What’s hot and new in a city that never stays the same
Hong Kong is in a constant search of its own identity; from humble beginnings as a community of fishing villages to a refuge for immigrants, an international trading port and lastly a British Colony until July 1997. Now in 2016, and after almost two decades of returning the territories to China, the challenges of the future ahead are redefining the new face of Hong Kong.
With renewed dynamism, creative forces are changing the oversaturated touristic scene that Hong Kong has sometimes been labeled with. Sophisticated consumers and concentrations of wealth have repositioned Hong Kong as a powerful magnet for restaurateurs, designers, artists, and visionaries, who have reshaped the city’s contemporary landscape. Read on to discover a different side of this complex and ever-changing city.
Away from the bright lights and sea of skyscrapers, boutique business Hotel Icon opened in 2011 across the harbor, on the Kowloon side – Tsim Sha Tsui. Owned by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s hospitality school, students serve as interns at this local hotelier, allowing for the influence of the young and experimental. However, this hotel’s iconic identity was created by local artists as well as by world- famous interior designers/architects.
Rocco Yim oversaw the hotel’s architectural design with an all-glass exterior for dramatic panoramic views of Victoria Harbour on every floor. William Lim designed the contemporary interiors, including the guestrooms, the Silverbox ballroom, and the lobby’s whooping staircase. Fashion doyenne Vivienne Tam also contributed to the project. An ex-graduate of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Tam designed ICON’s exclusive Designer Suite by Vivienne Tam, which reflects the artist’s signature look of contemporary chic elegance.
The confluence of art and design is also evident in the vast artwork selection. Renowned Hong Kong designer Freeman Lau curated the hotel’s eclectic collection. The hotel currently houses works of art by some of Asia’s best talents, including Cheung Yee, Kan Tai-Keung, Nancy Chu Woo, Hung Keung, Pauline Lam, William Furniss, John Fung, Chow Chun Fai, Tsang Chui Mei, and Terence Lee. It’s like being in a hotel and an art gallery all at once, where you can take the elevator to any floor and view carefully selected art pieces from the best artists displayed in each elegant corridor.
Conran & Partners designed the hotel’s restaurants, including Above & Beyond, which offers some of the city’s finest Cantonese cuisine and dim sum with an inventive twist. Another highlight is the creation of French botanist and artist Patrick Blanc, who installed the lavish 18-meter vertical garden in the hotel lobby café Green. Measuring 230m2, the verdant garden wall is the largest of its kind in Asia. www.hotel-icon.com
Immerse yourself in another space, with the top-notch Angsana Spa, a tranquil oasis devoted to indulgence and pampering. Within this private retreat, professional therapists from the world-famous Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts offer a range of relaxing and rejuvenating treatments.
With all the pleasure of art, food, and massage, it may be difficult to leave this grand hotel, but in order to experience more of what new Hong Kong has to offer, you must. For more gallery hopping combined with shopping sprees around TST (Tsim Sha Tsui), start at K11 art mall, a mix of galleries and stores showing work by Asian artists.
No trip to Hong Kong is complete without a journey across the harbor on the Star Ferry (H$ 2,50 – H$ 3,40) linking TST to either Central or Wanchai in less than 10 minutes. A ‘must-do’ in Hong Kong as this legendary ferry has been carrying passengers since 1888.
Once arrived on Hong Kong Island and armed with an Octopus card, the convenient MTR lines take you smoothly to the best spots around this concrete jungle. Take the blue line at Central for one stop and get off at Sheung Wan. Head towards Upper Lascar Row (nicknamed ‘Cat Street’) to find such vintage treasures as an ancient snuff bottle or a Cultural Revolution propaganda poster. Make sure to bargain!
