Graze a trail through an eclectic neighbourhood
Tai Hang, squeezed between Causeway Bay and Tin Hau, is one of Hong Kong's up-and-coming neighbourhoods. It has been flourishing for years and tastemakers have even suggested it might become the next Lan Kwai Fong.
So far that hasn't happened, but there has been some gentrification. The car repair shops are still there, alongside cha chaan teng and fruit stalls. But now there are new restaurants from around the world. Ramen, pho, Thai food, sunny cafes that bake their own bread, and pizza are all available within a few blocks. Hip and high-end concept stores are popping up for shoppers with a craving for Iberico ham or a small jar of custom-made sweets with their name on them.
If you're exploring the area, head out from the Tin Hau MTR station and follow the signs to the Metropark Hotel. Just a few doors down is Cheng Kee Chiu Chow Restaurant (G/F, 142 Tung Lo Wan Road, tel: 2578 8179). This hole-in-the-wall Chiu Chow outlet has developed a loyal following for its signature pig's intestine soup, oyster pancakes and braised duck.
The pig's intestine soup lives up to its reputation: a piping hot peppery broth with preserved cabbage and lots of lovely little squeaky bits of intestine. This is one of Hong Kong's great hangover cures. The waiter threw in a side of spiced blood curds and they were equally delicious. The oyster pancake (HK$48) also made it worth the trip, but the duck (HK$55) didn't seem any better than elsewhere. The braised goose and braised pig's ears, prepared in the same style, were exceptional.
For a taste of Tai Hang's more modern character head down Tung Lo Wan Road, past bustling Thai and Vietnamese outlets, until you see C'est La B (shop 3, G/F, 110-114 Tung Lo Wan Road, tel: 2806 8168), the sister cafe to Bonnie Gokson's Ms B's Cakery in Central. The small cafe offers wine and champagne as well as coffee and tea. For a savoury treat you can pick from a selection of pot pies, the cheese platter (HK$180) or popcorn munch bowl (HK$55).
Be sure to save room for dessert. The apple granola crumble (HK$60) consists of baked green and Fuji apples over vanilla custard and covered with sweet, crunchy granola, then topped with grated cheddar cheese. The sweetness of the custard, the sharpness of the cheddar and the crunch of the granola come together to great effect, but the portion is small and no dessert has ever cried out louder for a scoop of ice cream.
Continue down Tung Lo Wan Road, then turn left into a neighbourhood overflowing with food options. You will no doubt see the crowd spilling out of Chiu Man hot pot restaurant (22 Wun Sha Street, tel: 2890 9308). The hot pot at Chiu Man is beef-centric. Its broth specialities are seafood tomato and kimchi for diners looking for heat.
Up the road from Chiu Man you'll see a large ham protruding from the wall advertising one of the newest additions. Former trader Arnold Lo Chuen-kei opened Fresh Gourmet (28 Shepherd Street, tel: 2808 0840) last month, inspired by the European lifestyle. He flew to Spain to source Iberico ham and in France met with small-batch makers of wine and cheese. Now he sells a selection of Spanish pork products including 48-month-aged Iberico ham, and artisanal French cheeses and wines.
Fresh Gourmet is one of the only shops in Hong Kong to stock unpasteurised cheeses, including rare ones such as the dolphin-shaped Dauphin, and a 32-month-old Comte. His wines are organised according to which cheese they best complement.
Lo says he originally chose Tai Hang for its ample parking, but now he says what makes the area really special is that 'most restaurants are owned by individuals [and] each has its own unique style and taste'.
The final stop on your tour, and the most extreme example of what may be waiting in the area's future, should be the Hong Kong branch of Barcelona's Papabubble Caramels Artesans (34 Tung Lo Wan Road, tel: 2367 4807). Small glass jars of expensive, brightly coloured and intricately decorated hard candies line the walls. Larger lollipops, and one very large novelty sweet that was distinctly not for children, are for sale to the rear of the store where the confectioners are hard at work.
It feels more like a futuristic pharmacy than a sweet shop, but there is no denying it is chic.