Notes on Hong Kong

I lived in Hong Kong for two years, 1992-1993. I get asked about things to do there enough that I've written down my notes. Bear in mind that I've written down things from the perspective of a resident, not a tourist. A tourist probably doesn't want to know about good French restaurants in HK, for example, unless he's just come back from a couple of weeks in mainland China. Also note that in HK, everything changes rapidly. Things come and go. So these notes may be off; they are a 1993 snapshot.
Olin Shivers / shivers at ccs dot neu dot edu



Yung Kee, in Central, is where my Chinese friends went when they wanted to eat out. They are famous for their roast goose.

For fancy Cantonese cooking, the Regent's restaurant, Lai Ching Heen (which is just the name of the hotel in Cantonese), is terrific. Tables by the window have incredible views across the harbor towards HK. The Mandarin, and the Grand Hyatt also have great up-scale Chinese restaurants. The Mandarin's is Man Wah -- ``Mandarin'' in Cantonese; the Hyatt's is One Harbour Road, the address of the restaurant. The Peninsula's Chinese restaurant, Spring Moon, was a disappointment.

By the way, hotels in Hong Kong have a funny role. They serve the local community more than in other locales. Hong Kong's top hotels are world-famous; The Peninsula, the Mandarin, and the Regent regularly show up on ``world's ten best hotels'' lists. Having great restaurants is part of the claim, and so hotel restaurants are some of the finest in the territory.

My favorite Szechuan restaurant is ``Pep 'N Chilli'' in Happy Valley. The lobster with chilli and garlic is expensive and fantastic. The chicken with crispy rice is not expensive and great. I heard the place is owned by someone in the movie business, which was supposed to explain why you would occasionally see movie stars there.

My favorite group dinner was to go for barbecue at Sun Hung Cheung Hing Restaurant, in Tsim Tsa Tsui. You order plates of different meats and veggies (scallops, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, garlic, cilantro, sprouts, etc.), soak it all in bowls of broth, and then cook them on top of the griddle built into the center of the table-top. You stuff the food into these hollow sesame bread buns that are freshly made and really delicious. If you are a foreigner, have a group, and plead stupidity, they will assign you a waiter to do the cooking for you, which is very pleasant (but be sure and tip him).

Kublai's, in Wan Chai, is another Mongolian BBQ place. All you can eat, for about US$11. Not as much ambience. You could have BBQ alone there; it sort of requires a group at Sun Hung Cheung Hing.

Dim Sum

A friend of mine complained that I always took her for ``yuppy dim sum'' -- excellent dim sum made with very high quality ingredients, but not offering the full array of disgusting items the Cantonese like so much, such as cow stomach, chicken's feet, and sea cucumber. The fancy dim sum places do not always have the classic noisy crowds and rolling carts (non-snooty dim sum restaurants improve their table turnover on weekends by telling a group which table they are going to get before the table is vacated. You aren't encouraged to hang over the table, making the laggard diners feel conspicuous; but you are a free agent...). So I've listed both types.
Yuppy dim sum
My two favorites are the Island Shangri La's restaurant (Summer Palace), and the Grand Hyatt's restaurant (One Harbour Road). Zen, in Pacific Place, is also very good, but they changed their menu last year, dropping my favorite dish, so I stopped going. ``Yuppy dim sum'' doesn't mean tourist dim sum; the crowds at these places are primarily Asian. It just means ``fancy.''
Classic dim sum
My favorite is Victoria City (in the Sun Hung Kai Center). East Ocean (Wan Chai/Admiralty, I think), and the Maxim's restaurants were popular with my HK-yan friends.

Dai Pai Dongs

Street restaurants. Some hate them, because the sanitary conditions are less than impressive. The menu will not be in English. I had wonderful meals with friends at some.

The Maxim's restaurants

One for each regional cuisine: Hunan Garden, Peking Garden, and so forth. Some are good, some are so-so. Very popular with local Chinese.

Junk trips, etc.

A fun group activity is to go to Lamma Island, either by ferry, or if you have connections in HK, on one of the ``junks'' that large companies own and allow their employees to rent. (A junk is just a funny looking motor launch; not the picturesque Chinese sailboat you see in movies and on postcards.) You jump on the junk at Queen's pier, just next to the Star Ferry, and sail out to Lamma, while drinking beer and hanging out. At Lamma, you have a large group dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants. Large round table, plastic chairs, large bottles of beer. You choose what you want to eat; it's all swimming around in tanks waiting. They cook the seafood and serve it up. Whole grouper and sea-bass steamed in soy sauce with ginger, fresh shrimp, large tiger prawns, and so forth.