Another welcome discovery during lunchtime was Man Mo café, a quaint restaurant café tucked between two antique stores, which take its name from the nearby Man Mo Temple. This ‘little treasure’ was created by Swiss expat Nicolas Elelouf with the expertise of his two chefs, who previously worked at Robuchon and Din Tai Fung. Their lunch deal is a steal (H$140+) as it comes with a contemporary twist on dim sum (when I visited, it was their delicious signature steamed ratatouille dumplings) and a serving of their ‘Burgerbun’, a baked char siu bao filled with minced beef; then a main dish (to choose from the blackboard) and a sweet touch with a fusion dessert. Of course, Chinese tea was free flowing during the entire lunch. East meets West in perfect harmony! Between courses, check out the rotating artworks adorning the white walls with creations from local expats, inspired by their daily lives in Hong Kong. www.facebook.com/manmocafe
After filling your stomach, you can fill your art cravings at The Cat Street gallery (50 Tung Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong). Established in 2006 by Mandy d’Abo, the gallery commits to exhibiting the best of contemporary and modern art by emerging and established artists. The gallery is also host to exciting artist talks, curatorial tours, and art festivals. Check their latest exhibitions at www.thecatstreetgallery.com
Around the corner at 38 Sai Street, Parisian lifestyle and concept store Château Zoobeetle awaits with an eclectic selection of Parisian Art de Vivre goods; in between browsing through the curated selection of ready-to-wear clothes, travel accessories, jewelry, and other French cultural items, visitors can also stop by for a fine glass of wine at the bistro corner or grab a delicious plate of cheese or cold-cuts. On the second floor, selected items from the specialized luxury leather house Zoobeetle Paris are on full display. Check their regular events and promotions at www.chateauzoobeetle.com
More artworks are on display two steps away, this time hailing mostly from Indonesia and South East Asia at Sin Sin, an atelier and fine art gallery, all under the same roof. Initiated by the entrepreneur and designer, Sin Sin Man, contemporary Eastern art is juxtaposed in different mediums, from photography and canvas to sculptures. The gallery frequently hosts artist talks, dance, and music performances. On the second floor, you can purchase handmade products produced by Sin Sin atelier, such as clothing, jewelry, and purses. www.sinsin.com.hk
Amongst the plethora of antique shops and art galleries around Man Mo temple, one corner building strikes out, especially when looking inside the glass windows: the whole space is covered with artwork set amidst the elegant restaurant setting. At Bibo, the embodiment of understated luxury is a dynamic, groundbreaking realization of art in all forms — on the wall, on the plate, and in the cocktail glass. After entering via a discreet sliding door and descending a flight of stairs, a bohemian-artist world awaits. The design cleverly merges an abandoned tramway company with the work of internationally acclaimed artists, creating the perfect canvas for the unique experience to unfold. Brought together in a space where street art meets fine dining, Bibo evokes a 1930s feel of form and function. From the arched ceiling corners and brass pipes to Versailles style French oak parquet and stone slab dining tables, Bibo’s commitment to French Art Deco is unparalleled. Diners can enjoy the very best of seasonal French gastronomy alongside the works of some of the world’s most renowned artists like Banksy, Damien Hirst, Daniel Arsham, Jeff Koons, and Aya Takano, to name but a few. Executive Chef Mutaro Balde, from revered kitchens of three Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, leads the culinary team in serving his take on ‘fine dining’ with a strong focus on technique, outstanding ingredients and a vow to delivering culinary perfection. Every dish from each of the seasonal menus pays homage to the traditions of French cuisine.
After checking out the cool galleries around Sheung Wan, you can satisfy more of your creative cravings at PMQ located on 35 Aberdeen Street, the former site of the Police Married Quarters, which was built in 1951. The building was left empty for several years before the government decided in 2010 to transform it into a site to showcase Hong Kong craft and design. With these major transformations, PMQ became quickly the hippest place to go to meet young creatives under the postwar modern building. Wander through the mazes and floors to discover the latest pop-up stores or temporary art shows, buy design items and make sure to stop at the trendy The Drawing Room (unit H701-H708) for delicious Italian fares or at Isono Eatery & Bar (unit H601-H608) for Spanish-centric Mediterranean cuisine, where guests can enjoy authentic shared plates with French, Spanish or Italian favorites. www.pmq.org.hk
For contemporary design lovers, The Upper House (88 Queensway, Pacific Place – MTR Admiralty) is the epitome of Asian and European design combined together in a very chic and classy way. Hong Kong-born and well-respected interior designer Andre Fu have excelled at creating this urban retreat with 117 Suites and Studios, which are larger than the usual standard in the Hong Kong hotel landscape. Formerly built to be serviced apartments, the hotel occupies the top twelve floors of a 49-story building, giving impressive vista views above the harbor. With only suites, the ‘smallest’ room, Studio 70 comes with 68 sqm. of understated luxury. All rooms offer a complimentary in-room bar, dual temperature wine fridge (wines are charged separately), complimentary espresso machine, and large bathroom with bathtubs positioned to look out over Hong Kong skylines. Preferably opt for an Upper Suite (114 sqm.) with its separate living room lounge, a walk-in closet next to the large bedroom and a huge bathroom with centerpiece bathtub and a separate rain shower. www.upperhouse.com
Café Gray Deluxe, a 21st century ‘grand café’, is located on the 49th floor overlooking Victoria Harbor. Try to book a semi-private booth to enjoy the unique style of European classics and signature dishes, meticulously prepared by the team under the guidance of Chef Gray Kunz, who has pleased countless palates at the very finest kitchens in Europe, Asia, and America.
