Wandering Wan Chai – a local’s guide

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Hello and welcome to my first edition of mAppetite Hong Kong on Wan Chai! The idea behind mAppetite is to explore particular neighborhoods within Hong Kong intimately. While the focus is primarily on food and drink, I have linked these establishments with a few points of interest in between (to burn some calories if nothing else!) Naturally, as my current area of domicile and one of Hong Kong’s oldest districts, Wan Chai seems the perfect to place to start. Should you feel inclined to follow this day-long walk through my hood, I have attached my own hand- drawn map (hence the name mAppetite) with the route and places of interest included, plus a few places to eat and drink along the way. You’ll also find a list of sources at the bottom should you be interested in any additional information. Hope you enjoy!

1) MORNING COFFEE ON SWATOW STREET

IMG_5880Start your day with the perfect cuppa from your choice of cafe along Swatow Street. I particularly love the Piccolo Latte they do at Mansons Lot. (Just don’t expect service with a smile!)  Alternatively there’s a quaint little street side cafe where I’ve always been met with friendly service just opposite, called Share Cafe. Other options include the ever popular Cupping Room or, my next recommended pit-stop, Passions.

Head North from Swatow Street till you hit Johnston Road then hook a right. Immediately on your right you’ll see two more places of interest. The aforementioned Passions – a western style bakery/patisserie/cafe – and the local Tai Cheong Bakery. I suggest grabbing a western style pastry at Passions, (there are many great ones to choose from) then following it up by sampling some of Tai Cheong’s famous Hong Kong style egg tarts. (The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, was famously a big fan!)

IMG_1322From here turn back on yourself walking West along Johnston road till you hit Ship Street. (Notice the beautifully restored former Pawn shop and heritage site (dating back to late 19th century) on your left-hand side. The bar inside – aptly named the Pawn – has a lovely terrace that overlooks the trams passing by on Johnston Road. I’m a little bitter as they renovated last year and felt they killed the atmosphere. It’s also somewhat (very) pricey. Nonetheless…) Take a left down ship street till you hit Queen’s Road East. (Three places of foodie note along this street include Ham & Sherry (amazing BLT’s), restaurant Akrame (Michelin star French fine dining. Tip – their lunch deals are more reasonable!) and 22 Ships (fab tapas).

2) THE WAN CHAI HAUNTED HOUSE AND STAR STREET AREA

DSCN3442Once you hit Queen’s Road East, cross the road opposite the Hung Shing Temple and poke your head inside. The Hung Shing Temple, originally overlooking the harbour, worships Hung Shing Ye, the God of the Sea. It was built in mid-19th century against a boulder protruding inside which is used as a small altar table. Notice the ‘Shiwan’ ceramic pottery decorations on the the roof.

From here come back to Ship street and head up the hill then hook a right down Schooner Street. If you keep heading up Ship Street a little further up on your right you should see an old abandoned red brick colonial era building named Nam Koo Terrace – also known as the Red house or Wan Chai haunted house. The place is said to be one of Hong Kong’s most haunted buildings and has been the scene of many suicides, rapes and murders. Japanese soldiers made Nam Koo Terrace a military brothel in WWII where women were raped and tortured inside. Their spirits are now said to spew IMG_5681green smoke in the building’s dilapidated rooms at night. In 2003 a group of teenagers stayed the night at the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghosts. Three of the girls emerged in hysterics, claiming to have been attacked by the spooky residents and were later sent to hospital to receive psychiatric treatment…

From Schooner street you should be able to wind your way through the back alleys till you reach Star Street. Spend some time exploring some of smaller boutique shops, restaurants and bars in the area. (Two of my favourite include Beef & Liberty – arguably Hong Kong’s best Burger restaurant – and Ted’s lookout – super chic cocktail bar which, I’m told, also serves some pretty awesome food.) Once you’ve had your fill of the Star street area head back down onto Queen’s Road East and cross the road opposite Landale Street.

3) QUEEN’S ROAD EAST FOOD CRAWL

IMG_2382Is it lunch yet? Walk down Landale street and depending on your fancy, stop for an awesome burger at The Butcher’s Club Burger (I highly recommend the Wu Tang Style from their not-so-secret ‘secret menu’.) or an amazing bowl of Laksa from the ever popular Prawn Noodle Shop. If it’s still a little early you can wait but eating around 11am to midday is a clever way to avoid the lunch time rush! Either way I have plenty more pit-stops in store so consider sharing whatever you choose to save some room. Alternatively consider walking back to Ship street to try one of my previously mentioned places (see above). At the end of Landale street hidden down an alley you’ll also find a wicked cocktail bar called Djibouti. (Something worth considering for later on!)