A related food outing is Sai Kung. You buy the fish from the tanks, and they are sent off to the local restaurant of your choice, where they are cooked up to your specifications. You need a local friend to make this work, unless you speak Cantonese.

Vegetarian meals at Buddhist monasteries

Some of the Buddhist monasteries in the New Territories run restaurants. The food is vegetarian, of course. Very delicious.

American food

Dan Ryan's has large portions, and excellent food. Chili, carrot cake, potato skins, sundaes, burgers, salmon, salads, that kind of thing. There is an imitator in Admiralty, whose name I forget, which was very popular with trendies, but not as good. I understand a Hard Rock Cafe is coming. Big deal.

I never had Mexican food or pizza in HK that I thought was particularly good.

European food

My favorite two French restaurants were Au Trou Norman, in Tsim Tsa Tsui, and the Regent's La Plume. La Plume is very expensive, and terrific for a romantic evening. You get a breathtaking view of HK, and the food is outstanding. Au Trou Norman not quite so over-the-top; I went there frequently. The menu is Norman and delicious. The Peninsula's Gaddis restaurant is quite nice. I never checked out the Mandarin's European restaurants.

I only found one place in HK that made good French pastries: the pastry shop on the way out of the Island Shangri La as you walk towards Pacific Place.

The best food deal on the island was the Mandarin's Chinnery bar dinners. For an amazingly low fixed price, you could have a three course Italian dinner with wine. The food was outstanding, and the portions intimidating.

Lunch and brunch buffets

My favorite topic. The Mandarin wins by a mile. Their lunch buffet, served in the Clipper Lounge, is incredible. I ate there frequently, an expensive habit. Tenderloin, endless sushi, a whole salmon baked in brioche, mango strudel, good cheeses, french pastries--I'm just scratching the surface. Their Sunday brunch in the Mandarin Grill is even better. Freshly made crepes, fresh fruit juices, all the lobster salad you can eat, more pastries, the best roast beef I've ever had, eggs Benedict, and so forth. All fixed price. See below on timing and reservations. I rarely ate dinner at the Mandarin Grill, as the menu was similar to the brunch.

The Peninsula's Sunday brunch is also outstanding. I was a little annoyed that their fixed price doesn't include what you drink, and a few glasses of orange juice will easily put you over the Mandarin's slightly higher price, where you can generally run amok without affecting the price. The Mandarin also tosses in a Sunday South China Morning Post, if you are a newspaper addict.

Other hotels also have fine lunch buffets and brunches, but they mere shadows of the Mandarin's and the Pen's. The Furama/Kempinski's lunch is the best of the rest, I found.

Afternoon tea

Tea is at the intersection of China and imperial England. So is Hong Kong. Afternoon tea in Hong Kong is fantastic. When I lived in England, I had tea at the usual famous places. The Mandarin's is better.

The Peninsula's is famous, but very disappointing. The Mandarin's is the best, by far. It makes for a nice break if you are hustling around Central in tourist mode, and are tired. The Repulse Bay serves the second-best tea, and the ambience is lovely: you sit on an old (restored) porch, and look out over the ocean. If you are shopping in Stanley market, it makes for a convenient respite.

Other Asian Cuisine

Indian and Thai food in Hong Kong is great. Most guide books will steer you right. Wyndham St., above Lan Kwai Fong, has a strip of Indian restaurants. The Mughat Room is up-scale. I typically ate at the Siddharth Club.

Serious bars

The Mandarin's two bars are serious, and quite popular among the business expats. The Chinnery bar has the ``wall o' Scotch,'' with more single malts than you can shake a stick at.


The Peninsula's afternoon tea is legendary, but actually not very good at all. Stanley's French is well-known; allegedly very romantic. I found the food heavy, and the service was very slow.


Always make one.

Never attempt to have lunch at the Mandarin buffet if you show up between 12:55 and 1:30. 1:00 is lunch hour in HK, and all of Central's businessmen come pouring into the Mandarin right then. You will wait forever. Never attempt to go to their Sunday brunch without trying for a reservation, preferably at least two days in advance. Always make a reservation for dim sum; preferably a day or two before on a weekend.


