LEISURE
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Old Hong Kong

Repulse Bay through the ages, from Hemingway to the present day

William Holden romanced Jennifer Jones there in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, and writers and screen stars stayed in its hotel. We chart the history of this playground of the rich

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 11:54pm

1920s-1950s

The Repulse Bay stands exactly where the old hotel was between 1920 and 1982. The 84-room hotel hosted a number of special guests, including American actors William Holden and Marlon Brando, as well as writer Ernest Hemingway. Although the main buildings were bulldozed, the replica today still features details like the original 1930s stained glass in the Bamboo Bar.

The only surviving structure from the hotel's glory days is its former garage on the other side of Repulse Bay Road (currently occupied by a luxury-car dealer) and what used to be staff quarters behind it. Both exteriors are kept pretty much as they were, down to the curved orange tiles on the roof.

For a taste of history, The Verandah, which opened in 1986, serves some dishes that date back to the '20s, such as the black pepper steak flambé. Operations manager Ronnie Mok Wai-man prepared the dish tableside for many guests during his time at the restaurant. Signature desserts include soufflé and the baked Alaska.

The Verandah and Spices (opened 1987) were favourite dining spots for stars such as the late Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and Alan Tam Wing-lun; among the dignitaries to have visited The Repulse Bay are Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, and the late Lee Kwan Yew. The colonial-style architecture and setting makes it a nostalgic place for many. It is a place where your parents courted and got married and families celebrated special occasions. "We have seen several generations coming here," says Mok.

Up until a few years ago, a jacket and tie were required to dine there, but the dress code today is a more relaxed smart/casual.

 

1960s-1990s

It may look a little kitsch, but the Kuan Yin shrine (and the adjoining Tin Hau temple) at the southern tip of the beach remains a popular destination for those who want to worship the two benevolent deities. Part of the shrine doubles as the clubhouse for the Hong Kong Life Saving Society. The volunteer organisation was established in 1956 to advocate water safety, lifesaving training and competitions to hone those skills. Kuan Yin is the goddess of mercy, but the clubhouse adopted her as the goddess of lifesaving too, with a giant statue of her made of small tiles, a kind of 3D mosaic.

Behind her is a red-tiled temple-like building housing the Hong Kong Life Guard Club Training Headquarters that was set up in 1964. The foyer is filled with glass-door refrigerators selling cold drinks. In front of the building are numerous animal statues and large tablets set up haphazardly around the area, with plaques stating the donor's name and date. These were reportedly funded by local personalities and businesspeople during the 1970s.

Not much has changed in this leafy, peaceful residential neighbourhood over the past two decades in that it remains pretty exclusive (thanks to the property prices). But according to Mok, who has been with The Repulse Bay hotel since the early '90s, the area is expected to become more lively now that Emperor Group's long-delayed shopping mall on the beachfront has finally opened.

Present day

The latest hotspot in Repulse Bay is The Pulse, with restaurants such as the soon-to-open Shoku, which will sell charcoal-grilled Japanese food. Meen and Rice offers casual but gourmet Cantonese food. Hotshot has an American diner menu and funky decorative pieces inside. Ice cream fans can savour some creative flavours at Lab Made.

Limewood is one of the first outlets to open at The Pulse, and to get a table at the weekend you have to book at least two weeks in advance, or head to the bar area next door in hope of a seat.

The menu features grilled dishes with a Caribbean twist, such as the pork skin chicharron guacamole (HK$120), a refreshing mix of avocado with lots of lime, topped with fried shallots, crackling, sea urchin and roe. It's a perfect snack with tortilla chips on a hot day. Then there is the Vietnamese fish taco (HK$135), deep-fried with avocado, lime and Asian slaw, or the hearty charred free-range chicken legs (HK$230), a fragrant combination with mild green curry, toasted coconuts and peanuts. Wash it down with a barbecued pineapple Cuban mojito (HK$90).

Also taking advantage of the location is Pure South, a yoga and fitness centre that opened in The Pulse last December. Because of its proximity to the beach, some clients have asked to exercise outdoors, according to studio spokeswoman Michelle Chow. "You want to get a tan while working out, anyway," she says, adding that some workouts are more fun and effective on the sand, including beach boxing, and using Bulgarian Bags and kettle bells.

Chris Lee, personal trainer at Pure South, says, "Because of the unevenness of the sand, you need to use more core strength to stay balanced. It's definitely more challenging." The centre also runs a "nood food" juice bar that serves organic food, superfood smoothies, cold-pressed juices and raw food.

Several doors down is Classified, which is popular with young children because of its swinging chairs out front. The menu here is different from other locations, with more tapas-style dishes for sharing - and they're pretty healthy too. The lime and coriander marinated shrimps (HK$45) are crunchy, while the meatballs with tomato sauce (HK$45) are hearty and delicious. A filling salad is the quinoa, butternut squash and toasted sesame seeds (HK$80 small, HK$110 large). And for drinks check out the chilled smoothies - wheatgrass with pineapple, or berry-licious protein (HK$55 each).