Food that floats your boat
Junk catering is taking a step up. Elaborate menus now include fresh pasta dishes, Mediterranean classics and onboard barbecues. Those sailing out in the evening can even try squid fishing and have their catch barbecued for them.
Whatever the menu, junk trips are a quintessentially Hong Kong experience and have an enduring appeal.
For Rose Torrance, who receives about 10 junk trip invitations over a typical summer, such cruises represent 'a small part of a decadent lifestyle that's affordable'.
Kiri Sinclair has her own take on why junk trips are so popular. 'Hong Kong has the unique advantage of being a mega city surrounded by natural beauty. Junks allow easy and fun access to the outer reaches [or even inner reaches] of the countryside, with spectacular views and a day on the water,' she says.
Cruising to a picturesque spot where the water is clear, the wine and beer are flowing and the company is enjoyable are the key to junk trips' appeal.
But between the swimming and sunning, there's eating. For Sinclair, the food should be easy to nibble on.
'Lots of finger food is essential. People like to nibble all day. Dips with healthy dippers like carrots are a treat. Pre-prepared sandwiches and pasta are easy to eat. I also love a seafood barbecue.'
Charlotte Bliss, a junk food regular, likes easy snacks such as crisps, quesadillas and pizza. 'Tasty salads are appreciated,' she says.
Torrance prefers to bring her own food and wine on a cruise, rather than have it supplied. 'I like to eat well when I'm on a junk. As long as the food is tasty and of good quality, I am not picky.'
If you want someone else to do the work, there are plenty of catering options, including three new players on the market.
Irene Moore was so sure she had discovered a niche that she gave up her job as an accountant to launch her business, Lazydays, which offers both the craft and the catering.
'I found that there was a gap in the market where I could combine the three things I enjoy the most: cooking, sailing and entertaining.' Attention to detail and a little added luxury were missing, according to Moore.
'It's often the small things that are missed on traditional junk trips,' she says. 'It's the small things that make the difference. For example, our menu features the best ingredients and everything is made fresh on the boat, even the pasta. We only serve craft beers and ales, as well as brand-name spirits, and I like to make frozen cocktails from fresh fruit during the trip. Plates, glasses and cutlery are used, not the flimsy disposable paper plates and plastic cutlery typically found.'
She adds that unlike other junk experiences, 'we realise that not everyone wants a beer at 10am'. So they offer gourmet teas and have a coffee machine onboard. 'You can have a gourmet cuppa from freshly ground beans to go with our breakfast of bacon butties and cinnamon rolls,' Moore says.
The catering can get elaborate, even ritzy. At night, Moore offers a full sit-down dinner service with tailored menus, from a simple three-course affair to a more elaborate six-course meal. Moore's repertoire includes five-spice duck breast with citrus-fennel salad; monkfish, mussels and clams with saffron broth and fresh linguine, and chocolate fondant puddings with home-made orange ice cream.
Lunch is also a world away from sandwiches and curry puffs. Moore offers whole roasted joints (rib-eye, leg of lamb) and chilli and lime king prawns. Side dishes include white bean, red pepper and mint salad, and citrus salad with feta and olives.
The options don't end there - sample menus also include breakfast options, all-day nibbles, a selection of desserts such as lemon meringue pie, and afternoon snacks including samosas and cheese puffs. Other options include a do-it-yourself barbecue, with Moore providing meat and seafood for guests to barbecue themselves, plus side dishes and salads.
At night, squid fishing is possible, with the catch barbecued on board the vessel by Moore. This is served aboard an 18-metre, triple-decker motor cruiser with three outdoor decks.
Bringing in your own caterer is another option. Two French restaurants, Chez Patrick and Monsieur Chatte, have just begun to provide such a service.
'We want the food to stand out and not be the usual junk buffet. Our chef service assists clients by explaining the buffet options and guiding them in their choice,' says Chez Patrick managing director Daniel Schneersohn. The catering arm of Chez Patrick provides not only standard and custom menus but can also supply chefs, waiting staff and a hostess. Menus are varied, with a broad choice from French and Italian deli classics. Cold dishes include the summery Mozzarella and tomato with balsamic caramel sauce; buttery smoked salmon, cold cuts, quiches, terrines and foie gras. Hot dishes include coq au vin, a range of pastas and roasted ham.
Brittany blue lobster and other premium seasonal ingredients take menu options to a luxury level. For those who like a hands-on approach there is also a barbecue menu that includes meat and seafood and home-made sausages. Wines are also available.
Monsieur Chatte introduced junk menus in response to many inquiries by regular customers. Three menus are available and items can be changed to meet requests, with the food delivered to the pier.
The food is classic French fare that can be served cold, such as quiches and tarts, cheese and charcuterie platters, salads and cakes and pastries. An aperitif set that includes olives, tapenade and nuts is also available, as are wines, beers and soft drinks.
Managing director Jean Yves Chatte says: 'Customers will get fresh products, prepared specially for them in our kitchen, with the usual French touch.'
Sinclair, who averages eight junk trips each summer, says: 'I love being on the sea. The idea of a group of friends going out together for a day of swimming and food on the open water is magic. It's a chance to catch up and to feel like you've left the city behind for a mini holiday. My parents had a boat when I was a baby. I've been out on Hong Kong waters my whole life.'
She has also enjoyed catering by more established operators, particularly Jaspa's Junks. Torrance is a fan of Jaspa's and Delicious Catering. Both operators emphasise international flavours. Delicious customers tend to order assorted sandwich platters (chicken tandoori, char-grilled vegetables, smoked salmon with all the trimmings); salads (Caesar, classic Greek, Parma ham with wild rocket); roast chicken; egg noodles with barbecue pork; vegetarian pasta; and chocolate cake and fresh fruit platters.
Delicious can provide just the junk (or cruiser), or an all-inclusive package that includes the boat, food, an open bar and staff.
Jaspa's international choices include hits such as lamb koftas, chicken satay, vegetarian mousaka, beef tenderloin, salmon with white wine sauce, salads and chocolate cake. Perhaps their customers are more interested in the drinks.
Communications manager Nikki Sayell says: 'We have a reputation for being a party boat. This is so true, as your glass will never be empty.'
Jaspa's provides junk-only or junk and catering on weekdays. At weekends, it provides the boat and food package only.
Moor the merrier
Junk trip lovers Charlotte Bliss, Kiri Sinclair and Rose Torrance suggest mooring in the bays and open waters around Sai Kung, Tai Long Wan and Millionaire's Bay.
Tung Lung Chau, Junk Bay, Coral Bay on the northern end of Cheung Chau, and also Italian Beach are fairly deserted.
Irene Moore, who recently launched Lazydays, says: 'There are many remote bays around Hong Kong that have great protected anchorage but do not have a beach, if isolation is the main requirement.'
For night cruises, Moore recommends Peng Chau for seafood and to watch the Disneyland fireworks, or restaurants in Po Toi O in Clear Water Bay.
'I always try to recommend cruising towards Sai Kung as the water is a lot cleaner, but the back end of Lamma is also another great option as fewer junks go to Turtle Bay,' says Delicious director Dennis Villanueva.
He suggests Tai Tam Bay, as the waters are calm so it's good for water sports. He also recommends Po Toi Island as an alternative to Lamma for a seafood dinner.
Delicious: 2559 0144, www.delicious-hk.com
Jaspa's Junks: 2792 6001, www.casteloconcepts.com/locations/hong-kong/jaspas-junks-hong-kong
Lazydays: 3488 1534, www.lazydays.com.hk
Chez Patrick: 2556 0117, chezpatrick.hk
Monsieur Chatte: 3105 8432, www.monsieurchatte.com