It’s not the weekend, but it might as well be. The guys and gals are in the mood to party and the champagne is flowing freely.
And what’s not to celebrate? In all directions are the multi-hued luminous skyscrapers where deals go down that keep Hong Kong one of the richest and happiest cities anywhere.
With a welcome chance to enjoy a few days in Hong Kong at the end of an Asian cruise, it’s an opportunity to see that not only are celebrations still going strong in the city the locals call Honkers, the scene is livelier than ever.
You won’t see many new dim sum or noodle dens appearing these days. The story is an internationalization of menus, with a fusion of cuisines as well as cooking styles. Some of the biggest wine cellars in the world are here and they’re still expanding.
Ground zero of the new action is where Hong Kong got its start, the Central district. Let’s zoom in on a high-definition snapshot of modern Hong Kong at its most audacious and fun.
1) The High Life at Cé La VI
The California Tower is a phenomenon in the club district known as Lan Kwai Fong. It’s a 26-story high-rise building whose every floor is a different restaurant or club. And all of them seem to be flourishing.
At the very top is Ce La VI, a three-story party scene inspired by Hollywood, Bollywood or just a love of excess. The view from here is remarkable, with an ongoing light show all around created by digital light displays on every building and the ever-busy harbor in the distance.
The restaurant on the 24th floor offers a modern menu inspired by central and Southeast Asia and created by a chef who learned to cook creole during his early career in Louisiana. The ingredients and flavors change with the seasons and menu highlights include the Seasonal Seafood Poké, a blend of a new variety of fresh fish that changes each month. The suggestion is to order a variety of dishes because they’re served with sharing in mind.
Top off the evening with dessert on the roof patio that’s an ongoing party, with a DJ and a bar service that includes champagne delivered with enormous blazing sparklers to mark special events or just celebrate a beautiful evening.
Address: 25/F California Tower, 36, 30 D’Aguilar Street.
2) Getting social on Aberdeen Street
That’s Aberdeen Street in Central Hong Kong, not the fishing village with the floating restaurants. Smack dab in the middle of the area now known as SoHo is the PMQ, formerly the housing for the families of married police officers in the days when the British still ran Hong Kong.
Today the PMQ complex with its big courtyard has become a mall filled with upscale boutiques and restaurants. At the corner is a two-story house with outdoor terraces and gardens that’s the Aberdeen Street Social restaurant, a collaboration between Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton and entrepreneur Jenn Wong, founder of the JIA Group of hotels and restaurants in China.
Downstairs is more for pub fare and a drinks menu that includes “you’ve never tasted this” concoctions including highballs called passion-ably late, slap ‘n pickle and bittersweet symphony. It’s perfect for meeting for a cocktail and a nibble before heading upstairs for dinner in the more elegant restaurant with dining on a veranda. The menu ranges widely, from seafood and meats to truffle mac and cheese or pizzas.
Address: 35 Aberdeen Street, near the intersection with Hollywood Road.
3) Cocktail time at Mrs. Pound’s
Is it real or a put on? You could be persuaded that what looks from the outside like a run-down old shop selling engraved Chinese name seals guards a well-kept secret. Mrs. Pound’s purports to be a speak-easy run by an internationally-renowned burlesque dancer who was persuaded to give up her career by a wealthy Hong Kong gentleman who let her turn his stamp shop into a bar with entertainment.
But it was supposed to all be on the down low, so clients had to know the secret to get inside. You have to press down on one of the old stamps behind an opening in the glass showcase to unlatch the door.
Inside, the restaurant is a treasure trove of Hong Kong nostalgia kitsch, with a menu on a chalkboard that leans toward Malaysian-Chinese fusion dishes like Thai pizza and chili prawns. There’s a vast bar menu and daily drink specials like Young Master and Kyoto Sunrise. If you really want to make friends, the bar suggests “buy a round of shots for the house.”
Address: 6 Pound Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
4) Rech by Alain Ducasse at the Intercontinental
Taking a detour under the harbor on the MTR subway takes us to an old favorite hotel in Kowloon with a new restaurant by a familiar executive chef. At the Intercontinental Hong Kong, the former Spoon Restaurant with its unmatched panoramic harbor view is now Rech, an Asian outpost of a famed Parisian seafood restaurant founded by Adrien Rech in 1925 and reborn by celebrity chef Alain Ducasse in 2007.
The Hong Kong version is so rigorously authentic that most of the ingredients are flown in from France daily. In fact, even the decorative rocks on the tables are from French beaches. Rech’s signature dishes are French oysters, fish and shellfish in contemporary interpretations by chefs trained by Ducasse in France.
The menu’s “pan-seared line-caught sole, new potatoes,” promises the catch was line-caught by fishermen in small boats in Brittany and flown here overnight. Another specialty of the house is aged Camembert that’s served before desserts like “XL éclair,” made with chocolate from Ducasse’s kitchens in Paris.
Address: Intercontinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Rd ., Tsim Sha Tsui
5) Madera Hollywood: in the middle of the action
There are few hotels as convenient to Hong Kong’s thriving nightlife as the newly opened, hip design hotel Madera Hollywood. It’s in the gallery and club district on Hollywood Road, surrounded by art galleries and restaurants that attract young high-rollers. The staff is super helpful and the suites created from a former apartment building all have a set-design look, particularly the Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin suites. A signature feature in the lobby is the actual cane and bowler hat that Chaplin retired after making the movie Modern Times.
There’s a kitchenette with microwave, refrigerator stocked with complimentary beer and snacks and even a washing machine in our standard suite. While the hotel doesn’t have a restaurant of its own, it’s surrounded by eateries and if you’re not up for partying or an elegant meal, you can also self-cater from a big Marks & Spencer food shop on the corner.
The hotel’s funky design presents some challenges. The furnishings in our suite didn’t include any surface big enough to serve as a makeup table and there was only one chair at the kitchen counter that doubles as a dining area. Lighting and curtain controls were also so frustratingly high tech they were difficult to get set at the right levels.
But the suite was spacious, and quiet enough, considering that partying in the area goes on far into the night.
Address: 53 Hollywood Road, Central Hong Kong
6) A bonus: Ritzy breakfast with a view at Café 100
The Sky100 observation deck atop the International Commerce Center in West Kowloon offers the ultimate 360-degree view of the trillion-dollar skyline of Kowloon and Hong Kong. Newly opened is a terrace café run by the Ritz Carlton Hotel that does the world-topping view justice.
With a seating capacity of only 40 guests, it offers a menu of made-to-order sweet and savory crêpes, waffles and panini sandwiches. I recommend the cream-filled poffertjes, Dutch mini pancakes topped with chocolate along with a frothy cappuccino.
The view from 1,200 feet up is a stunning panorama of the ever rising city and the deck has a number of interactive amusement zones along with the view. It’s hard to come home to earth after the experience.
The elevator to the 100th floor observation level is located in the Elements shopping complex on the ICC. A package of breakfast or lunch with drink and a lift ticket and admission to the observation deck is being offered through the end of 2017. Reservations are required: [email protected]