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Archive for the ‘Wan Chai’ Category

I’ve been eating such good food lately that there’s going to be an explosion of posts coming up this weekend! Really quickly, though, I wanted to report that my favorite vegetarian restaurant (never thought I’d be saying that!) has opened an outpost in Wan Chai – that’s right, Life now has a takeaway deli on Ship Street!

A welcome sight on Ship Street

There are different salads on offer each day, and the same prices apply as those of the original Life Cafe in Mid-levels: For $50 you can get a small box with your choice of three salads, and for $75, you get a bigger box with five salads. I got a small box to go (I was on my way to work, after all) and selected the broccoli salad with tomatoes and feta cheese, the quinoa, and the lentil salad.The lentil salad had a nice middle eastern flavor to it, thanks to the cumin and cilantro – I think out of the three, it was my favorite.

The salads were all put into the same box, so sorry about the slightly messy photos! This is the lentil salad...

...and the broccoli and quinoa

There’s also a great selection of their delicious vegan desserts, which I’ll have to try next time. There are a few tables and chairs, so perhaps I’ll take a friend or two this weekend and we’ll get our veggie on.

Life Deli
50 C Johnston Road (Entrance on Ship Street)
Cost: $50 HKD for a selection of three salads

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After a frenzied fall of applying for grad school, I was finally able to take a breath and enjoy one of my favorite things on earth – lazy weekend mornings. Well, actually, my favorite thing on earth is what you eat on lazy weekend mornings: Brunch. There’s nothing I love more than having a nice, leisurely chat with friends while stuffing my face with 2,000 calories before noon (or after noon, in some cases) and not feeling too guilty about it because hey – it’s brunch.

P and I have been casually scouring the city for brunch spots, and one of our favorites is Classified on Wing Fung Street in Wan Chai. The space itself is a bit small – only two big tables with shared seating and some stools along a counter – but the food is great AND you can get coffee in soup bowls (that’s right, soup bowls). Our must-order dish is the baked camembert, served with homemade toast.

This dish may change your life

We first ordered this because I saw a couple next to us spreading the obscenely creamy butter on their toast. After we ate it, a mom-and-daughter pair asked what we had, then promptly ordered one for themselves. It’s not hard to love. The cheese fairly oozes out when you poke the top, like a gooey, savory creme brulee. There are bits of truffle on top, just to make your day that much better.

Another of our favorite dishes is the french toast, which comes in a formidable stack. I also recommend the chorizo and beans on toast. The chorizo is so plump and salty, just the way Spanish sausage should be. Lastly, we usually get the homemade granola with fruit and yogurt. Every time we go with J, she happily digs to the bottom of the bowl and exclaims, “Oooh, watermelon!”

Granola heaven

As a bonus, this place always has bakery items on sale. We grabbed a loaf of multi-grain on the way out the door and it was promptly consumed on the same day.

I do wish this place had more seats, as I feel a little guilty lingering over my coffee/tea/Vero hot chocolate and newspaper/ipod/engaging conversation as others wait by the door. However, if you come early enough (around 10), you’ll have the place nearly to yourself.

Classified Mozzarella Bar
31 Wing Fung Street
2528 3454
Cost: ~ $120/person

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Those who know me know of my OBSESSION with pho. There’s something about a bowl of aromatic soup noodles that is so darn comforting. Call it chicken noodle soup for the Asian soul, I guess. HK Island is dotted with Vietnamese joints and I’ve sampled a fair bit, though I must admit I get stuck on my favorite, Nha Trang. However, I’ve found a worthy pho rival on the streets of Wan Chai: Pho Saigon. This place makes steaming bowls of brothy goodness just like the stuff I had in Hanoi. Go. If you appreciate authentic pho, you will not be disappointed.

Rare-beef pho, which I realized might have been a bit risky for takeaway...but I can think of it as beef carpaccio if it doesn't cook, right?

The broth!

My first experience with Pho Saigon was take-away, and honestly, I’m glad it was. That’s because they packed my broth and noodles separate and I think I got extra broth (which is my favorite part of the dish!). It was amazing to taste them separately because it seemed as though the already-amazing brother underwent a metamorphosis when I poured it into the bowl with chilis, lime, and marjoram (OMMMMGGG the marjoram! So good!). Pre-noodles, the broth had the most wonderful taste of cloves and star anise that I haven’t gotten in any other pho place in town. So heavenly.

I loved the pho so much I went to the restaurant later that week. The manager/host is super-nice; he’s Vietnamese but speaks really good English, and quite good Canto, from what I could tell. He actually remembered me from earlier in the week; when we came in, he immediately said, “Welcome back!” (to the amusement of my dining companions, P and W). We ordered the pho again, the sweet potato curry, rice paper rolls, and the original bahn mi. Truthfully, I think the pho is the best out of those dishes; I’ve gotten better for  both the latter two items. However, the sweet potato curry was really unique – the sweetness came not from coconuts, as is usually expected, but from the mashy sweet potato. The manager also told us if the curry wasn’t thick enough we could stir it up or ask him for more. I liked that; service felt very personalized. It seemed like he actually cared if we had a good dining experience, which is a pleasant departure from some other places in town where they expect you to eat it and beat it, so long as they get your money.

