It's the coast with the most
There's a good reason Sai Kung is referred to as Hong Kong's back garden, but it's not just the expanse of lush green country park and inviting waterfront that are attractive to visitors and locals. It's also because it offers plenty of amenities in a pleasant environment.
When it comes to eating out, Sai Kung is famous for its Chinese seafood restaurants existing alongside an abundance of Western-style bistros that extend a warm welcome to families and have extensive menus that attempt to cater for all palates. Because it's an area popular with expats, there are also several pubs competing to serve the biggest big breakfasts and the most sumptuous Sunday roasts - and a fish and chip shop, of course.
Scratch the surface and there's a wider and more surprising selection.
If it's fine dining you seek, there's not such a large selection, but what's there is notable - French and international restaurant One-Thirtyone (131 Tseng Tau village, tel: 27912684) and the Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant Loaf On in the old town (49 See Cheung Street; tel: 2792 9966). It is next door to the charming private Anthony Kitchen, which serves up a bit of both. (It's no relation to Anthony's Ranch or Anthony's Catch elsewhere in town.)
At the other end of the culinary scale is May's Sawaddee (No5, Ko Fu Building, 58-72 Fuk Man Road, tel: 27916500) located in what locals call 'Noodle Alley' for its plethora of hole-in-the-wall eateries. The popular Thai cafe is crammed at weekends with diners jostling for places on the rickety chairs at the wonky tables, which are part of its charm. In this unpretentious venue, which grew from one small shop in 2003 and rapidly expanded to include the two neighbouring premises, the food is consistently good, not to mention dirt cheap.
May, whose full name is Narudee Chaichompoo, is a well-known character whose lively personality and hard work have built up a thriving business. She'll tell you that her food is authentically Thai - hot and spicy - and recalls that, at first, locals didn't like it because they said it was too hot.
A visit to May's wouldn't be complete without trying the famous crispy pork neck with chilli dip, the paneang seafood curry and the pomelo salad. I was there recently in a party of four, and we ordered so many dishes (including those three) that we couldn't finish everything. The grand total was about HK$90 each. Diners can bring their own booze, and there's no corkage charge. May has another restaurant in the town next to McDonald's, not to be confused with the one next door to the DVD shop in Man Nin Street. (It still bears her name but belongs to somebody else now.)
At the other end of the street and on the opposite side of the road from the DVD shop is Bacchus (79-81 Man Nin Street, tel: 27917868), which is a whole different kettle of fish - oysters mainly. This new bar and restaurant probably boasts the most sophisticated decor in town, undoubtedly because it's owned by Rowena Hon, whose background is in fashion. The heavy wooden tables and chairs, the sleek marble bar and dimmed lighting lend an air of glamour to the spacious premises, which include an oyster bar offering five varieties. The menu is relatively pared down for Sai Kung and is changed seasonally by Hon's nephew Dereck, a young chef who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Adelaide, Australia. He calls the food Asian-Western fusion. Dishes include pan-seared fresh snapper with diced potatoes and home-made pesto sauce for HK$188, and crab cakes with mock aioli for HK$108.
By contrast, AJ's Sri Lankan Cuisine is a cosy little place in the old town (14 Sai Kung Hoi Pong Street, tel: 27922555) which claims to be the only Sri Lankan restaurant in Hong Kong. Friendly, attentive staff serve a wide range of delicious traditional food. Curries are light, fresh, fragrant and very spicy, with a choice of four strengths.
House specials include crab curry, which must be ordered two days in advance because the crab is brought in from Sri Lanka. For crustacean lovers, it's worth the wait. The cost depends on the market price, usually about HK$400 for 800 grams. In general, portion sizes are more than adequate, so diners can order three courses and leave feeling satisfied but not stuffed. There are only two desserts - watalappan (HK$35) and love cake (HK$45) - both are home-made and include a mouth-watering combination of coconut, cinnamon, cardamom and brown sugar syrup.
Among the British-style places serving gut-buster breakfasts to calm a hangover, White Black Caffe (G/F, 62 Po Tung Road) has what it calls an 'Aussie-style' fry-up for HK$108 including coffee. It's basically a full English but with slices of smoked salmon and avocado. The rose latte, made with real rose petals (not syrup, owner Sam Li stresses), is delicious with the home-made cakes (HK$38) made on the premises.
There's no shortage of places to get delicious desserts, among them the original branch of Hong Kong's famous pudding emporium Honeymoon Dessert.
The latest is Bibini (shop 11, G/F, Ko Fu House, 58-72 Fuk Man Road, tel: 60407278) on the same street as Noodle Alley. Making more than 20 flavours of fresh gelato onsite daily, this takeaway is the brainchild of a chemistry graduate from Milan, who fell in love with a local woman while backpacking. Portions are served in cones or tubs for HK$30 (single serve), HK$43 (double) and HK$50 (triple).