For an alternative and vertiginous rooftop bar experience, head after dinner to Sevva, where the new lines of cocktails are carefully compiled and supervised by ‘diva’ and tycoon Bonnae Gockson. Sevva’s key point is the 360degree outdoor terrace (often fully booked – especially when invaded by businessmen for after-work cocktails. Best is to book a table in advance). The indoor restaurant demonstrates twentieth-century artistic productions from London Fine Art Gallery with a fusion cuisine bending the Asian and Western high-class dining concept into a genre that received attention from Hong Kong celebs. The restaurant is divided into four areas including the Harborside, Bankside, Taste Bar and the large terraces on opposite sides. There is also a delicious cake corner; Miss B’s Sweets for which Gockson is famous for, catering to the most lavish parties in town. www.sevva.hk
Still, want more action? Then it’s a good time to check out Ophelia, the latest of the three new ventures in Hong Kong from genius designer/artist Ashley Sutton, the designer behind some of Asia’s most trendy restaurants and bars including Maggie Choo’s, Sing Sing Theatre and Iron Fairies (all located in Bangkok). Hidden behind an unexpected entrance, an exotic bird shop leads to the upscale intricate bar lounge, reminiscent of a 19th-century opium den. Open the thick velvet curtains and you’ll enter a kind of peacock palace, displaying the multiple hues of colors of its feathers. Dream-like surroundings are emphasized by Ophelia’s muses, who are suspended above the bar or sit in and around the ‘Emmanuelle-inspired’ exotic chair, which serves as a stage for improvised performances and multiple photo opportunities. All waitresses are dressed in extravagant cheongsams, and guests are encouraged to discover the hidden salons where a lady swings on a rope in a human-size cage. The cocktails are as exotic as the place with names such as The Cheongasm (H$130), served in a lit-up birdcage or The Jewelled Wing (H$125). www.facebook.com/OpheliaHongKong
Following on the recent opening of Ophelia, a much more private and quieter venue, J. Boroski (with interiors also designed by Ashley Sutton) is a tailored cocktail bar by ‘invitation only’ (to request an invitation and be granted location details, call +852 2603 6020; alternatively, email Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org). Once you found this well-hidden (semi-secret) entrance, behind the thick curtains, amber and dark wood colors set the mood in an elongated space with curved ceilings, adding to the overall wow-factor. The top of the bar, where ‘mixologists’ are at work crafting inventive cocktails, is decorated with hundreds of painted beetles (all different and unique), inspired from a childhood dream of Boroski’s to become an entomologist. Be warned! There is no menu, no price list. Bartenders will ask how and what you feel like drinking; prices are calculated depending on how many base liquors you request (between H$100-H$180).
Another alternative to escape busy Wanchai and Central is to discover the more authentic and upcoming neighborhood of Tin Hau, located on the Northern side of Hong Kong Island (MTR Tin Hau). There at 16 Tsing Fung Street, a simple black industrial understated entrance will lead the curious visitor to Tuve hotel, a stylish new boutique hotel nestled in this cute area with a proximity to Causeway Bay and Victoria Park. Take the elevator to the lobby floor and you’ll instantly lose track of time thanks to the meticulous lighting and minimalistic interior. Using raw materials like concrete, marble, wood grain and oxidized metal, the 66-room hotel trimmed all the unnecessary items of more traditional deluxe business hotels to focus on a more timeless, tasteful design. www.tuve.hk
Searching for a quick escape for the weekend? Nothing better than a day-trip to Repulse Bay, an upmarket residential area on the Southern part of Hong Kong Island, which quickly became the sea/sand/sun local escape with its crescent-shaped stretch of sand; one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Facing the beach, colonial-style buildings house designer shops and award-winning restaurants, a reminiscence of the 1920 luxury hotel that once occupied the site.
It is here that Le Comptoir group shines and excels in creativity and diversity by offering four different dining experiences for locals and stylish visitors.