From Landale head East on Johnston Road and hook a right down Gresson Street, through the market, till you hit Queen’s Road East once more. Hang a left and continue East till you hit the Hopewell centre, then cross the road. There are plenIMG_2874ty of foodie spots along the way. Immediately on you left after turning onto Queen’s Road East from Gresson is Happy Cake Shop – spot the original red lettered sign – a local style bakery that has been serving up tasty baked treats (think pineapple buns, egg tarts and palmiers) for over 3 decades. Further East the QRE plaza, directly opposite the Hopewell centre, has floor upon floor of restaurants and bars. I’ve been advised that Korean restaurant Momojein is fantastic and up top on my list of next-to-try in Wan Chai. The Hopewell centre itself contains Papillion Caffe on the 17th floor and a revolving restaurant at the top – good for the view but not the food.

From the Hopewell Centre continue East down Queen’s Road East till you reach Stone Nullah Lane. On the way, just before Wan Chai Gap road on your right-hand side, you’ll see the environmental resource centre. IMG_2207Formerly the Old Wan Chai Post Office, it was built in 1915 (For more information a gold plaque attached to front of the building details its history.). Just past Stone Nullah Lane on Queen’s Road East is my next recommended pit-stop, Northern Yuan Dumplings (NYD), famous for their northern style steamed dumplings. I highly recommend their mutton and scallion variety! If dumplings aren’t your thing (Are you crazy?) fear not. Just a couple of blocks behind, off Stone Nullah Lane on Hing Wan Street, is Maureen’s. A molecular style noodle joint famous for slow cooking everything in vacuumed sealed bags in water – seriously good!

4) PAK TAI TEMPLE, THE BLUE HOUSE AND WAN CHAI MARKETS

IMG_4617From either NYD or Maureen’s, head south up Kennedy Street till you reach the beautiful, and often overlooked, Pak Tai Temple. Built by local residents in 1863 to honour Pak Tai, a powerful martial god, the temple is the biggest on Hong Kong Island. Once you’ve spent a short while exploring this charming site, head north down Stone Nullah Lane. On your right you’ll pass a couple of things. First up THE STALLERY WCH is a cool little gallery worth a few minutes of your time. Further down the famous Blue House is a Grade 1 Historic Building built during early 20th century. (It currently houses Hong Kong House of Stories, a community project which organises exhibitions, community classes and trains locals as cultural tour guides. It is open daily 11am to 6pm except Wednesdays and public holidays. Blue House is currently the subject of a revitalization project along with the adjacent Yellow House.) On your left close to Queen’s Road East is Stone Nullah Tavern, a DSCN3393wicked American style craft beer and food house, if you’re feeling thirsty already. Similarly close by next to Maureen’s is another chic bar called Tai Lung Fung.

Once you reach Queen’s Road East (for the last time I promise) have a look for two signboards on the pavement near the corner of Stone Nullah Lane and Queen’s Road East for some interesting information on the history of the Blue House and our next stop, the Wan Chai Market. If you look closely you’ll also notice a map depicting Wan Chai’s original coastline. The name Wan Chai – literally meaning “small bay” – comes from the fact that the coastline of Wan Chai used to be along Queen’s Road East. If you have a look the road curves round from Admiralty which, when it was the coastline, formed a bay (Go figure!). I bring this up now because the route from here basically makes a beeline to the harbour front of today to give you an idea of just how much land has been reclaimed over the years.

Once you’re finDSCN3410ished trying to picture what Wan Chai looked like during the 19th Century, cross QRE and make your way through the delightful Wan Chai Market. Be sure to snap a few shots of the various meat and vegetable vendors as you do! Note the original site of the Wan Chai market is where you’ll currently find the furniture store and Cafe OVO. The curved facade is in keeping with the original 1937 market building and is one of the few remaining examples of German Bauhaus-style architecture in town. The new market complex is on the lower levels of “The Zenith”, a newly built residential development located just opposite.

