I always celebrate my birthday in a memorable way, be it a circus-themed party (complete with popcorn and cotton candy) or a Vancouver Aquarium dance party and dessert bar. The past few years, I have opted on travel adventures; this year, I chose Hong Kong.
On the cusp of Chinese New Year, I explored the city of true opposites. East meets west. Traditional versus contemporary. Ancient accenting modern. I’ve heard that if something occurs in a New York minute, it happens in a Hong Kong second. This trip was no exception and here are my observations:
Princess and Queen Bee:
The Pottinger Hotel was my first stop. With a central location, I can see why it was voted Asia’s Best City Boutique Hotel in 2014 by the World Boutique Hotels and one of Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Hotels for 2017. One might imagine that a historic cobblestone street, filled with vendors hawking trinkets, might be noisy but it was quite the contrary. I found the intimate 68-room hotel a tranquil oasis of bespoke décor with a touch of Asian flair. In fact, Sino Hotels has thoughtfully chosen to display the best photos of Hong Kong’s own Fan Ho, an internationally acclaimed photographer and film director.
I gratefully inhaled the welcome plate of tropical fruit as I settled in my room, which was decorated in soothing pastels and neutrals. Space is a precious commodity in the city, so I appreciated the huge vanity, as I was able to spread out my toiletries for days! My favorite way to start the morning was at Gradini Ristorante E Bar Italiano, an award-winning Top Table for 2016. I indulged in the whipped scrambled eggs while gazing at the bustling Queen’s Road below.
(Writer’s note: I soon discovered that everything is connected to a shopping mall and a train station. Although that makes it easy to escape rainstorms or humidity, it’s not so easy on your wallet!)
The Island Shangri-La offers another vista of luxury, with opulent Asian references in a decidedly European environment – think rosy golden tones with Venetian glass, Austrian crystal and Italian, Spanish and Portuguese marble. The Island is situated atop Pacific Place, a high-end fashion mecca in Central’s financial district of Hong Kong Island.
Walking to your room, it’s hard not to take note of the massive mural, The Great Motherland of China, which was created by 40 artists from the Beijing Arts and Crafts Research Institute. I learned that it consists of 250 panels of Chinese silk, and took six months to craft. The masterpiece holds the record for the largest landscape painting in the Guinness Book of World Records!
Spectacular, panoramic views of Victoria Harbour or The Peak can be experienced in any of the 531 expansive rooms and 34 lavish suites. After checking-in, I spent some quiet time in my apartment-sized room, while sipping the complimentary hot tea and devouring the chocolate truffles. My last breakfast was spent at the French Restaurant Petrus, overlooking a serene waterfront while enjoying my lobster-scrambled eggs. Note that guests may choose to dine in 8(!) restaurants and bars, including the Michelin-starred, Summer Palace.
Fusion and Classic:
Hong Kong is definitely a food lover’s dream (The hills serve as a natural Stairmaster to burn it off!). I rode the ding-ding tram to Kennedy Town, to check out Catchick Street neighbors, Catch and Mamma Malouf. As the name suggests, rising star Catch focuses on seafood; I am still raving about the soft-shell crab burger and rose! Mamma Malouf, with a connection to the famed Australian-Lebanese chef, Greg Malouf, presents an ingenious twist on classic Lebanese dishes, like hummus and baba ganoush.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without Asian fare. The Japanese izakaya, Yardbird, takes no reservations and has limited quantities of menu items, thereby creating a warranted demand. It’s all about chicken here, and different cuts are grilled over traditional Binchotan charcoal. I would recommend the chicken Meatball Yakitori (Tsukune), paired with Yardbird’s signature sake.
Ready Now or Later:
Drinks are an integral part of the Hong Kong culture, where extended work days meld seamlessly into local bars and lounges. At Café Gray Deluxe (Upper House’s 49th floor restaurant), the bartender artistically crafted for me their famous Earl Gray Martini. Drinking my favorite tea turned into a shaken cocktail overlooking Victoria Harbor was not a bad way to end the evening.
However, my libation at ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge (2016 and 2017 Michelin-starred) took a decidedly longer time to prepare. Let me explain. Service was spot-on and the cityscape from the terrace was on-point. The Onegroni version #2 concoction is rested in a 4L original Giancarlo Mancino clay pot for at least one week before being batched in bottles, thus heightening their flavor.
Prescriptive and Extras:
There is no shortage of retail therapy in Hong Kong, from electronic warehouses to garment factories to well-known fashion houses of the world. With much appreciation for female-owned small businesses, I was pleased to discover Caelum Greene, Hong Kong’s first athleisure and lifestyle fashion brand. The brick-and-mortar store encourages consumers to live fashionably healthy.
No birthday trip is complete without some true rest and relaxation. Skin Gym, on Wyndham Street, is run by internationally-respected skin specialists, offering
customized skin and body treatmets as well as corrective programs. My full body massage ironed out all my airplane kinks and left me in a peaceful slumber.
My 5-star (Forbes Travel Guide 2017) Oriental Spa experience at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental
was acquainted with experiential showers, vitality pools, ice fountains, amethyst crystal steam rooms, and finally the Zen Relaxation Room! I left the spa floating on air, having lost all concept of time.
As I grow a year older, I reflect on 2016 and realize how far I’ve travelled on my life path: strengthening and building friendships; resurrecting and exploring ideas; eliminating and selecting goals. I embrace that Hong Kong has shown me the beautiful harmony in opposites. Welcome Year of the Rooster – Gung Hay Fat Choy!