Sweet potato curry

P also got a hot Vietnamese coffee at the end of the meal. He pronounced it one of the best ones he’s had; the coffee itself was just a little bit sweet but still boldly biting.

But the pho! Every time I think about it, I want to pull a Joseph-Conrad-Heart-of-Darkness moment and just cry out, “The pho! The pho!” Except what I’m dying of is happiness.

Pho Saigon
G/F, 319 Hennessy Road
2833 6833
Cost: ~ Takeaway $31 for small bowl of pho; $80 for dine-in dinner

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I’ll admit it: I’m a bit slow on the uptake. At least, I was with Shake ‘Em Buns. I couldn’t believe I’d lived in HK for two years without ever trying their (in)famously named naughty nibbles. But you know what? Now I know. And IMHO, Shake ‘Em Buns (at least in Wan Chai) has some of the best burgers in town even topping – dare I say it – BLT Burger.

When P and I ambled into Shake ‘Em Buns last week, we immediately liked the gothic-sitting-room-cum-western-saloon vibe, compete with the burger bar overlooking the grill. (If that description sounds weird, just visit the place in person. You’ll see.) The menu was quite large; we hemmed and hawed over poutines vs. chili fries vs. San Francisco Fries, and chicken vs. burger. For some reason P had his mind set on chicken, so he ordered the Hot Chick and I got the Debbie Does Dallas, mainly because it has my favorite sinful treat: bacon. We also got some San Francisco Fries to split.

While I will say the Hot Chicken (a spicy chicken sandwich) was good, the burger stole the show. I will never be getting anything else at Shake ‘Em Buns. The bun was buttery and moist and the patty was both seasoned and grilled to perfection. The BBQ sauce added the right degree of juiciness without overwhelming the taste of the beef. I think I can safely say this is the only food that ever made me want to make sounds reminiscent of its namesake.

Ohhhhhh Debbie!

Got the hots for the Hot Chick?

The San Francisco fries were all right; the olive oil was a nice departure from plain ‘ol salted fries…though next time I think I’ll go for something with a bit more flavor. Perhaps the chili cheese fries? I’m sure P, representing his Canadian heritage, will want to critique the poutines as well.

Hippie fries

Rest assured I will definitely be back. These are buns I’m not ashamed to booty call.

Shake ‘Em Buns
60 Johnston Road (but the entrance is on Ship Street)
2866 2060
Cost: ~ $90/person

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In Hong Kong, coffee chains like Starbucks and Pacific Coffee are an espresso a dozen. So when P and I were thinking of a local cafe to visit last weekend, we were kind of stuck. That is, until I remembered that one of my friends used to work at a delightful place called Cafe Zambra, located in Wan Chai. I read on openrice that their baristas made some of the best latte art in town, so after a short consult with P, we were on our way.

You're the cutest harbinger of death I've ever seen!

Zambra is in (what I consider) the tucked-away part of Wan Chai. That is, it’s not crammed between two girlie bars selling more than just beer; it’s not particularly close to the Star Ferry Pier, and it’s not close to Southorn Playground and the Tai Yuen street market. It’s on Jaffe, in between Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, and walking there you pass several quiet(er) streets until you happen upon the two-storied glass building that houses Zambra. Immediately, the open space put me at ease; there’s something about light and room to breathe that always makes me feel good. The interior is larger than it seems, as a small staircase towards the back leads to an upstairs seating area. And of course, like any good coffee shop, they’ve got free wi-fi.

The coffee itself is quite good (they’re known for their specialty beans, collected from all over the world), and it’s even better decked out with latte art. When the waitress brought our drinks up, P had an awesome skull design that defied our previous understandings of latte foam. Zambra also has a tempting selection of light snacks (sandwiches, salads, and couscous!) and desserts. The standout is the banofee pie, which I did not have on this visit, but on a previous occasion. The sticky, sweet, crunchy, gooey pie is truly addictive. Hurry to this gem-of-a-cafe next time you feel an indie (and I-wanna-pig-out-on-pie) vibe coming on.