The place to be used to be Hot Gossip, a club with an enlightened policy that admitted members of air crews free. For ``members of air crews'', read: Cathay Pacific stews. Sadly, Hot Gossip is no longer in business.

The nightclub that seemed the most popular when I was in HK was JJ's, in the Grand Hyatt. I went once. It was your typical nightclub; seemed upscale.

``Lan Kwai Fong'' is a term used to describe two or three streets above Central, one of which is actually named ``Lan Kwai Fong.'' This little section of town is solid restaurants, bars, and clubs, and is the standard expat hangout. On Halloween the street is packed with Hong Kong yan who come to stare at the gweilos in their costumes.

Wan Chai is famous as being ``the world of Suzy Wong'' (a famous fictional hooker with a heart of gold). It was the raunch epicenter in the bad old days during Vietnam when there were hordes of US GI's descending on the place for R&R. Some of these strip-joints still exist. I got dragged into one once. We're talking a bunch of unattractive Filipinas in bathing suits dancing poorly on a bar top. Swell. People who have money to burn who are looking for trouble go to up-scale hostess bars, where pretty women will sit with you and flirt for about US$100/hour/woman, timed to 3min precision. It's also a pretty thin veneer for a pimping service. As a non-businessman (I was a professor), business entertainment never called me to a hostess bar, so I am reporting indirectly here.

Back to Wan Chai. Wan Chai, as I said, still has some seedy element, but in the 90's it is becoming just an extension of Central. There are a lot of good restaurants in Wan Chai. But if you are looking for a sleazy good time, don't bother. Go to Thailand, Vietnam, or the Philippines.

There was a dive in Wanchai that I actually did enjoy: Club Neptune on Lockhart St. What you will find at Club Neptune is, apparently, every Filipino maid in Hong Kong dressed up for the night out, boogieing away to an outstanding live Filipino band. (Musicians in Hong Kong are commonly Philippine imports; I don't know why. I also don't know why they are so consistently excellent, but they are. One US professor friend of mine was ready to propose marriage to the Filipino lounge singer at the Mandarin Oriental's Clipper Lounge just on the strength of her rendition of ``The Girl from Ipanima,'' which, it must be said, would melt even the iciest of hearts. But I digress.) When a US warship is in port, Club Neptune will be packed with sailors, eager to make new friends and explore new cultural horizons. A lot more eager than you might be, should you happen to be a single female. Cruising through the crowd of maids will be a few expat business types in suits, looking rather like large barracudas moving slowly through a school of fish.

Now, it is probably the case that if you are looking for a friend-for-the-night and you hate sleeping alone, you can do fine at Club Neptune. I went to Club Neptune one night with a date and an enterprising male friend, and didn't see my friend until the following morning. However, I don't care to speculate on that; it's irrelevant to why I like or dislike nightclubs.

The relevant attractions of Club Neptune are threefold. One, unless you look like a random tourist with a ``steal from me, please'' sign metaphorically blinking over your head, you can breeze right past the the doorman without paying the cover. Second, the house band is fantastic; they consistently turn out tight, high-energy rock to which you can dance all night. Third, if you go without a date, and you ask a single woman to dance, you will almost certainly be told ``yes.'' This is not the case at most of the non-dive nightclubs to which I went in Hong Kong. Unsuprisingly, most unaccompanied women at nightclubs do not like strangers invading their personal space. Asian women, additionally, are quite happy to dance with each other. So your odds of getting an icy brushoff from some hostile Cantonese in JJ's or a Lan Kwai Fong club are much higher than in Club Neptune. I remember sitting at the bar in Post 97 and watching expats get shot down by groups of Cathay Pacific stewardesses. Imagine the landing beaches at Guadalcanal. Not pretty.

All these facts add up to the following: if you are looking for good, clean fun; you just want to go out dancing; either you have your own date, or you would be happy to dance with a nice, friendly woman, where everybody goes home to their own bed at the end of the evening, you can't lose at Club Neptune. It's a much, much cheaper evening out than the fancy clubs, and you will not have to listen to sterile disco tracks like ``I want to sex you up'' or ``I'm too sexy for my car'' played over and over. And over.

I get wildly varying reactions on Club Neptune. One of the women I took to the place had a home address on Peak Rd.; she always had a ball at Club Neptune. One was a Computer Science professor from a conservative, traditional background; she thought the whole sociology of the Filipino maid culture was fascinating. On the other hand, last week I mentioned Club Neptune to a proper, well-brought-up young woman from Hong Kong; she looked at me like I'd crawled out from under a rock for even mentioning the place.

