Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2017
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Hong Kong buzz

Make the most of your time après-conference in China’s hottest city

Hong Kong ain’t what it used to be. Red-sailed junks still ply Victoria Harbour, but they’re strictly for tourists. The old Kai Tak airport, whose landings were so scary passengers felt they could rip the laundry off the clotheslines on the way down, is long gone. Vanished, too is Hong Kong’s status as Bargain City, ceded to greater China. It really is a different place. And it isn’t Shanghai, or Singapore. It’s so much more. These days, Hong Kong manufactures nothing but pleasure. It performs on the world stage as a city state of stupefying energies, stunning architecture, superlative restaurants and myriad beguilements.


Saturday


6:45pm Out of the Pod

Upgraded to Air Canada’s executive cabin, we were introduced to pod travel. These pods are devilishly clever devices, masterworks of efficiency and economy.

There was a surreal air about this, as if we’d been drafted for the next Star Trek movie. Passengers actually took pictures of one another in them.

Side pockets contained bottled water and reading material. A dinner tray emerged here, a TV monitor flipped out there, and the movie selection was impressive. When we wanted to sleep, the pod went flat-out. My wife drank Champagne. It was Johnny Walker Black for me.

Above all, the pod is solitary. In its self-contained universe, there is no conversation. We slept comfortably for several hours. For once, we had energy after a flight. Landing in Hong Kong’s international airport on Chek Lap Kok Island, we were out of our pods and on the tarmac running.


8pm An Endless Banquet

We had just had breakfast, and a good one, but so what? The dinner hour approached, and no one with a shred of sanity skips dinner in Hong Kong.

We had checked into our hotel, the Luxe Manor (39 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon; tel: 011-852-3763-8880; www.theluxemanor.com; rooms with buffet breakfast from $160). Although neither luxe nor a manor, it’s affordable, stylish and centrally located on the Kowloon side.

We taxied to the T’ang Court Restaurant (8 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon; tel: 011-852-2375-1133, ext. 2250; http://hongkong.langhamhotels.com) in the Langham Hotel. It has two Michelin stars and cooking that transcends the Cantonese icons of shark’s fin and birds’ nest, which continue to baffle us guai lo (the venerable term for “foreign devils”).

We ate simply from a fixed-price menu that skimmed the immeasurable delicacy of the Cantonese kitchen. Spring rolls crackled to reveal a stuffing of shrimp and garlicky Chinese chives. Fluffy taro puffs were filled with seafood. Crispy-skinned, salty chicken showed up at every table, and rightly so.


Sunday


9am Grass Roots

The Lin Heung Tea House (160–164 Wellington Street, Sheung Wan, Western; tel: 011-852-2544–4556) has been an institution for the past 80 years. It’s the most fun at breakfast.

We were squeezed in with strangers around a battered Formica tabletop. The clutter staggered the eye. The clatter came at us in Dolby Sound. Guests sterilized their teacups from steaming kettles. The table turned into a swimming pool. Leftovers piled up like pagodas.

In the steam-bath kitchen, cooks toiled in shorts. Out marched spring rolls, fried rice, chicken feet and fish stomachs that were pleasanter than they sound. Dim sum trolleys rolled through the crowd like tumbrels en route to the guillotine. Customers lunged at them. The food was coarse, but tasty. It’s the sense of place that’s indelible.


11am Ride the Ding-Ding

It was Sunday in the Central District’s Statue Square, and a thousand Filipino nannies were picnicking. We caught a double-decker streetcar: the “ding-ding.” It’s a great ride, on par with the Star Ferry. Perched on the upper deck, we rumbled through neighbourhoods, from Central through Wanchai and on to Causeway Bay. We disembarked at the end of the line at the North Point Market, where a thousand Indonesian nannies were having their day off.


