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DESTINATION SAI YING PUN

Destination: Sai Ying Pun

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 11:04am

Sai Ying Pun (West Camp in English) is where the British military made its base when it arrived here. Queen's Road was one of the first "streets", carving its way through makeshift tents. It was once a red-light district, and later fell foul of bubonic plague.

Today, with Sheung Wan's property prices shooting up to rival Central's, Sai Ying Pun is having its day in the sun - or rather, in the dust, with Centre Street being dug up for a new escalator. Attracted by lower rents and a tangible promise, new restaurants are popping up.

"It's definitely an up-and-coming area," says Peggy Chan of Grassroots Pantry. "The streets are close to Mid-Levels and Queen's Road West. People like to walk here during weekends, have brunch and then stroll home."

We visit five venues typical of the district's new vibe.

Grassroots Pantry 12 Fuk Sau Lane, tel: 2873 3353; grassrootspantry.com

One of the newest and highest-end locales, Grassroots Pantry's charming facade leads to an equally sweet interior of kitsch downstairs and a private room upstairs. After starting out in the kitchen and moving to front of house with Robuchon and the Four Seasons in Hong Kong, among others, Chan developed her concept. "I've always loved, first, the idea of home cooking, and second, supporting organic farming and sustainable food," she says. "But I didn't want it to be a hippie organic vegetarian's restaurant. It's more like I'm inviting people to my house for dinner with a healthy twist."

One of her meat-free (Chan doesn't like the word "vegetarian") signatures is mushroom linguini with asparagus - a fragrant mixture of three types of mushroom, served with parmigiano and cream. If you want a gluten-free dish, order the quinoa pasta. The menu is seasonal, and 90 per cent of the vegetables are sourced locally. Her raw blueberry cheesecake is a complex mixture of almonds and dates, coconut meat, cashews, Irish moss, lemon juice, vanilla, coconut oil, maple syrup and blueberries.

Memo's

62 High Street, tel: 2858 8173; memoshk62@gmail.com

Memo's is a gem of a casual Mediterranean bistro, the terracotta-coloured interior behind the French doors and street-side chalkboard luring diners in. With two chefs from Croatia (one who has worked extensively in Italian restaurants) and one from Spain, they've got the Mediterranean region covered. Appetisers include a Spanish cold cut platter (HK$148), Greek salad (HK$98) and half a kilo of buzzara blue mussels (HK$168), and mains include risotto and paella, an array of enticing meats such as US rib-eye (HK$238) and roasted veal shank (HK$848, serves three or four). The lamb shank - tender and tasty in a pool of gravy - and lamb chops were beautifully cooked, and served with al dente vegetables. The tiramisu (HK$58) was light, alcoholic and delicious.

BBQ Teppan Yaki

142B, Third Street, tel: 2548 9880

A hole-in-the-wall cafe, with two venues opposite each other on Third Street, BBQ has long been popular among locals. The bigger space has better ambience; the tables in the front might as well be outside, and there are more stretching back along the wall. But the best seats are at the counter, where you can watch the grillers turning skewers at top speed.

At this quintessential local-food-on-sticks restaurant, you can choose from basics such as corn on the cob (HK$10 each) up to abalone, baked oysters and grilled shrimp (market price). The scallops cooked in their shells with green onion and garlic (HK$68 for two) tasted tender and fresh with just the right amount of garlic. Other winners were the four pieces of lamb chop (HK$128) and the grilled mackerel (HK$48). The service is brusque, mostly due to the constant queue of diners, but friendly enough.

Safety Stop

39 Water Street, tel: 3482 8564; safetystop.com.hk

This refined restaurant has been open for eight years. Its speciality is kopi luwak coffee from Sumatra, certified 100 per cent wild, and cups of premium civet-cat-poo coffee come at a fretfully high price. Platinum kopi needs to be ordered three days ahead and costs HK$500, the regular kopi luwak is HK$220. Other blends come from Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Ethiopia.

There's a sophisticated food menu, too, with dishes such as black truffle cream tortellini with Parma ham and cheese (HK$98), pan-fried Alaska halibut fillet with Paris butter sauce (HK$108) and Prime AAA Canadian steak (HK$188). The set dinner includes daily soup and, of course, coffee. Or follow your main with that most fabulous of coffee desserts, affogato (HK$38).

Fluid

238 Queen's Road West, tel: 2964 0081

A new bar in a part of town that has been waiting for a neighbourhood drinking hole, Fluid officially opened at the end of August. It is run by friendly Nepali Sam Gurung, who trained as a bartender at the Regent in Tsim Sha Tsui 16 years ago, before it became the InterContinental.

The unassuming interior and two street-side tables attract a mixture of locals and guests from the Best Western hotel opposite.

The extensive drinks menu has some classics, one of which is Sam's favourite, the mojito (HK$65). "I don't muddle the mint, as it can become bitter. I just slap the leaves with my hands to wake the flavour up," he says.

A list of classics includes a refreshing bramble (HK$65) of gin, Chambord and fresh lemon juice. The strawberry and basil martini is deliciously summery (HK$80). There's a small choice of Nepalese snacks such as momo on offer, and more will be available soon.

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