With my departure from Hong Kong looming before me, I’ve given in to gluttony and am eating my way around Hong Kong to dull the pain of goodbye. Short on time, I’ve focused on a few institutions: (1) Tim Ho Wan 添好運 in Sham Shui Po; (2) Khyber Pass Mess Club at the infamous Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui; and (3) the exclusive China Club housed in the top floors of the old Bank of China Building in Central.
1. Tim Ho Wan 添好運: Cheap and cheerful Michelin-starred dim sum
Tim Ho Wan is the kind of place where they bring tea to the table for you to wash your own dishes in and where you have to pay for napkins. It’s also cramped and features efficient, but gruff service. It is absolutely perfect.
There is a recurring rumor that this place is the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. The menu is relatively short, but what they make, they make well. I highly recommend the “deep fried spring roll filled with shrimp and egg white.”
I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy dim sum two weekday mornings recently and haven’t waited more than an instant for a table. I’ve heard, however, that those who arrive at noon or on the weekend have to wait on the hot, steamy street outside in Sham Shui Po for over one hour while dodging the drippy air-conditioners mounted on the buildings above. You have been warned; time your visit well.
2. Khyber Pass Mess Club: Cheap Indian in Chungking Mansions
We didn’t necessarily choose the Khyber Pass Mess Club. Their persistent tout — stationed on the ground floor of the infamous Chungking Mansions amongst the “ladies tailoring” and “copy watch” touts — and a quick internet search, identified it out as a reliable choice amongst the many Indian “mess clubs” housed in the various tower blocks.
For those unfamiliar with the Chungking Mansions, it is a block of early 1960s (once) residential towers that (now) house a rag-tag assortment of cheap backpacker guesthouses, cheap business hotels catering to African and South Asian traders, curry restaurants, second-hand mobile phone stores, South Asian and African specialty food shops as well as God knows what else squirreled away in its back corners. (To learn a little more about the Chungking Mansions, read this Wikipedia article. To learn a lot more about the Chungking Mansions, read Gordon Mathews’ slightly too academic Ghetto at the Centre of the World.)
Having identified our dining destination, we queued with backpackers for an elevator up Block E. Once at the 7th floor we wound round the narrow halls, entered a rather nondescript door and were warmly directed to a corner table. The place was not busy, but several groups of young Hongkongers, a few South Asians and a Buddhist nun, were all mid-meal upon our arrival. After I become a member (a requisite free step), we were served Kingfisher beers and ordered a predictable assortment of Indian dishes: saag paneer, chicken tikka masala, channa masala, veg samosas and naan. We came away with happily full bellies for a budget price. Haters note: we did not suffer “Delhi Belly” the next day.
Did I remember to take a photo of the interior? No I did not. A quick description: fluorescent tube lighting over sturdy, long white laminate tables, grey curtain-covered windows, and little else.
3. The China Club: nostalgic Shanghai indulgence
Having enjoyed several value establishments, it was time to up the eating game with an evening at the exclusive China Club. This spot is members only and, unlike Chungking Mansions’ “mess clubs,” they mean it: we had to finagle reservations via a friend’s sister’s boss.
The China Club was established by Sir David Tang in 1991 and is a sumptuous throw-back to what China Hands dream glamorous 1930s Shanghai might have been like. The glow of red lanterns, dark wood finishes and whirling ceiling fans set the colonial feel. The torch singer fronting a small live band and waiters wearing white uniforms with red and gold trim, place one firmly in the 30s. Walls adorned with modern Chinese art, reminds us diners that we are not at a nostalgic Disneyland restaurant, but are still living in the modern era while simply indulging in a hip taste of the past.
The food consisted of pleasant versions of Chinese favorites: Peking duck, roasted pork belly, xiao long bao, green beans with minced pork, etc. Wine was served in lovely cut crystal glasses and utensils were elegantly, thin, silver chopsticks. At the end of the meal we were all surprised by a plate of anachronistic (American-invented) fortune cookies.
After dinner, we wound our way upstairs, past the library and long bar, to the outdoor terrace for after dinner drinks. Sublime.
I have ten days left. Where else should I go?
*You’ll note that none of these places have proper websites and that I’ve linked to whatever is the next best thing that will help you figure out where they are and how to contact them.
Yes, that’s how cool they are.