Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau don't usually spring to mind when deciding where to go for dinner. But restaurateurs predict these areas will soon become the next culinary hot spot and are moving in to set up shop.
The most obvious reason is because the MTR's new South Island Line is slated to open next year, but that's not all. Daphne So, manager of vegetarian restaurant MUM Veggie + Coffee + Sweet, says: "We're close to Ocean Park, and there are a lot of people who work in the area.
We get a lot of office ladies who are right above us in this building and industrial buildings all around us. You'd expect the weekends to be quiet, but we get a lot of families. They like the relaxed vibe of the area. If they're driving, they're often looking for less busy areas. There are also lots of playgroups and nurseries nearby and the parents come while they're waiting."
Jonathan Glover, founder of The Butchers Club Deli, agrees. "We're doing a lot of open days, especially over the weekend, that are really family friendly. Barbecues, markets, Sunday roasts, whole hog roasts, things like that," he says.
After launching The Butchers Club, a one-table private kitchen, butcher's shop and dry-ageing facility, last year in nearby Tin Wan, Glover opened the deli in an 8,000 sq ft space on the top floor of an industrial building in Wong Chuk Hang, which includes a 10,000 sq ft rooftop. It shares the space with retailers such as Ed1tus, which sells men's fashion, and vintage furniture showroom Casa Capriz.
"Butchers Club was booked out for months on end and we needed more space. When we came across this place, we really loved it, but it was too big, so we looked for people to share it with," Glover says.
Glover, along with many of his staff, lives in the area. "I love warehouse buildings," he says. "These big buildings have character. It's a bit grungy, kind of like how the Meatpacking District was [in New York]. When people come up here, they're amazed at what we do. There's that element of surprise," he says. Like the original Butchers Club, the deli can be booked out for private functions but is also open for lunch and dinner, offering sandwiches and salads as well as those dry-aged steaks.
Large industrial spaces lend themselves to multi-concept projects, and a few minutes away from Wong Chuk Hang, on Ap Lei Chau, Airspace encompasses art gallery Toof Contemporary and the Artichoke Canteen restaurant.
General managers and founders Birgit Vagani and Riccardo Bardallini see a lot of potential in the area, which has been identified by the government as the "South Island Cultural District". "We want to create a happy place. Airspace is a bizarre concept that wouldn't normally work in Hong Kong, but we're here to fill that gap," says Bardallini.
Vagani agrees and, like other entrepreneurs in the area, she sees the MTR as an important influence but says the relaxed atmosphere plays a vital role. "We believe in Ap Lei Chau. For a time, we were all out partying in Lan Kwai Fong, but a lot of us have passed that stage. We're very conscious that many people with young families live in the area and want to relax," she says.
With a large terrace attached to the gallery and the restaurant, Airspace has been able to put on a range of events. "We want to appeal to all five senses and touch base with everything a person needs," says Vagani. They've also held yoga sessions, outdoor film screenings, live music performances, barbecues and small bazaars showcasing the work and products of other southside businesses.
Although MUM is a lot smaller, its focus on health has led it to host yoga workshops occasionally. "Yoga is closely tied to our philosophy of all things natural and good for the body, but so far they've been done as one-off events. Hopefully, in the future, we might get the chance to make it a regular thing," says So.
Artichoke is focused on healthy eating. Vagani herself is a long-time vegan. "We're not 100 per cent vegetarian because we need to cater to people who come with the vegetarians, too," says Bardallini.
Setting up a kitchen in an industrial building can be difficult, but for Artichoke it has been relatively easy, as the space used to be the canteen for the workers in the building. The terrace also houses an outdoor pizza oven.
For many southside restaurants, spaces with high ceilings lend themselves to raw industrial aesthetics, and upcycled materials and minimally processed surfaces feature heavily in the decor. The benches at MUM were reclaimed from a church and the feature wall is made from scrap wood. At Artichoke, the outdoor sofas were repurposed from wooden pallets.
The unconventional decor, non-mainstream art and novel food offerings serve to make a statement. "What we do shows that living well doesn't have to mean living luxuriously or glamorously. We're concerned about health inside and out - food and feelings" says So.
Vagani says, "We want to show people that there are these options in Hong Kong, and you can have a different lifestyle here."
Southside dining - where to eat in Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau
MUM Veggie + Coffee + Sweet
Shop G07, One Island South, 2 Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen, tel: 2115 3348 Open: Sun-Fri 9am-5pm
Shop 311, 3/F Harbour Industrial Centre, 10 Lee Hing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 9684 9964 Open: Wed-Sun 11am-11pm
The Butchers Club Deli
16/F Shui Ki Industrial Building, 18 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2884 0768 Open: Mon-Sat 11am-5pm, 7pm until late (reservations only)
22/F Kwai Bo Industrial Building, 40 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2580 0919 (reservations only at dinner)
Chef Studio by Eddy
Shop 5B Kwai Bo Industrial Building, 40 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 3104 4664 (reservations only)
Reservation only. email@example.com
4/F 44 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2580 0663 (reservations only)
On a boat in the Aberdeen typhoon shelter, tel: 6077 5964 (reservations only; firstname.lastname@example.org)
7/F BT Centre, 23 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2677 7808 Open: 9am-7pm
13C Sun Ying Industrial Centre, 9 Tin Wan Close, Tin Wan, Aberdeen, tel: 2552 8281 (reservations only)