We spent Saturday morning with Yvonne, our guide from Context – a walking tour company I’ve used in several cities around the world and always with very interesting walks. This morning was no exception, I’m happy to report. Yvonne met up with us in Statue Square and spent the next three hours walking with us through Hong Kong’s center, first among the towering (both literally and figuratively) financial institutions like HSBC and Bank of China, then up the hill, through SoHo’s trendy restaurants and quieter neighborhoods.
Yvonne’s knowledge of Hong Kong was impressive and Mom and I both enjoyed the morning. I especially liked some of the trivial-but-no-less-fascinating bits of local knowledge – like learning the nickname of Jardine House, one of HGK’s more distinctive skyscrapers thanks to its round windows, is sometimes known as the House of a Thousand Assholes – referring not just to the fenestration but to Jardine’s still somewhat unsavory reputation given that their business started out smuggling opium.
Along the way, we stopped at the Honolulu Cafe, a greasy spoon style place known for its egg custard tarts. They were very tasty – though my allegiance to Macau’s Portuguese custard tarts remains unchanged.
Some other highlights included St. John’s Cathedral – Hong Kong’s oldest Anglican church; a small local shrine that makes an appearance in a Wong Kar-wai film; and Yvonne’s broad knowledge of local food trends – she gave me several good leads on more places to eat during our few days left in Hong Kong!
After winding up our walk and saying our farewells, Mom and I took the subway over to Kowloon for afternoon tea at the Intercontinental. There are quite a large number places offering afternoon tea set, so it was difficult to choose where. I’d been leaning toward the Peninsula initially, given its reputation as the OG tea in town – but from what I’d read, it can be a bit of a zoo thanks to its popularity and their no-reservations policy means there’s likely to be a wait. A couple of other promising contenders lost out thanks to gimmicky sounding (though rather tasty looking, I’ll confess) themes or mixed reviews – the Intercontinental seemed to tick all the boxes, plus the venue offers a spectacular view of the harbor.
As it turned out, the view was indeed the highlight of the visit. The experience for the most part was a victory for style over substance. The food – both sweets and savories – was lovely to look at, but really not all that interesting to eat. I thought they were a bit stingy with the savories, though that may be as much my personal preference as an actual drawback. But most of the food was difficult to eat – too large to eat in one bite, but too unwieldy to make it two bites without it falling into one’s lap. This was especially true of the sweets. For example, the darling little berry cream shaped like a ladies’ spring hat was served on a little pastry cardboard – when I removed it from there, half of it wound up down the front of my shirt (which was white, of course and the pastry bright red, of course).
The tea was served tepid. The table was too small to easily accommodate the tea service. The chairs low and cushy – comfortable for sitting, not practical for eating from, especially given the dangerous instability of the sweets to which I’d already fallen victim. And the price was really quite breathtaking.
I suppose I should have known better from the get-go, given that reservations are not accepted for afternoon tea at the Intercontinental. This isn’t some trendy little hole-in-the-wall – it’s the lobby lounge that’s part of a luxury hotel chain with locations around the world. The fact that they’re unwilling to accept reservations smacks of “you should be happy that we’re allowing you to eat here” – which is further exacerbated by forbidding non-hotel-guests from sitting at the most desirable tables or from using the hotel’s wifi. The hotel is certainly within its rights to manage their establishment however they like, but it certainly left me disappointed with the experience, particularly given how ridiculously expensive it was.
When we left the hotel, it was still rather early in the afternoon, so we had some free time. On a bit of whim, we walked up to the Hong Kong Museum of History. This turned out to be a very wise choice! The museum didn’t look like much from the exterior, but inside had a huge and extensive history of Hong Kong from prehistoric times to the present day. Even going through at a rapid clip, the 90 minutes we spent there really only got us as far as the Opium Wars – we may try to squeeze in another visit if we have time.
Back to the hotel to rest up for this evening’s festivities – which really just consisted of a reservation at J.Boroski. I’d been to the original Bangkok outpost of this bar and really enjoyed it, so was quite excited to visit their new outopost in Hong Kong. Located down an alley and behind an unmarked door, the interior is super cool – a long room with a low curved ceiling covered with mounted scarabs, the bar on the left some tables down the center and along the wall with some fringed dividers. A really cool space. Had a very nice bartender who did the usual spiel, asking about what spirit we wanted in our drinks and what other flavors we liked. He made mom a very tasty take on a margarita but with elderflower and fig. I indicated I liked citrus fruit and watermelon, perhaps some fresh herbs or heat but nothing medicinal – and he prepared me a drink that had no discernible fruit and was medicinal. Sigh…
Dinner was down the street at Mak’s Noodles for wonton noodle soup. We’d tried to go the other day, but too early and they’d not yet opened. I wasn’t planning on a return trip, but our guide Yvonne had indicated that they really do make some of the best wontons in HKG – and she was not wrong! Portions are a bit on the small side, which was nice since neither Mom nor I were famished at this point. It was a really great meal and I’d say don’t miss it if you’re in Hong Kong.
Headed back to the hotel and called it a night. Well, just about – I convinced myself I was still feeling a bit peckish, but I think I really just wanted an excuse for another plate of char siu at Joy Hing. Saw Mom up to her room, then nipped up the street for my bbq pork fix – it was just as delicious as the previous evening. I hope I can squeeze in one more visit before we leave for Hanoi on Tuesday – but we’ve still got some other places to eat while we’re here!