Last year, as summer drew to a close and the chill winds of autumn swept into grey Britain, the spark of wanderlust was reignited and I booked flights to Taiwan. What better than an escape to a gastronomic paradise with palm tree lined boulevards and cheap whisky?
Soon my schedule was filled, apart from one weekend, so I decided to investigate the chances of island hopping. Flights to the Republic of China’s Kinmen Islands were already pencilled in, but remarkable offers from Hong Kong Airlines kept popping up, so £90 later I had a Business Class return flight from Taipei to Hong Kong as well.
Hong Kong has long been a dream destination for me, with food (unsurprisingly) being one of the main draws. My late grandfather, an army major, had been stationed out there in the mid-twentieth century with his infant daughter, my mother, in tow, so a chance to marvel at this low-tax expat paradise located in the tropical waters of the South China Sea was irresistible. Cue images of palm fringed beaches and opium smugglers.
Luckily I had a number of contacts out in Hong Kong so, after reaching out, two clear suggestions emerged – brunch and sunset cocktails – and they were duly added to the list of “must dos”. Alas, a boozy evening exploring the “real” Hong Kong intervened, and I woke up with just twenty minutes of brunch remaining, surrounded by the debris of slightly inebriated purchases (spicy noodles, more beer, pizza flavoured crisps, etc). Undeterred, I headed across Kowloon Bay, from my hotel in Kwun Tong to the towering peaks of Tsim Sha Tsui to visit the Hong Kong outpost of one of my all time favourite hotel brands – W.
As expected, brunch was winding down, and even with my prodigious appetite I wasn’t convinced I could get £80 worth of lobster and Veuve Cliquot down in five minutes. So I decamped to the airy surroundings where W’s Afternoon Tea was hosted, and as it turned out I was in for a treat. Settling down with my pot of Kusmi of Paris’ Anastasia Tea, a delightfully head-clearing and vibrant number with notes of bergamot, orange blossom floating over a solid black tea base, I picked up my plate and explored the offerings.
With Anastasia and Prince Vladimir as the recommended teas it was no surprise that this afternoon the theme was Russia. This was made more than evident with the dessert offering of a cake in the colours of the Russian flag. The range of options was quite terrific, and unlike other afternoon teas, it was in a buffet format – perfect for those who are picky or have a large appetite… I returned to my table with beetroot pâté topped with cured salmon on light and airy bread, waffle cones crammed with king crab leg meat and caviar, caviar blinis with sour cream, chopped onion and diced egg, pastrami and avocado croissants, and savoury lollipops of burrata sandwiched between pickled cherry tomatoes. I really was in my element. The addition of some “grown up” iced tea, spiked with rum, honestly put some of the London offerings to shame. Add in the stunning contemporary décor (as if there would be anything else in a W Hotel) complemented by attentive yet unobtrusive service, and I was won over.
The war with my hangover, however, raged on, so a retreat to the poolside back in Kwun Tong with a book for some R&R immediately followed. I went out at about ten that evening for a KFC Double Down, so the high class element of that day ended up somewhat sabotaged.
The next day was my final day and with a flight back to Taipei at eleven o’clock at night looming – followed by a 5am flight out from Taipei – I decided to head for TST again, to make sure my trip to HK went out with a bang. After a relaxing, idyllic afternoon watching old men play mah-jongg whilst I sipped on iced tea and read to the sound of bird song, I made my way to the tallest building in Hong Kong, the ICC, home of the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong.
When it comes to hotels the W is my young and stylish choice, but the Ritz Carlton is the opulent and timeless option. The Ritz Carlton HK does not disappoint. Home to the world’s highest bar, Ozone, sitting 484 metres up, it has to be one of the finest bars in the world. There’s also the world’s highest swimming pool, but I was in the mood for eating, not splashing. Throughout my travels I’ve found that many sky bars trade solely on their height, offering mediocre drinks and food at prices as high as their elevation, but as a sucker for bright lights, Ozone was irresistible. I settled down to watch the buildings of Hong Kong island hover above the emerald waters of the South China Sea, with the signature cocktail in hand. The Hong Kong Skyline is a heady blend of salted caramel vodka, kumquat liqueur, grapefruit, fresh strawberry and lemon juice, and perfectly accompanies one of the most remarkable views possible in the world today. As the sun set behind me, the silver towers of HK twinkled ephemerally, and night swiftly fell.
With the boxes of drinks and views solidly ticked it was time to see how their food compared – and I was not disappointed. The outstanding item in my opinion was the dried beef tortellini with burrata and truffle – an explosion of flavour from the beef alone opened into the the rich decadence of burrata. The distinct notes of truffle just made this the stand out item. That’s not to say the other items weren’t worth mentioning. The cones of foie gras with figs and port wine was the sort of nibble that would quite easily encourage me to swap a few years of good health for gout, the french fries with truffle were crisp, crunchy, and addictive, and the mini wagyu burgers blew away my usual apprehensions regarding “posh” miniaturized food items, with a moist and flavoursome core and a fluffy, slightly sweet bun.
Pairing the last two items with a bottle of Hong Kong Beer, a strong bodied amber ale that hit all the right spots, was a good choice. In Asia the predilection is towards “macro-brews”, often watery and over-carbonated distant cousins of European lagers. This was not of that ilk, and it’s particularly pleasing to see big names supporting local business. My next trip to Hong Kong would definitely include a specific trip to check out their brewery and its exciting range of craft beers.
Descending the ridiculous number of floors with a full stomach, a smile on my face, and some truly unforgettable experiences in Ozone, I was quite overawed. Unfortunately, that full stomach doesn’t always make for the speediest traveller. Thankfully, when I reached the Hong Kong Airlines lounge, I was quite glad to find I had just enough time to enjoy a glass of fizz before heading back to the beautiful island of Taiwan.