Your mileage may vary.


I bought antiques from Honeychurch. I was treated well, the pieces are beautiful, and the proprietors are very knowledgeable. It is quite easy and pleasant to stroll the length of Hollywood St., just above Central and the Lan Kwai Fong bar streets, and hit ten stores in an afternoon.

I wouldn't buy cameras or electronics in Mongkok or Tsim Tsa Tsui. These people are tough, hostile, expert at ripping off tourists, and time is on their side -- if you find out you've been screwed, are you going to miss your flight to cause these guys trouble? Further, the prices are no better than competitive mail-order discounts in NYC. I mail-ordered a Nikon from B&H in New York about two weeks before I went to Asia, so I knew what camera prices were like when I got there. I bought a 50mm lens and a flash while I was in HK, so I know what prices are like there. About the same, unless the store-owner figured you for a tourist, and then NYC was a lot better. Consumer tech is a global market; HK has no special advantage today.

I bought camera gear in HK from a store that I found out was popular with the professional photographers on the island: Photo Scientific, just above Central (and below Lan Kwai Fong). I think it is on Stanley or Wellington street. These guys distinguished themselves on the HK scene: they gave me an extremely good price right off the bat, and then did not negotiate. They were friendly, and technically knowledgeable. You have to spend a few hours wandering up and down Nathan St. to realise how amazing this is.

You can occasionally find consumer electronics for sale in HK that isn't out in the US. In 1992, you could get small portable DAT recorders and the Sharp PC-3100 1 pound IBM PC in HK. So that is one reason to buy in HK.

I had shirts made at the well-known shirtmakers, David's and Ascot Chang. Expensive. I had shirts made at other tailors, but the difference was obvious when I wore them, so I went back to David's and A.C.

Ying Tai (in the Peninsula arcade) and Ah-Man Hing Cheong made my suits. I like them.

I bought some shirts once in Stanley. Eddie Bauer Izod-type overruns; US$5 each. Great shirts.

Any guide book will tell you about David's, Ascot Chang, Ying Tai, and Ah-Man Hing Cheong.

China Products (or is it China Emporium?) -- the big Mainland product outlet -- sells great camel hair blankets for cheap. I wish I had bought more.

One of my friends in HK was a regular at the Anne Klein II outlet in Central (in the Pedder building). I bought stuff there for my sisters. Cheap and Anne Klein II -- I liked it.


Cabs are cheap. You don't tip, but usually do round up to the nearest HK dollar. If you cross between HK and Kowloon on the tunnel, you pay for a round-trip toll ($20 HK). Cab drivers are also allowed to charge some fixed amount extra for luggage, although they frequently do not.

Cabbies work one distinct area: either Hong Kong, Kowloon, or the New Territories. If one takes you cross-area, he doesn't work the destination area; he heads straight back to home. These guys sometimes don't even know their way around when they are away from their home territory. Occasionally, you can pick up a returning cab late at night. In this case, you only pay $10, not $20 for the tunnel toll. You can tell returning cabbies; they have their ``for hire'' light blocked with a cloth or paper. You hail one by making a scooping motion with your hand palm-down (to emulate going under the harbour), instead of the usual hailing gesture, which is a a palm-down, limp-wristed flapping gesture.

Facts of life

A cab is legally required to take you where you want to go, including cross-area. They are legally required to stop for a hailing passenger if they are free. This means nothing. Some cabbies will refuse to take you cross-area. If it's raining, or a large public event has just finished, some will cruise the desperate crowds. The maneuver here is to hold up a couple of fingers, indicating how many extra $10's you are willing to kick in for the ride. Cabbies are usually fine; some can be hostile.

Other public transport

The MTR (subway), the buses, and the Star Ferry are very viable means of transport. In some cases, they can be much faster than a cab (particularly when trying to cross the harbour at a busy time). I almost never rode the big, blue buses, which have fixed stops. I frequently rode the green minibuses, which seat exactly 16, stop at any point on their route when hailed, and are much faster and more comfortable. I sometimes rode the red minibuses, which require the ability to read Chinese. If you are a tourist, and don't speak or read Chinese, you probably won't ride the minibuses. Ferry, cab, and MTR are all easy for tourists.


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