Hong Kong was a city I didn’t know how much I wanted to go to until I went this summer after a writers’ conference in Shanghai. And because we had heard the most wonderful things about it from my brother Chuck, aka my food sensei, my husband and I invited him and his lovely wife to join us for a five-day vacation in this gritty-shiny-busy-beautiful city.
And there was food.
When my husband and I divide vacation planning duties, I do the advance work, and he does most of the on-the-ground strategizing. I make hotel and flight reservations, buy tickets in advance for excursions that require it and scout restaurants and make those reservations if we need to, but this time, given Chuck’s presence and his experience with the city (albeit 17 years ago), I turned over reservation-ing to him and his AmEx concierge. Neither one of them let us down.
Here’s a round-up of our Hong Kong dining experiences, which you may find useful for your next jaunt to HK.
Top Floor of the Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon
Our first full day in Hong Kong culminated appropriately at this posh restaurant that boasts views of Victoria Harbor and the Wan Chai and Central districts of Hong Kong island from its perch above the glitterati’s home-away-from-home in HK, the Peninsula Hotel, which also houses Hermes and Cartier boutiques on its premises. We took the dedicated elevator up to the Philippe-Starke designed space, arriving early to enjoy the avant-garde cocktail bar first. In the restaurant, we had seats overlooking the harbor and the lights of Wan Chai, but also, annoyingly at first, the restaurant’s bar, where we felt the beautiful people in their glamorous threads were lurching around us during their cocktail hour. This dissipated quickly, and we were left to the pretty, clean, simultaneously engaging and soothing Starke-created environment and imaginative, delicious food for course after course.
The dress code here is “smart casual,” and the establishment itself is nothing but smart, unless it is also solicitous, with stellar, professional service and top-flight food. My sister-in-law is gluten intolerant—a mistaken bite of something could have ruined her entire vacation—and when she told the wait staff, they worked with her so she could order what she wanted, and the kitchen would make substitutions where needed to protect her and ensure a worry-free dining experience for her.
I ordered the “Breakfast” appetizer, which comprised sautéed duck liver and mousse, warm potato cream soup, potato “cereal” and onion jam. This appetizer’s flavors and textures went so perfectly and delightfully together, I fell a little in love. Other dishes we sampled were the “Butterfly,” which was caviar, sea urchin, red tuna tartar, carrot dressing and sweet and sour dressing (and won the most-dramatic presentation award); and zucchini cream soup with potato chips. Our entrees included sea bass, American beef tenderloin, barley risotto and abalone with red rice risotto. All perfection on plates, gorgeous in appearance and delightful on the palate. We couldn’t save room for dessert, but our waitress brought a pleasing assortment of cookies, including green-tea sweet bites, and some that were gluten free, as well. The meal was our evening’s entertainment, and we wanted nothing more when we left the Peninsula, our visual and food appetites satiated beyond our expectations.
(Victoria) Peak Galleria
A word of caution: This restaurant closed in this site a few days after we dined here and is moving to a high-rise in the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping neighborhood in Kowloon. This is too bad, because we appreciated the civilized and sumptuous art-deco space here after the humanity-crushing experience of riding the Peak Tram to the commercial extravaganza that lives at the top of Hong Kong’s famous inner-city mountain. It’s fun to walk around up there, and to dine with, again, stellar views of a skyline unequaled in the world as the lights come on over the harbor. But, I think Bubba Gump’s will still be open, if you’re looking for dining options at the Peak.
Hong Kong in July is hot, well, hot and humid. It made us long for the cool climes of an Arkansas August, so I started with a stellar summer cocktail: Hendricks gin, fresh mint and champagne. Our appetizers included tofu with broccoli, the most beautiful house salad I have ever seen, and the foie gras sushi roll. My brother partook of Café Deco’s oyster bar and was quite pleased. For my entrée, I had the crab and potato pancake that was more like a layered dish of both. It was perfect, light and tasty, and enjoyable in the heat that was putting a damper on some of our mood and appetite. We also tried the trout ravioli, a Singapore noodle bowl and a potato crepe. Because my dishes were smaller, I indulged in dessert, a mocha gelato. Again, the food was flavorful, appropriately imaginative and the ambiance was so pleasing, with the views and the interior prettiness of art deco in every detail.
Jumbo Kingdom Floating Restaurant
Aberdeen South Typhoon Shelter
Is it a boat? Is it a building in the lagoon? Either way, it’s gorgeous and may be familiar to you if you like James Bond or Steven Soderbergh, as a similar restaurant in the area was featured in The Man with the Golden Gun and Contagion (!). It’s a fun evening that starts by being shuttled on a little ferry out to the restaurant from the pier in this pretty, watery neighborhood of the city. Within Jumbo are different restaurants for your dining pleasure: a restaurant and bar on the top deck featuring western cuisine (managed, coincidentally, by Café Deco’s management group); Dragon Court, which is a fine dining restaurant featuring authentic Cantonese cuisine with Ming Dynasty décor; a cooking academy teaching Chinese culinary techniques; Sampan dining; a Chinese tea garden; and a wine garden, among other attractions in the complex.