Open since November 2015, The Ocean, the natural wonders of the sea are celebrated through the magnificent and spectacular design throughout the whole restaurant with hues of blue, panoramic sea views with floor-to-ceiling windows, booths, and tables inspired by coral reefs and tailor-made ceramics. Some interior highlights include the built-in aquarium walls housing hundreds of hovering jellyfish, walls papered with tactile textures that bring a contemporary edge and hand-blown glass lights suspended like water droplets. The contemporary seafood cuisine, led by Executive Chef Agustin Balbi, takes a minimalist, yet classic approach to preparations of refined French and Japanese cooking techniques. www.theocean.hk
To experience and appreciate the beauty and splendor of Bali, right in the heart of Repulse Bay, Tri was created. Offering a completely immersive experience of the three tenets of wellbeing with the Balinese philosophy of “Tri Hita Karana” — the harmony between man, nature and divinity. From holistic design to the use of sustainable materials like bamboo, every element of the restaurant is considered, paying tribute to the environment and creating a space that is reminiscent of the natural beauty of Ubud; the lotus-shaped semi-private dining pods, the 15-meter-long single- piece communal dining table carved out of a single piece of antique teak, the stone tables (sliced from river boulders) and original batik copper tjap wall features. The contemporary Balinese restaurant interprets the culinary heritage of Bali by melding the authentic flavors of the island with contemporary presentation. www.tri.hk
A casual Californian lifestyle of the 1960s can be relived at Hotshot, a surf-meets-skate beach restaurant decked out with vintage surfboards and remarkable art pieces scattered throughout the venue. The design fosters a revival of the fun and casual “come as you are” philosophy. The bar — originally a rare 8-foot 1951 Silver Streak clipper trailer designer by Airstream founder Wally Byam, is one of only 14 in the world. A limited edition collection of Supreme skateboards decorated by Jeff Koons, sit comfortably alongside an 8-meter-high wave of vintage surfboards from as far back as the 1920s. Other pieces of contemporary and modern street art by renowned artists Tracey Emin, Invader, Kaws, and many others complete the space. Hotshot is a unique concept, with its New American cuisine and revamped menu catering to beachgoers: freshly pressed super juices, salads, Hotshot Signature Cocktails, Surf ‘n’ Turf and other classic naughty bites. www.hotshot.hk
Up on the open-air rooftop, champagne-filled fun can be had at Cabana, a haven of leisure and luxurious relaxation, offering refined Japanese baths, elegant cabins, and lounge beds. The perfect venue for a group of friends who want to party in style, with international DJ’s spinning as Champagne corks pop. A perfectly lazy Sunday afternoon to celebrate the sunset with Hong Kong’s own Riviera lifestyle. www.cabana.hk
Back into the pulse of the city for shopping and Kowloon city walking tours? Make sure to stay in the heart of the action in T.S.T. (Tsim Sha Tsui), the center of Hong Kong’s commercial, shopping, dining, and entertainment district. Located within the Mira Mall, the Mira Hotel Hong Kong, a member of Design Hotels™, the first Hong Kong property to join the 199-hotel global Design Hotels™ network. The hotel’s 492 guest rooms and 56 suites unique design features are a selection of four signature room colors: Red, Green, Silver, and Purple (Mira Club).
All rooms are furnished with handpicked fabrics and materials, handpicked by creative masterminds including a design staple, the Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen. www.themirahotel.com
Another world in itself and within the hotel, MiraSpa encapsulates rejuvenating spa, beauty and hair services. Complete with a state-of-the-art fitness center and 25-meter infinity-edge pool, a wet zone with sauna, steam, whirlpool, experience showers, waterbed lounge and nine spacious treatment rooms including two VIP Couples’ Spa Suites. Highly recommended is one of the three men’s signature therapies; the Refinery Ultimate Face and Body Treatment (90 min.). Begin your experience with a back cleanse and exfoliation that refreshes the skin. Continue the journey with a stress-relieving back massage and therapeutic Ayurvedic scalp massage to pinpoint areas of tension, bringing relief to tired or aching muscles. Then enjoy a deep cleansing facial using an exotic blend of the finest essential oils and effective natural botanicals unique to the Refinery range, while rebalancing your skin, leaving it bright, supple and refreshed.
Feeling hungry after a deep and relaxing therapy? No need to go out as the Michelin-recommended restaurant, Cuisine Cuisine, is located on the third floor of The Mira hotel (also accessible via Mira Mall for non-staying guests). An upscale, modern Chinese eatery offering the finest Cantonese delicacies, with a unique contemporary twist.
Also on Kowloon side, Maison Eight, a high-class destination with sweeping vistas of the city’s skyline, offers French-inspired cuisines, crafted menus, creative cocktails, and tasteful beats all year round in four venues under one roof. Esmé, the cozy signature French restaurant holds only seven tables in a subtle and sophisticated semi-private room. Salvatore at Maison Eight is the first cocktail bar in Asia by The Maestro, world-renowned bartender Salvatore Calabrese. Host to the world’s first Bollinger Champagne room, Le Club 1829 is a vintage-inspired private room with an adjacent wine cellar offering a selection of over 2,300 bottles and all the Cuvee and key vintages of the distinguished brand. The Ballroom is a modern reinvention of the classic ballroom with coach-built detailing and it’s very own private terrace. www.maisoneight.com
This Hong Kong transformation into a hub of creative venues, cultural spaces, art galleries, and international art fairs has brought more hip bohemian visitors and long-staying expats, setting up start-ups and innovative businesses, which are generating diversity for this new cosmopolitan expansion.
Story and photos by Vincent Sung
Produced by Fluxus Agency
This feature was first published in World Travel magazine
Some hotel photos courtesy of each featured hotels