Once you’re through to the other side, take a left down the neighbouring Tai Yuen and Cross Street markets (famous for toys, trinkets, clothing and the occasional spice vendor). Continue till the end of Cross Street then turn right down Spring Garden Lane till you hit Johnston Road. Spring Garden Lane also has its fair share of foodie places. At the end of Cross Street on Spring Garden Lane you’ll find another local Hong Kong style bakery, Kam Fung, famous for pineapple buns and chicken pies. Further down towards Johnston on your right-hand side is Sun King Yuen Curry, famous for beef noodles and a curry dish with pork and rice. Beyond that is one more very popular lunch time spot famous for dim sum (doesn’t have an English name). If you’re trying to get into any of these places during the lunch rush be prepared to queue!Sun King Yuen curry

On Johnston turn right then cross the road opposite the MTR. Continue straight, past the MTR, till you find a set of stairs leading to an upper undercover walkway. (If you happen to love gadgets continue straight ahead instead of taking the stairs and, on your left-hand side on the corner with Hennessy Road, is the Wan Chai Computer Centre. – A computer mall selling all manner of gadgetry and computer goods. A paradise for computer buyers! If you’re going to buy anything here be sure to check several stores for the best price.) Continue along the walkway till you reach the Immigration Tower (You’ll cross several roads along the way with an alternative, ‘from-above’, view of Wan Chai. Of note both Lockhart road (red-light district) and Jaffe Road have a large number of bars and restaurants – see my map for more suggestions.)

5) CENTRAL PLAZA AND THE HONG KONG CONVENTION CENTRE

At the Immigration Tower turn right and follow the walkway into the adjacent Central Plaza. The Central Plaza is a 78-story, 374 m (1,227 ft) skyscraper completed in 1992. It was the tallest building in Asia from 1992 to 1996 (now the third tallest DSCN0551in Hong Kong behind the ICC and IFC.). On the top of the tower is a four-bar neon clock that indicates the time by displaying different colours in 15-minute intervals, blinking at the change of the quarter from top to bottom so you can tell whether it’s quarter past, half past, quarter to or on the hour. It also houses the highest church in the world on the 75th floor! Once inside take a lift to Sky Lobby on the 46th floor for one of the best free Hong Kong views on the island. (Note the Sky Lobby is only open during office hours – Mon – Fri 8am till 8pm and Sat 8am till 2pm.)

Once you’ve taken a few pics, head down to ground level where you’ll find a public outdoor area for good ground level views of the building. From here head West along Gloucester Road, past the Immigration tower, till you reach the Gloucester Road Garden. (If want to take a shortcut, back on the first floor thoroughfare of Central Plaza, you can take the northern pedestrian bridge towards the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre then turn right across Fleming Road into the Harbour Centre where my route then continues past Belgium Beer Cafe Frites. – See further below and pick it up from there if desired!) Cross to the opposite corner where you’ll find an alley way that leads you onto Harbour Road then hook a left. Once here you should see an over-the-road walkway leading into a small green space in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. (The Grand Hyatt has some fine restaurants for the not-so-buDSCN0149dget traveler. These include Tiffin, very popular for afternoon tea; One Harbour Road, for traditional Cantonese food and dim sum, and the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse.)

Make your way North through the Garden onto Convention Avenue. From here cross the road and follow Expo Drive till you hit the harbour front walking around the perimeter of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC). Hug the harbour front all the way round the Expo promenade making sure to stop and enjoy the views back towards central and across the harbour towards Tsim Sha Tsui. First built in 1988, the HKCEC is used for a large variety of exhibitions, fairs and shows (see link at the bottom for upcoming/ongoing events). The second phase of building, which took place from 1994-1997, consisted of the striking bird-like roof you see today (Many critics think it resembles a turtle however I think a cockroach is more accurate!) The HKCEC most famously served as the backdrop for the Handover Ceremony on June 1997 when the former British Crown Colony was returned to the People’s Republic of China. As you walk around the HKCEC along the Expo promenade you’ll find the Golden Bauhinia Square, bearing the flower emblem of Hong Kong, that was given to commemorate the event. Early birds can catch a daily flag-raising ceremony at 7:50am performed by police officers in ceremonial uniform.

6) AFTERNOON REFRESHMENTS AND THE BOWRINGTON ROAD WET MARKET

IMG_2233Once you’ve reached the Golden Bauhinia Square, head south around the other side of the HKCEC then take a left at Convention Avenue. From here you should see another undercover walkway that takes you up and over the road into the Harbour Centre. Follow this pedestrian walkway through to the opposite side of Harbour Centre then turn left. Continue till you reach an area of bars and restaurants that form part of this first floor pedestrian walkway (see Map for a better idea). The first bar you should see is called Frites, a Belgian beer cafe, ideal for an afternoon drink if you’re feeling somewhat ‘thirsty’ at this point. (Around the corner are a few other bars to choose from including the Hop House and Trafalgar Square. Alternatively keep going and you’ll find a few cafes to choose from in the Sun Hung Kei Centre shopping arcade.)