1pm Cuisine Cuisine

Sichuan-born, self-educated Ronald Shao is chief toque at the posh Cuisine Cuisine (3101-3107 podium level 3, IFC Mall, Central; tel: 01-852-2393-3933; www.cuisinecuisine.hk). His stellar dim sum is a deep-fried vermicelli roll that begins with an audible crunch and leads into the creamy richness of goose liver — yes, foie gras.

Shao lets no grass grow under his feet, which is why the tourist board has named him Hong Kong’s Best Overall Chef. He stuffs his dumplings with minced pork and hairy crab roe, so they burst in the mouth as 21st-century surf-and-turf. He reinvents pork buns with a drizzle of abalone sauce. And he makes his own soy sauce using organic soybeans from some place called Canada.


2:30pm Antique Concerns

With its web of orderly street crossings, overhead pedestrian walkways and moving sidewalks, Central ranks as a splendid walking town. We followed a favourite trail, catching the outdoor escalator several blocks to Hollywood Road, then turning off past the coffin shops towards the antiques.

Hollywood Road is more than Qing Dynasty chinoiseries. We were transfixed by the booty at Arch Angel (53-55 Hollywood Road, Central; tel: 011-852-2851-6848), an Ali Baba’s cave that proves the best things in life are not exactly free. Here was a little something wonderful dating back to the Hang Dynasty, there a treasure from the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya. We coveted a pair of 17th-century wooden polychrome icons from Burma. They could have been ours for a mere $288,000.


5:30pm Cocktails on a Junk

The three-masted junk Aqua Luna (tel: 011-852-2116-8821; www.aqua.com.hk) has a piratical feel on its spin around the world’s most beautiful harbour. Deep-red sails toss against Hong Kong’s glittering skyline. We sprawled on deep cushions on the upper deck, drinks in hand, and fancied ourselves plunderers of the South China Sea. When the voyage ended only 45 minutes later, we wanted to sue.


8pm Backstreet Glamour

Looking out over Victoria Harbour from the 28th storey, Hutong (28/F, One Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon; tel: 011-852-3428-8342; www.aqua.com.hk) is one of the new-wave restaurants bolstering Hong Kong in its gastro rivalry with upstarts in Beijing and Shanghai.

“Hutong” refers to Beijing’s humble backstreets and courtyard houses. The courtyard is the central motif for the restaurant — a marvellous collection of antique bird cages reinforces it — but there’s not much that’s humble here.

Hutong is dark and bold and sassy. The glam harbour view almost diverted the eye from passing plates. Marinated scallops came with pillows of pomelo, the soft, sweet shellfish playing off the slightly sour Southeast Asian fruit. Hutong’s signature is golden-brown, crispy-skinned duck, roasted, deep-fried and completely heavenly. For un-Cantonese excitement — chili peppers are a terrorist act in these precincts — deep-fried soft-shell crabs arrived in a basket load of red chilies, and they were hot enough to call out the fire engines in hell.


Monday


10am Soaring over Lantau

We taxied to Lantau Island’s new attraction, the Ngong Ping 360 (Lantau Island; www.np360.com.hk). At 5.7 kilometres, this cable car ride is the longest in Asia and delivers surprising aerial views of the airport; high, rambling green hills and vast, uninterrupted nature.


11:30am Faux ‘Fu

The terminus is a tourist village that leads to the impressive Po Lin Monastery, where we sat down to a vegetarian lunch of faux shark’s fin soup, faux lemon chicken, faux this and faux that. Cunning stuff, tofu.

After lunch, we continued to the isolated Kun Yam Temple. Except for a shaven-headed female monk and a lone Buddhist pilgrim, we were by ourselves, and this intensified the serenity and beauty of the exuberantly painted temple complex.


1pm La Serenissima

Our last stop was nearby Tai O. Tales of piracy and smuggling surround the isolated 300-year-old fishing village. They were all instantly believable.

Precarious houses on stilts line the meandering harbour. Stalls come piled with the stinky dried fish and shrimp paste that barely sustain a vanishing way of life. In the village temple, we find the fanged Bon gods that preceded Buddhism in Tibet. It seems the unlikeliest of final refuges.

