Classic Hong Kong restaurants: The Chinnery, Central
Enduring style keeps diners coming back, writes Janice Leung Hayes
While it may no longer command the same waterfront view it did when it opened 50 years ago, the Mandarin Oriental remains one of the city's finest hotels. It houses restaurants, cafes and bars that not only serve the hotel's guests, but a wider Hong Kong public which has appreciated them for generations. One such outlet is The Chinnery, the Lilliputian pub named after a 19th-century English painter, which seats about 30 guests. It has been in the same location, tucked away on the first floor, since the hotel opened in 1963.
Billy Kwok, The Chinnery's restaurant manager, has been with the hotel for 33 years. He says it's remained virtually unchanged, even after the extensive nine-month renovations at the hotel ending in 2006. "There has only ever been a men's washroom next door," says Kwok, noting that The Chinnery was originally a gentlemen's club. It wasn't until 1990 that female guests were allowed in and it maintains a policy of only admitting guests over 18 years of age.
The menu is also virtually unchanged. Expertly made British pub classics such as fish pie (right), bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, chicken tikka masala, and bread and butter pudding are still favourites, and Scotch whisky is the tipple of choice.
The Chinnery remains a popular hangout for after-work drinks and long Friday lunches. "I'd say we tend to have a more mature clientele. A large proportion of our clients are regulars who have been coming for years. Some even come three or four times a week," says Kwok, adding that these regulars are often Central's high-flying lawyers, bankers and political bigwigs. "Perhaps they prefer it here because it's quiet, and feels more private," Kwok says.
On Saturdays, when the bar is only open only in the evening, it's mainly families, Kwok says. "Younger diners bring their parents, as they know they'll like the traditional atmosphere."
The polished timber walls and ceiling, low-slung armchairs and old paintings on the walls certainly evoke a different time, and have attracted a surprising new wave of diners. "Many new clients are local Hongkongers who can't believe that there's a place that is still so traditionally British. You can hear them say 'Wow!' when they come in.
"Clients build relationships with our servers, because we make them feel at home," says Kwok.
The Chinnery, 1/F Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road, Central. Tel: 2825 4009. Open: Monday-Friday 11am-11pm, Saturday 5.30pm-11pm