From Frites continue along the pedestrian walkway to the opposite corner along Gloucester Road, where you’ll find another pedestrian bridge that crosses diagonally over Gloucester Road leading back to ground level on Tonnachy Road. Continue straight ahead (South) till you reach Lockhart Road then hook a left. Follow Lockhart till the next intersection then cross the lights to the opposite corner. From here, just off Lockhart on Marsh Road, you’ll find Keung Kee, famous for a number of local street foods including cheong fun (rice noodle roll) and glutinous rice. I recommend choosinIMG_2788g one to share!

Once you’ve satisfied your afternoon craving continue East down Lockhart Road in the same direction till you reach the overpass on Canal Road West. (On this stretch of Lockhart you’ll find the second branch of Northern Yuan Dumplings. You’ll also find Tony Wong’s patisserie for some delicious sweet treats and, most famously, ‘Under the Bridge Spicy Crab‘.) From here follow the overpass underneath, heading South down Canal Road West, crossing Hennessy Road till you reach Wan Chai Road then turn right into the Bowrington Road Wet Market. The Bowrington Road Wet Market, a stone’s throw from Times Square, is easily one of Hong Kong’s best. Prepare yourself for sensory overload as hawkers selling bloody carcasses, flapping seafood and large variety of fruit and vegetables, all vie with one another to give the best deal. On Bowrington Road, where the market intersects Wan Chai road, you’ll find the famous Bowrington Road cooked food IMG_2625centre opposite a variety of seafood restaurants that spill out onto the street. If you choose to eat here, which I highly recommend you do, enter the via the staircase on the Bowrington Road side of the building and take a seat at either Wai Kee, if its lunch time (11am – 6pm), or Wing Kee, if coming during dinner (6pm – 2am). Wai Kee is a halal (حلال) restaurant famous for roasted duck or chicken, served with rice, noodles or curry, while Wing Kee is famous for its seafood. The atmosphere really gets going at night and gives you a true taste of Hong Kong’s dai pai dong love affair.

7) WAN CHAI ROAD AND THE GREEN HOUSE

From the Wet Market continue West along Wan Chai Road till you reach Mallory Street then turn right. Wan Chai road has a large variety of famous foodie places worth checking out should you have the time aIMG_0929nd appetite. Coffee Academics is a good spot for a pick-me-up if you’re beginning to flag at this point. Past the Charter House Hotel on your left you’ll find a very popular local noodle chain called Tam’s Yunnan Noodle. On Heard Street, North off Wan Chai Road, you’ll find Capital Cafe, a very famous Cha Chaan Teng. Cha Chaan Teng or ‘Tea Restaurant’, is another local food institution that began after the second world war when locals, influenced by the British, wanted to have cheap Western food (si yau sai chaan). Over the years what has resulted is a kind of Western-Canto cuisine at very cheap prices. Hong Kong milk tea (black tea made with evaporated or condensed milk), instant noodles with spam, toast with condensed milk and butter, and sandwiches with egg and ham are some of the things you can expect. Personally not my thing as I think had I made this at home, I’d be very disappointed with myself. However, I would add, you should always try these things and decide for yourself… Further down Wan Chai Road on your left (on the 5th floor of the Lucky Centre) is Megan’s Kitchen, quite possibly my favourite hotpot place in Hong Kong. And finally, a little further down on your left on Burrows Street is Oddies, a fusion dessert joint combing Hong Kong style egg waffles with a number of interesting ice cream flavour combinations. Yes please!

DSCN3460On Mallory street, to your left hand side, you’ll find the former Green House, a Grade II historic building now operated as the Comix Base by the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Previously a block of tenement houses dating back to the mid 1910’s, the Green House became the first pure preservation cum revitalization project of the Urban Renewal Authority and officially opened on 18 July 2013. Although no longer Green, some prominent features of the project such as the balconies, tiled pitched roof, timber French doors and internal timber staircase have been preserved. The building also includes a 300-square metre public open space and studios for animation artists as well as a library that collects comic books and magazines. Other features include exhibition rooms, educational workshops, retail space for selling comics and merchandise as well as food and beverages outlets.

Spend some time exploring the former Green House (theIMG_2321re are always some interesting comic exhibitions at the top), before making your way through onto Burrows Street. Turn right and cross Johnston Road straight ahead where you’ll find your final port of call, the Hennessy Podium. Head inside via the escalators to the left then take the lift to the top floor and enjoy a well earned drink atop Wooloomooloo‘s wicked roof top bar! (FYI Wooloomooloo doesn’t open till 6pm. If you time it right getting here for dusk will afford some great sunset views over this very special neighbourhood.)

