Champagne tastes on a lemonade budget

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 4:03am

Hong Kong is one of Asia's dining capitals, but those regular high-end meals are starting to burn a permanent hole in your wallet. While you're aware of reasonable lunch sets, the cheque often still outweighs the quality. So where should you go for delectable, but reasonably priced, meals?

The Michelin Guide should be your first port of call. Its inclusions put a surprisingly positive spin on Hong Kong's often disheartening rich-poor divide. "Hong Kong is a city of contrasts, and that's even apparent in Michelin's restaurant ratings," says John Ma, local food blogger. "Just look at the one-star restaurants: you can drop HK$5,000 on Thomas Keller at the Mandarin Grill, or spend HK$100 on some xiaolongbao [steamed dumplings] at Din Tai Fung."

Michelin's star-rated restaurants offer a number of affordable options, but its "bib gourmand" list gives diners true savings. The list targets good food at cheap prices. Some 76 restaurants are included, from classic local noodle and congee joints to international options such as Japanese ramen and Thai specialities, each offering full three-course meals for less than HK$300.

But even if you don't put much faith in Michelin's ratings, you can't deny the quality of a high-end chef, and Hong Kong's entrepreneurial spirit is seeing many leaving their cushy jobs to open smaller, more affordable eateries.

Chef Jack Yau's ABC Kitchen is one of the most popular. It replicates his old menu from defunct colonial favourite M at the Fringe, but Yau keeps prices low by serving customers in the Queen Street cooked food centre. And Peter Cuong Franklin, former chef of three-Michelin star Caprice, offers high-quality but reasonably priced Vietnamese pho at ChomChom, on the second floor of an unassuming building on Wellington Street.

A credit card could reduce the bill by thousands: the American Express Platinum Card comes with a HK$1,688 annual fee, but you'll most likely make that back with its 50 per cent discount at all Maxim's and m.a.x. concepts restaurants, including Michelin-rated The Square and Jade Garden, as well as international restaurants Pearl on the Peak and Lawry's. HSBC's Premier Card gives a 10 to 15 per cent discount at popular restaurants, including Fook Lam Moon and Lupa.

Similarly, specific dining clubs and coupons can offer significant savings: AsiaXPAT's free Super Mondays card (supermondays.com) gives you a two-for-one deal on all main courses at 16 participating restaurants, including Bombay Dreams, Craftsteak and Harrington's. For HK$1,688 a year, The Buffet Club (buffetclub.com.hk) gives you 45 complimentary coupons for buffets around town, as well as 20 per cent off any return visit. And make sure to visit regularly both openrice.com and dealshongkong.com both of which offer money-saving coupons.

But if you still can't seem to fit a great meal into your budget, Dining City's annual Restaurant Week (restaurantweek.hk) starts on February 25. If it's anything like last year, expect 70 of the city's finest restaurants to offer fixed price lunch and dinner sets for as little as HK$98.