Movable east - SoHo spreads its wings
SoHo East in Sai Wan Ho offers what Central and Wan Chai probably wish they could - a laid-back atmosphere with alfresco dining, available seats, good service and a harbourfront location.
You can practically feel the holiday atmosphere in the restaurants, many of which look out over a tree-lined avenue and across the harbour to Tseung Kwan O and Kwun Tong.
No wonder this cosy eastern enclave, in the northeastern corner of Sai Wan Ho and backing on to residential development Lei King Wan, attracts the city's Japanese and Korean expat communities, according to Tapeo's executive chef, Michael van Warmelo. The Spanish tapas restaurant, which also has an outlet in Central, has become one of SoHo East's most popular establishments since it opened nearly two years ago.
'In addition to Japanese and Korean expats - many of whom live in Sai Wan Ho or nearby Tai Koo - SoHo East is also a popular destination for Stanley and Sai Kung residents, as they usually have cars and can make the trip over here easily,' says Van Warmelo.
Start your sojourn with some European-inspired cuisine at Uncle Moustache (GC24-26, 35 Tai Hong Street, tel: 29676764), one of the best-known restaurants in the area. With a name inspired by owner Stephen Shum Hoi-kin's imposing facial hair, the restaurant is located just behind the waterfront, and on busy nights a pianist entertains diners underneath the grand oak wine barrel lids that adorn the wall. Diners can choose from five set lunches or dinners, with mains such as baked black cod with champagne beurre blanc (HK$260) and grilled Australian premium wagyu beef (HK$350), while executive lunches include English-style fish and chips (HK$88) and goose liver p?t? chicken roll (HK$88). Next door is a wine shop owned by the restaurant where you can pick up New World wines such as Merryvale Napa Valley 2003 (HK$470) and elegant wine accessories such as Vinum Burgundy and Bordeaux glasses (HK$260 each).
On the opposite side of the road is Gitone Fine Arts (G/F, GB27-28, 45 Tai Hong Street, tel: 25273448; www.gitone.hk), a showcase for local artist Terence Lee's paintings and ceramics that's a workshop by day and a Chinese restaurant with seating for 40 by night. With a seasonal bent, the set menus start from HK$388 and include cuttlefish balls with sea urchin filling, tea-smoked chicken and double-boiled soups.
There are shelves stacked with ceramics inside, all for sale. The gold-plated ceramic bowls are delightful, as are the Impressionistic watercolours enlivening the walls. If you want to get behind the potter's wheel or be creative with a paintbrush, Lee offers month-long ceramics and paintings workshops (HK$1,650 for four ceramics lessons, HK$1,750 for painting). This art/dining space also has an hour-long pottery session that can be arranged pre-dinner (HK$250). Lee is confident about SoHo East's future and is glad he relocated from Wan Chai more than four years ago. 'Most of the retail spaces are occupied here now, and while there are a lot of restaurants, it would be great to see more design boutiques or bookstores to make this area even more of a destination,' Lee says.
Round the corner from Gitone is Homely Fragrance Shanghainese Restaurant (GA12B-14, 55 Tai Hong Street, tel: 25689098) a roomy, upscale take on the cha chaan teng, with wooden floors and circular and square tables filling the large dining area. The restaurant prides itself on its homespun menu and Shanghai-style dim sum such as spicy wontons (HK$28). Other good bets include drunken chicken, sauteed river shrimp with tea leaf (HK$128), which can be followed with an egg white souffle with mashed red bean filling (HK$38).
Overlooking the harbour, the Chit Chat Oyster & Grill (GA8-9, 55 Tai Hong Street, tel: 2967 1666) has floor-to-ceiling windows and white tablecloths that add an air of sophistication. Order a bottle of California chardonnay and 12 oysters (HK$628) or splash out on a lobster set for two (HK$659). Oysters are flown in daily from New Zealand, France, the United States, Ireland and Australia, and up to eight choices are available.
Next door is Tapeo (GA01-03, 55 Tai Hong Street, tel: 25130199, conceptcreations.hk), where tall red stools add a splash of colour, and a cosy bar area next to the open kitchen conveys a sense of authenticity, as does the exclusively Spanish wine menu. The dishes are more classic than at its Central outlet, with crispy pork belly and squid featuring strongly. Other stand-outs include manchego cheese with honey (HK$55), served with crunchy toast for a texture contrast, and tomato, red onion and goat cheese salad (HK$58) drizzled with a red sherry vinegar and orange and lime dressing.
'I explain that tapas is like dim sum, and people get that,' Van Warmelo says. 'People are travelling more and are likely to know what proper tapas tastes like, so we must be authentic.'