Is it dinner yet?…

8) CONCLUSION

On a more serious note I’d like to finish by sharing some of my own thoughts on the fragile future of my beloved neighbourhood. What basically started as a quest to find the best foodie spots in Wan Chai changed into something that hit much closer to home. My recent exploration of Wan Chai led me down streets and hidden spots previously unknown to me despite living here for over 4 years! As sad as this is, it has taught me that so many of Wan Chai’s endless secrets and stories, far from being well advertised, are in danger of being completely forgotten altogether. I’ve tried to point out many historical sites in the hope it may raise a little more awareness about Wan Chai’s beautiful past and the need to preserve it. It’s been inspiring to learn about the various undertakings of different people and organizations trying hard to both promote and protect Wan Chai and Hong Kong’s heritage. The preservation and revitalisation project of the former Green house and current restoration projects including that of the Blue and Yellow houses, are testimony to what these efforts can achieve. Having said that, the future of sites such as Nam Koo Terrace remain precarious as current owners and developers Hopewell Holdings remain undecided on its fate. Despite its dark past, the loss of Wan Chai’s history is something we should fear much more than that of its ghosts. 


SOURCES:

WAN CHAI FOOD MAP:

mAappetite WAN CHAI.pdf (My own poorly hand-drawn map to help you get lost…)

TEMPLES AND HERITAGE:

http://www.ctc.org.hk/en/directcontrol/temple10.asp (Offical website of the Chinese Temples Committee – set up to manage and operate a number of temples within Hong Kong. Their website gives a wealth of information on various temples around Hong Kong.)

http://thetempletrail.com/pak-tai-temple-wan-chai/ (Great little blog post detailing more information about both the Hung Shing and Pak Tai Temples in Wan Chai.)

http://www.hongkongextras.com/_wan-chai-heritage_trail.html (This is a great website containing a library of information on everything you might want to know as a visitor. In particular their Wan Chai heritage trail is very informative and includes a downloadable map should you be interested in exploring more of Wan Chai’s historical sites and buildings.)

http://www.ura.org.hk/en/projects/heritage-preservation-and-revitalisation/wan-chai/mallory-street-burrows-street.aspx (The official website of the Urban Renewal Authority – set up to encourage and facilitate the regeneration of older urban areas in Hong Kong. Projects include both the former Green House and currently the Blue and Yellow Houses in Wan Chai.)

http://houseofstories.sjs.org.hk/?q=engtour (Official website of House of Stories – linked is the page to some of their tours should you be interested!)

HAUNTED HONG KONG:

http://theparanormalguide.tumblr.com/post/80443073954/nam-koo-terrace-the-wan-chai-haunted-house (Interesting blog post on the history of Nam Koo Terrace.)

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-24302108 (Great BBC article touching upon Wan Chai’s haunted past and the efforts of those trying to protect Hong Kong’s historical sites in the face of rampant redevelopment.)

http://yp.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/90209/hong-kongs-most-haunted-places (Short article with a list of other haunted sites in Hong Kong)

WAN CHAI RECLAMATION/HISTORY:

http://www.oldhkphoto.com/coast/ (Great website with a fantastic interactive map detailing the original coastline and various stages of reclamation in Hong Kong.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wan_Chai (Wikipedia entry on Wan Chai details a good overview of its History.)

FOOD BLOGS & SOURCES:

http://www.openrice.com/en/hongkong/restaurants/district/wan-chai (Openrice – Hong Kong’s local equivalent of TripAdvisor although solely based on food.)

https://en.tripadvisor.com.hk/Restaurants-g294217-Hong_Kong.html#MAINWRAP (Always worth cross checking both – I don’t always trust Openrice when it comes to Western restaurants.)

http://www.thatfoodcray.com/that-restaurant-cray-where-to-eat-in-hong-kong/ (Another great blog for all things food. Linked is an article on where to eat in Hong Kong. A great list if I do say so myself!)

EVENTS/OTHER:

https://www.theloophk.com/ (Fantastic website with great articles detailing city life and local events around Hong Kong plus some excellent restaurant reviews to boot.)

http://www.strippedpixel.com/free-hong-kong-skyscraper-views/ (Nice site with a number of blog posts about Hong Kong – linked is one on the best skyscraper views in Hong Kong including Central Plaza and the Hopewell Centre. Also worth having a look is their articles on the Bowrington Road wet market and cooked food centre. http://www.strippedpixel.com/bowrington-road-wet-market/)

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