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Explore Hong Kong

Discover the secrets of Wong Chuk Hang, an unpolished gem

There's a buzz about WCH, where grimy industrial buildings have been colonised by designers, artists, coffees shops and restaurants and you can expect to stumble across something unexpected

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 July, 2015, 11:41am

Somebody told me recently that Wong Chuk Hang is the kind of place where you constantly run into people you know. Sure enough, I had only just sat down for an espresso at Mum, a bright cafe stocked with old school furniture, when I spotted Daniel Pätzold, a local architect who works in a studio nearby. "Wong Chuk Hang is a very Hong Kong thing," he says. "It has these nice lofts, but you can walk down the road and go sailing."

Of all the up-and-coming industrial districts in Hong Kong right now, it's probably Wong Chuk Hang that's getting the most buzz. Perched on the edge of Aberdeen Harbour, it doesn't seem like much at first glance — a long strip of grimy warehouses punctuated by a few flashy new towers. Hidden inside those buildings, however, are a number of new art galleries, design shops, bars and restaurants, along with a growing cluster of design offices and other creative enterprises. "The textile business is moving out and often it's their kids who move in and do interesting things," says Pätzold.

It's easily reachable from the north side of Hong Kong Island and the journey to Admiralty will take just six minutes when the MTR's South Island Line opens in late 2016. Redevelopment has already picked up pace, but for now, Wong Chuk Hang remains an unpolished gem. "In Hong Kong, sometimes the glossiness of things is tiring," says Mimi Brown, who runs Spring Workshop on Wong Chuk Hang Road. "People take refuge in things with a patina."

CAFFEINE KICK

Sensory Zero is one of Hong Kong's best-kept coffee secrets. Founded last year by coffee experts Alvin Hui and Dixon Ip, the shop occupies a corner of the cavernous Lane Crawford furniture showroom in One Island South. Ip got his start as a coffee siphonist and the same sense of technical wizardry extends to Sensory Zero: there's in-house roasting, siphons and a top-end Rancilio espresso machine that is set to produce roasty, full-bodied shots for milk coffee and bright, fruity shots for straight sipping.

Most novel of all is the portable Nomad espresso machine, which can make hot or cold coffee without any electricity. Ip likes to use sparkling water — a preview of his own line of sparkling coffee that he plans to introduce later this summer. "We played with different gas mixtures and finally found one we are happy with," he says. As for what kind of gas, Ip is playing coy. "I can't say what it is. It's a secret — for now."

MEAT AND VEG

Don't come to Wong Chuk Hang without an appetite: the area's buildings are brimming with unexpected eateries. The Butchers Club Deli is where you'll find industrial-sized portions of steaks, burgers and sausages, all available for takeaway at the restaurant's butchery just down the road. "If you buy a slab of meat we'll dry-age it for you — it's a piece of beef with your name on it," says manager Scott Ferrier. "Generally we dry age it for 45 days, but one customer asked for 100 days." How was it? "It was beefy."

If beefiness is not an appealing concept, try 3/3rds, a charming cafeteria on the top floor of the Yally Industrial Building that serves wholesome salads and pizzas. The space — decorated with mismatched furniture and Edison bulbs, with a westward view towards the harbour — has become a lunchtime gathering place for many of Wong Chuk Hang's creative types.

And indeed, just after sitting down, I spot Samantha Reid, who works in fashion nearby. "I'm running into everyone today," she says. A couple of years ago, Reid set up a studio in Wong Chuk Hang with her husband, contemporary artist Adrian Wong. "It's nice to be here when it's in the preliminary stages of becoming more of a cultural outpost," she says.

CULTURE AND COMMERCE

If Wong Chuk Hang has a heart, it's Spring Workshop, a tranquil space used for art exhibitions, cultural events and artist residencies. "The community in Wong Chuk Hang is kind of a secret but it's such a welcoming secret," says founder Mimi Brown. "A piece of our mission is being the space for that." (It's a virtual space, too — its website features a comprehensive guide to nearby galleries, eateries and shops.)

In addition to its meeting rooms and exhibition space, Spring Workshop has an expansive terrace that is currently being used for a year-long residency by HK Farm. "We build everything ourselves and the soil is from sensitive farms that are being displaced," says founder Michael Leung. Starfruit, mango and mandarin orange seeds were donated by farmers from Yuen Long. Some of the produce also comes from a guerrilla farmer in Kowloon nicknamed "Mango King". "We give him the seeds, he grows them and then we go and collect the seedlings," says Leung.

It's a project that blurs the lines between agriculture, art, social issues and politics — and blurring lines is exactly what Spring Workshop is most adept at. Recent events have included an interactive performance by local artist Ho Sin-tung, who invited participants to help her finish a stalled project.

Spring Workshop is non-profit, but many of Wong Chuk Hang's creative outposts are places where you can actually spend money. Next door to the Butchers Club Deli is Ed1tus, a men's fashion boutique, while showroom Manks is stocked with vintage Scandinavian furniture by masters such as Hans Wegner. At Casa Capriz, Irene Capriz collects Italian furniture, homeware and other goodies from the postwar decades. "I try to bridge furniture and art," she says, highlighting pieces including a mirrored 1970s bar that could have come straight out of a James Bond film.

SUNDOWNER AND A SLEEPOVER

Ovolo Southside opened last year in a former warehouse that has since been revamped into an aggressively stylish space for entertainment. It starts with the ground-floor loading dock, which is used for art exhibitions, and continues up through Cirqle, a buzzing all-day restaurant overseen by chef Krzysztof Bandel, formerly of Lily & Bloom. Above at the rooftop bar is a mural by LA street artists Cyrcle and a sweeping view towards Deep Water Bay and the Ocean Park cable car.

It's the perfect place for a sundowner, which is exactly what bartender Taki Li offers me with Le Souk, a fruity mix of Zubrówka vodka, peach liqueur, fresh strawberries, basil, rose and lemon. Li herself is a fan of whisky; she recommends a Nikka Yoichi 10 from Hokkaido. "It's not very strong, but you can still taste so many layers," she says.

EAT AND DRINK

  • Mum, unit G07, 2 Heung Yip Road, tel: 2115 3348, mum-hk.com
  • Sensory Zero, unit G01, 2 Heung Yip Road, tel: 2511 6011, sensoryartisan.com
  • The Butchers Club Deli, 16/F, 18 Wong Chuk Hang Road, tel: 2884 0768, thebutchers.club
  • 3/3rds, Unit D, 22/F, 6 Yip Fat Street, tel: 3462 2951, three-3rds.com
  • Ovolo Southside, 64 Wong Chuk Hang Road, tel: 3460 8100, ovolohotels.com

SEE AND SHOP

  • Spring Workshop, 3/F, 42 Wong Chuk Hang Road, tel: 2110 4370, springworkshop.org
  • Ed1tus, 16/F, 18 Wong Chuk Hang Road, tel: 9760 0437
  • Manks, 3/F, 1 Yip Fat Street, tel: 2522 2115, manks.com
  • Casa Capriz, 1/F, 40 Wong Chuk Hang Road, tel: 9318 1730, casacapriz.com