on the roof of a taxi has disappeared along with British governors in feathered hats and the old white-knuckle airport landing.
Well over a decade has passed since this city of a thousand shopping malls was returned to China and Hong Kong has morphed into a stylish international metropolis – urbane, confident and clean.
Hong Kong’s world class hotels are a barometer of the city’s new passion for all things stylish. The InterContinental Hotel, which commands probably the best harbour views, features Nobu and Alain Ducasse’s Spoon along with a Sunday champagne brunch that is virtually de rigeur. On Hong Kong Island, at the Four Seasons Hotel, the food at Caprice is as good as you’ll find in Paris. And the city’s first boutique hotel, the Philippe Starck designed JIA, has developed a dedicated following as has the new Landmark Mandarin Oriental. With all the focus on international food and design it’s easy to forget you’re in China. And that would be a shame. Hong Kong is the best place to sample the country’s diverse cuisines.
It’s difficult to think of a more chic place to indulge in Chinese food than the China Club. Wangle a table at this members’ only restaurant through your concierge or American Express and enter the glamorous world of old Shanghai. The restaurant is located in the Old Bank of China Building, which was a towering 17 storey skyscraper in its day. Now it is a quaint little relic of history, dwarfed by the neighbouring towers of steel and glass. The restaurant serves the best of China’s regional specialties, including a tasty selection of dim sum, set amongst a fantastic collection of Chinese contemporary art. Before you leave, visit the library and the outdoor balcony with its lovely view of the harbour.
For a taste of Hong Kong, check out Counterfeit Love – a heady mix of ambition, romance and deadlines.
If you can’t make it to Beijing, the Peking Garden is the next best option for a taste of the Chinese capital’s cuisine. This long time favourite with locals and visitors-in-the-know is tucked discreetly in the basement of Alexandra House and reputedly has the best Peking duck in Hong Kong. The nearby Yung Kee restaurant in Wellington Street has also stood the test of time and serves the best of Cantonese cuisine.
To escape the crowds and highrise, head to one of the fishing villages on Lamma Island. The string of seafood restaurants is just a short ferry trip from Hong Kong Island but offers a dramatic change of pace. The restaurants are perched on the edge of the harbour and serve authentic Cantonese cuisine in a casual setting. The view has been impaired by the thick smog from the factories of the Pearl River delta, China’s most noxious influence on Hong Kong. But the restaurants remain a popular destination for day trippers.
Once the sun goes down, Hong Kong really gets going. A laser show lights up the skyline, beams of light dance off the impossibly tall 2IFC building and the other monstrous pillars of finance. The big hotels on the Kowloon peninsular are all good places to enjoy the view. My shopping companions and I are keen to check out the Philippe Starck designed bar at the Peninsular Hotel. We ascend the building in what looks like the inside of a Darrell Lea chocolate to Felix. The bar is suspended like a space ship among the lights, an impressive sight but an awkward space to actually use. I find myself perched precariously on a narrow bench with my back to the view. And I’m sorry I didn’t just enjoy a drink in the Peninsular lobby lounge with its gilded ceilings and walls soaked with the stories of old Hong Kong hands.
Lan Kwai Fong, the collection of lanes behind Central remains the number one night spot for locals and tourists. It’s Halloween when I visit and the whole area has been transformed into a street party. Crowds are spilling out of bars, a pipe band marches up a steep laneway, incongruously followed by costumed trick or treaters. At Schnubart schnapps are being served by the tray and a great cover band is playing at Insomnia.
We find our way into the oh so cool Kee Club, where the music is laid back and the crowd is beautiful. The members’ club is an oasis of style and calm after the throngs of Lan Kwai Fong and part of a growing list of chic late night sanctuaries. Dragon-I, with its mix of local and international celebrities, is another hot spot for late night drinks. On busy nights your chances of getting in are improved if you look like a movie star.
Nostalgia takes me out of these swanky design havens to Joe Bananas in Wan Chai. Many years ago, one of my colleagues married the manager and held her reception here. But some things are best consigned to history. It’s very late and the place is seedier than I remember. The music is the worst of the 80’s and the crowd is down there with it.
When we finally decide that it’s time that women of a certain age were in bed, I discover another new side to Hong Kong – a taxi driver with a sense of humour. Banter with a taxi driver was unheard of when I lived here. But maybe drivers have developed a happier disposition since gweilos (foreigner devils) stopped climbing onto their rooves.