We were booked into the Dragon Court, which is sumptuous in food and in its Ming Dynasty furnishings. Large banquettes seat bigger groups for family-style dining. This is important for you to know: family-style. Nothing on the menu says that dishes are large and for sharing, and the head waitress of a sizeable team of servers didn’t use those words either, but she would not let us order dishes that were for more than one person. Well, she tried not to let us, but my brother’s will to score that Peking duck exceeded her wishes to keep portions reasonably sized, though to witness their sparring was to watch the immovable object meet an irresistible force. Hard. Each one of us ordered, and as we did, the waitress’s face screwed up in a discouraging frown, and she put down her pad and showed us with her hands how big the portion was we were ordering. She talked me out of my lemon chicken in favor of sweet and sour, and she did the same thing to my SIL, but Chuck got his suitable-for-sharing Peking Duck—though she tested his will power, and he tested her commitment to her position before she caved to her paying customer.
The service at Jumbo is part of the experience. The staff members (there are myriad) bring the food on carts and serve the table by placing dishes on the lazy Susan in the center of the table. We had to ask for rice, which didn’t come with the meals, and they were attentive in all requests. As we ate, we saw a large group come in and sit at a ten-top table and order as they ought, large dishes (some kind of fried crab that looked like Shelob from Lord of the Rings!) for sharing and lazy-Susan spinning and passing.
We all shared what our waitress eventually allowed us to order, and I can say that everything was tasty: from the starting Pimm’s cup throughout: the tofu dumplings and soup starters, the Peking duck (oh, that crispy-crunchy-fatty skin!), pork with honey glaze, garlic and chili tofu and that famous sweet and sour chicken. The meat was very tender and tasty and all accompaniments were spot on. The duck does come with the head on, but they carved it for us, and we all tasted it gleefully. The whole experience was another evening’s entertainment with the beauty and novelty of the restaurant in the water, the strong-willed waitress and the food that was most like what we’re used to as American Chinese-food diners when we think of cuisine from this part of the world, though rather higher on the deliciousness scale.
Yan Toh Heen
Lower Level of the Intercontinental Hotel, Kowloon
Did we save the best for last? Perhaps, as Yan Toh Heen is a two-Michelin-star restaurant, thought of as one of the world’s finest restaurants specializing in Cantonese cuisine. Instead of being high up or in the lagoon, this restaurant’s lovely views come from being right on the harbor, where diners can watch the boats with their red sails float by as the lights of the city come on over the harbor at nightfall. Inside, the views are stellar as well, with lavish jade accents in a spare and pretty dining room. Again, the service was serious and professional. I thought our waiter must have graduated summa cum laude from his training program.
Right away, our server presented us with an amuse-bouche of honeyed walnuts for the table, and then another pallet cleanser, individually plated and divine. I ordered my first cosmopolitan of the trip, and it was light and fruity. The menu is extensive, so it took all of us a long time to read it thoroughly and make our choices. Yan Toh Heen offers a spendy tasting menu I would have liked to try, but I needed to be able to pay my hotel bill upon checkout, so I chose a la carte dishes, as did my companions. As Ferris would say though, I highly recommend it if you have the means. What did we choose? For appetizers, I had grilled mushrooms, and we also ordered prawns with black truffles and white asparagus and mushrooms (just as they did at Felix, the staff worked closely with Val to ensure her food was all gluten-free).
For the entrees, Yan Toh Heen’s haute cuisine vibes really resonated. Where Jumbo had been traditional, here, the chef took those traditional notes and re-imagined them thoroughly and deliciously in every respect. For example, my choice was lobster meat in egg white with a lobster-burrata dumpling. It was small, but perhaps the richest bites of food I have ever consumed. Also from the menu, we chose beef and vegetables, the beef and duck-liver birds nest and wok-fried chicken. Our table got quiet as we consumed our various dishes with pleasure and taste-anticipation. Every moment of the night from the amuse-bouche to the complimentary cookies was pitch-perfect for the palate. Clearly, people who know more about food than I do were at the top of their game in feeding me and my family that night. I’ll never forget it.
Each place we dined in Hong Kong was unique and a lovely part of this international city’s identity and history: Felix’s European influences and aesthetic, Café Deco’s views and Asian cuisine, Jumbo’s Ming dining room and traditional food and Yan Toh Heen’s award-winning new Cantonese. If you haven’t been to Hong Kong, I hope you get to go … and eat as well as we had the great good fortune to do.