Canals and waterways inevitably mean the promotion of Tai O as the “Venice of Hong Kong.” It’s nothing of the sort, but it has its own rough beauty, especially in late afternoon, when walkers on rope bridges turn to silhouettes in the sinking sun.


6:30pm Peak Experience

We joined the huddle at the top of Victoria Peak (tel: 011-852-2849-7654; www.thepeak.com.hk) to peer down on one of the world’s most breathtaking urban perspectives. Dusk is prime time, as the sky darkens from deep blue to purple to black, and the urban jigsaw melts into a cauldron of light.


8pm A Nod to Nobu

Nobu (18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; Kowloon; tel: 011-852-2721-1211; www.intercontinental.com) in the InterContinental Hotel is the 21st restaurant owned worldwide by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa and his partners, including the actor Robert de Niro.

What makes Nobu special are the racy accents Matsuhisa picked up when he first left Japan for Peru decades ago. Just sink your teeth into oh-so-sweet raw scallops as they play off the sizzle of Peruvian chili paste.

The Hong Kong restaurant dazzles from a ceiling rippling with 450,000 sea urchin spines to a sushi bar composed of a single six-metre-long ficus tree trunk. It’s a landmark for people with fat wallets and the will to live to eat.

We spent three hours, measuring every bite and sipping California wines produced for the Nobu label. The kitchen orchestrates the sensations of sour, salt and spice, spurning the odious trend to sugar in every course.

For the memory book are yellowtail tuna sashimi with uzu and jalapeno peppers, whitefish sashimi with fiery Chinese XO sauce, and Saga beef that gives Kobe and Wagyu a run for their money.

Dessert was “iced cappuccino” of layered coffee brûlée, crushed coffee beans, cocoa crumbles, ice cream and, on top, Suntory whisky foam. This one put me straight to heaven.


Tuesday


10am Sweet Feet

Foot massage signs are springing up all over the city. It seems the workers of Hong Kong are improvising as the manufacturing sector fades. My wife loves foot massage almost as much as I hate it.

She found a studio a block away from the Luxe Manor and returned an hour later, grinning. “It’s one of Hong Kong’s bargains,” she said. “It’s candle-lit. There’s soft music. And it’s real Hong Kong-style reflexology. Oh, the pain…and the gain.”


1pm Michelin Starred Dim Sum

Our final Hong Kong fête, before the flight to Shanghai, was lunch at Lung King Heen (8 Finance Street, Central; tel: 011-852- 3196-8708; www.fourseasons.com/hongkong/) in the Four Seasons. Hong Kong is no longer the foodie capital of the Middle Kingdom — the Chinese dragon has recouped its gastronomic groove — but few dispute its title as dim sum heaven. Lung King Heen clinches it.

It’s the most gorgeous Chinese restaurant in town. Gawking at the silver-leaf ceiling, columns hand-threaded in red silk and carved jade napkin holders is permissible.

I was still more impressed by the observant staff. I was barely seated when a server shifted my chopsticks to the left-hand side of the plate. I had been holding my pen in my left hand.

Now to the dim sum: Shanghai dumpling gushed with steaming soup. Shrimp and lobster dumpling were all dreamy seafood flavours. The restaurant’s signature was a gossamer affair of scallops, shrimp paste and crisp Asian pear layered and deep-fried. It was probably the best single dim sum I’d ever encountered.

A month after we arrived home, executive chef Yan Tak went on to become the first Chinese chef ever to garner three Michelin stars. A Hong Kong farewell could hardly have been more fitting.

 

Air Canada (tel: 888-247-2262; www.aircanada.com) flies to Hong Kong daily from Toronto and Vancouver. For more travel information, contact the Hong Kong Tourist Board (tel: 416-366-2389; www.DiscoverHongKong.com/canada).

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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