Cafe Zambra
239 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai
2598 1322
Cost: ~ $30-40HKD per coffee drink

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I didn’t intend for this blog to get updated only once a month, but somehow, that’s become the format. I honestly would have written sooner had I not been inundated (in a delightful way) with friends and family from out of town. Having visitors always means an excuse to try new places, and since I had two sets of aunts/cousins come through from the Mainland, they were more interested in trying the local Hong Kong standouts. Here’s the best of our eating adventures:

TAO HEUNG

Sweet on the outside, sweet (and savory) on the inside

I met my two aunts for early morning yam cha at the Tao Heung in Maritime Square in Tsing Yi. I’d actually heard about this chain from my HK colleague C/G, but never had an opportunity to try it. The quality of dim sum is nearly as high as – if not equal to – that of Tim Ho Wun, IMHO. Only, instead of the deep fried cha siu bao, Tao Heung specializes in pineapple cha siu bao, which has the outer consistency of a pineapple bun, and the inner filling of sweet cha siu. A must-order! The ha gao were also plump and juicy, and the chen pi niu wan, or the beef balls with soybean sheets (better-tasting than it sounds, I promise) were also winners. The best part about the whole experience was the price – the three of us ate for around $150, and we had a feast!

Bodacious beef balls

I also went to Tao Heung in Wan Chai with my other aunt and cousin. The quality stayed consistent, only they didn’t have pineapple cha siu baos on offer. Maybe it’s just a weekend thing? The decor at the Tsing Yi branch looked more modern, but for some reason, the atmosphere at the Wan Chai store seemed more “Hong Kong”. In addition to the good food, you can hobnob with all the elders reading their newspapers over their dim sum. How’s that for authentic?

Tao Heung
Shop G04, G/F, Maritime Square (Tsing Yi)
2433 1103

2/F, CNT Tower, 338 Hennessy Rd. (Wan Chai)
2838 3097
Cost: ~ $50HKD/person

YUE KEE RESTAURANT

The most savvy Hong Kong foodies know the best roast goose can be found in the village of Sham Tseng, in the Tsuen Wan district. I had the privilege of getting in on this secret when my aunt and cousin visited. Apparently, when they came to Hong Kong in 1999, their local friend insisted on taking them to Yue Kee but, due to various circumstances, they never made it. Since then, my poor aunt has been waiting ten years to try this legendary roast goose.

You're adorable! Too bad we came to eat you.

I was determined not to let her down, and we set off to Sham Tseng, with little idea of where we were going. Getting there turned out to be surprisingly simple – take the Tsuen Wan line (red line) to Tsuen Wan and take minibus 96M (get on underneath the parking garage opposite Tsuen Wan station). A short (and curvy) ten minute ride will take you to the restaurant district. There are about a dozen roast goose establishments in the area, but since Yue Kee has been there the longest (since 1958) we made a beeline for it.

We've waited ten years for this goose!

We ordered a set lunch: at $208, it included a portion of the goose, choice of two dishes, and goose soup. It was more than enough for us three ladies, and we were glad we’d decided against getting a half order of goose! The bird was indeed yummy, as it was chewy, but not overly so, and perfectly complemented by the crispy skin on top. It was especially good paired with the apricot-ish glaze/dip that was put on the table.

Eggplant just like Mom used to make

My favorite out of the two dishes we ordered was the yu xiang qie zi, or stir-fried eggplant. It was served in a clay pot, which kept it warm throughout our meal. The eggplant wasn’t too soggy and oily, as is easy to do with this dish, but firm without being too tough.

At the end of the meal, my aunt declared the food was worth ten years.

Yue Kee Restaurant
9 Main Street, Sham Tseng San Tsuen, Sham Tseng
2491 0105
Cost: ~ $70 HKD/person (for lunch)

KAM FUNG

A staple in the Wan Chai area for decades, Kam Fung always has a line a thousand people long when I leave for work in the mornings. No doubt they’re queueing up for one of the cha chaan tang‘s signature pineapple buns or piping-hot egg tarts. I went for a sit-down breakfast with my aunt and cousin last week and was not dissapointed.

Just part of the breakfast sets

First off, be warned that their breakfast sets are big. My cousin and aunt both got a set and each got a bowl of noodles with accoutrements (ham for my cousin, preserved veggies for my aunt). They also each got a pineapple bun, fried egg, and a slice of ham. A drink was included – all for $28 HKD. I got a pineapple bun and a cold milk tea, and was more than satisfied. The crust of the pineapple bun was crispy, sweet, and flaky, and the inside was fluffy, almost like a croissant. It was definitely filling, and tided me over well past lunchtime.

I pine for this pineapple bun

My favorite aspect of the place is the way it feels like it’s been there forever. And my favorite waiter is an old, short, balding man who looks like he’s been there since the start. He knows I don’t speak Cantonese but on the instances I try, he jokes back in Canto, and I just have a gut feeling he’s making fun of me.

On a side note, the first time I went to Kam Fung, my friends told me to order the chicken tart, and egg tart, for which they’re also famous. I forgot what they taste like, but if my memory serves me, the egg tart wasn’t the shortbread crust like the Tai Cheong variety; rather, it was more flaky, the layers of dough peeling off delicately in your mouth. Try both tarts and the pineapple bun when you visit!

Kam Fung Restaurant
G/F, Spring Garden Mansion, 41 Spring Garden Lane
2572 0526
Cost: ~ $28 HKD/person for a breakfast set, or $12 HKD/person for a pineapple bun and beverage

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