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Hong Kong Heartland
ADMITTEDLY, it takes a bit of effort to tear ourselves away from Hong Kong's many tourist haunts - the stretches of designer boutiques at Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui; the gentrifying hipster shopping districts of Wan Chai and Sheung Wan; the late-night cha chaan tengs to satiate our milk tea and pineapple bun fix; and the 61 Michelin-starred restaurants to spoil our taste buds, just to name a few. So why do we find ourselves at Hung Hom instead?
For one, the once-quiet residential neighbourhood is undergoing a revitalisation and is now more than just a transport hub for those connecting to mainland China trains. The newly-opened Ho Man Tin and Whampoa MTR stations have improved Hung Hom's accessibility and turned it into an up-and-coming lifestyle destination with plenty for even the most seasoned Hong Kong tourist to explore.
Together with Kowloon Bay and To Kwa Wan, it now forms what is known as the Bay Area with the Victoria Harbour running through it.
Right smack on the Hung Hom Promenade (which leads straight to Tsim Sha Tsui, if you must) sits Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts' first Kerry Hotel in Hong Kong. The 546-room luxury waterfront urban resort - conceived by the acclaimed interior designer André Fu and architect Rocco Design, and the first hotel to face the Kowloon waterfront since 1995 - opened in April and prides itself as the gateway to the Bay Area's historically rich neighbourhoods.
A short walk from the property takes you right into the heart of Hung Hom, where it feels like time has stood still (in a good way, of course). Naturally, it's home to one of Hong Kong's oldest cinemas, Lux Theatre (21 Bulkeley Street), which has been entertaining residents with the latest blockbusters since 1970. Everything about it is old school: from the way tickets are manually issued on pen and paper from a seller behind a counter, to its yesteryear ticket prices which are the lowest in the city (HK$45 - around S$8 - or HK$50 for 3D titles).
There are plenty of roadside stalls serving local street food and desserts but Hung Hom is also where you'll be surprised to find Hong Kong's first hamburger restaurant Si Sun Fast Food (1A Whampoa Street). This hole-in-the-wall eatery has been flipping patties since 1963 - more than a decade before McDonald's opened its first outlet in the city in 1975 - and its no-frills juicy minced pork/beef burgers with fried eggs and crispy crinkle-cut fries continue to be enjoyed by both young and old, judging by how busy it was when we visited at tea time.
For fresh and affordable seafood, head to Po Toi O, a small fishing village in Sai Kung (New Territories) which is accessible by private yachts that can be hired from Hung Hom Ferry Pier - right at Kerry Hotel's doorstep. Upon arrival, you're greeted by two kelong-style restaurants serving lunch and dinner with breathtaking views of Clear Water Bay Peninsula. It gets busy on weekends with Hong Kongers taking advantage of the hiking trails, and tourists checking it out because Australian celebrity chef Kylie Kwong featured Po Toi O on her television show. Parts of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) were also shot on location there.
While cha chaan tengs are a dime a dozen in Hong Kong, it's Mrs Tang Cafe in Yuen Long (Hang Tau Tsuen, Ping Shan) that draws daily 45-minute (more on weekends) queues with patient diners waiting under the hot sun to tuck into her signature tomato and egg pineapple buns and buttery HK-style sandwiches. The milk tea frappucino is also a must-order to beat the heat. And while there are two other slightly more accessible branches, it's the Yuen Long flagship where you'll find Mrs Tang herself overseeing the kitchen.
Over at Sage Family (No.8, Tai Om Road / Facebook: @sage.family) in Tai Po, the husband-and-wife team of Sunny Chan and Kobe Ho serve healthy farm-to-table vegetarian meals in their private home kitchen named after their two-year-old son. The young couple both gave up their corporate careers about two years ago to promote sustainable living and everything on the omakase seasonal tasting menu is locally grown or harvested from Mr Chan's farm two bus stops away.
It's a practice which the chefs at Kerry Hotel's F&B outlets - Hung Tong Chinese restaurant, Big Bay Cafe, the Lobby Lounge, Red Sugar bar, and Dockyard food court - also aim to do: sourcing its produce from nearby farms and making its own bread and butter, as well as its home-made Ginger Beer and Apple Spritzer.
As the hotel's general manager Nicholas Smith puts it: "It is an integral component of the Kerry Hotel brand to embrace the community and take in the local culture (as) Kerry Hotel Hong Kong connects seamlessly to the neighbourhood."
The writer was a guest of Kerry Hotel, Hong Kong. For reservations, go to www.shangri-la.com/hongkong/kerry.