East Meets Art
Hong Kong is a city that has embraced globalisation like no other. In fact, the city was recently named the freest economy in the world, highlighting its openness to global trading and a free market.
The malls bristle with Prada, Marks & Spencer and even a Jamie’s Italian. Street corners feature Starbucks and H&M, and a good burger is as easy to find as a traditional egg tart. But you don’t have to scratch deep to uncover the unique culture of this city. It’s in the food that bears the influence of its many past inhabitants, in its ever-changing architecture and in its art. This cultural scene, while previously almost solely commerce driven, is slowly becoming a richer part of the fabric of the city, thanks to pioneers such as Dominique Perregaux, founder of gallery Art Statements and evangelistic supporter of Hong Kong’s newest art-filled neighbourhood, Wong Chuk Hang, and the South Island Cultural District that encompasses nearby Tin Wan as well.
Once just an industrial district for clothing manufacturers, this gritty suburb is now home to more than 23 different galleries, with more moving in every day. Modern art galleries were once the province of Hollywood Road in Central, but the move to these larger industrial spaces means the exhibitions aren’t inhibited by the traditional architecture of the smaller shops. Here among the ageing factory buildings and newly built glass towers, larger rooms mean curation of exhibitions is less fettered by staircases and supporting pillars. While these galleries are here to sell art, Perregaux understands the greater significance art can play in Hong Kong.
“What we’re doing here is so important, providing somewhere for people to come and see art at a human level,” explains Perregaux. “We’re creating this neighbourhood, but art is not enough. Now we have shops, design studios, cafes and restaurants. You can spend the day going from one place to another, uncovering the hidden and off the beaten track to experience something new.”
EXPLORING WONG CHUK HANG
Filling a whole day in this hood is easy. The recently opened MTR station means you can reach Wong Chuk Hang in just 15 minutes from Central. Drop by Perregaux’s Art Statements gallery first, pick up a copy of the South Island Art Guide and spend a day treasure hunting through the different galleries, with entrances often hidden behind lorry docks and dingy facades.
M+ in West Kowloon is billed as a cultural precinct that’s scheduled to open in 2019. The 40-hectare site is being heralded as the new cultural soul of the city, and will play host to the M+ museum, which will focus on 20th and 21st century art, a Lyric Theatre complex, the Hong Kong Palace Museum and Art Park — the living, green heart of the district.
But even as the centre is built, grassroots art movements are continuing to push the boundaries. The Cattle Depot Artist Village was renovated in 2001 from a former quarantine and slaughterhouse. Here artists have the freedom and space to explore Hong Kong’s cultural identity. Stop by Videotage for experimental video art and 1a Space for controversial pieces, then pay a visit to Frog King, who is widely considered one of the pioneers of contemporary art in Hong Kong.
There are certain hotels that are as famous and iconic as the destination they’re located in: Raffles Hotel in Singapore; The Plaza in New York; the Ritz Paris — and The Peninsula in Hong Kong, the city’s oldest hotel at 90 years. These buildings are so famous, they’ve become a tourist site in themselves. This is evident at ‘The Pen’ each afternoon, when the grand lobby fills with well-heeled tourists lining up for the high tea. A string quartet plays from the balcony above as delicate pastries are Instagrammed before being eaten.
EAT THROUGH HISTORY
The food and drink scene in Hong Kong has, unlike its local art scene, always flourished under the changing empires. Take milk tea, or Yuanyang, as an example. When the British descended 175 years ago, their penchant for tea with milk was adopted — and adapted — by the locals. Served in diners known as cha chaan tengs, it’s strong, filtered through a silk stocking, served with sweetened or condensed milk, and often with a shot of coffee as well. Each establishment has its own slight variation, and this ability to blend the Eastern and Western cultures through its cuisine is still alive and kicking today.
East again meets West at fine diner Mott 32, which expertly blends ancient techniques with modern ingredients. The name is a reference to the street address of the first Chinese convenience store to open up in New York, and the American city’s influence is felt throughout the cavernous space in which this restaurant resides. Start with dim sum but be sure to save plenty of room for the main event — the Apple Wood Roasted 42 Days Peking Duck, which shouldn’t be missed. Pre-order, as it takes 48 hours to dry smoke the bird before it lands whole at your table, where an expert knife wielder breaks it down into bite-size pieces.
Taking the dining to a more experimental level is award-winning chef May Chow, creator of Happy Paradise. With half the menu tagged ‘easy’ and the other ‘adventurous’ there is something to suit all tastes. Start the night with cuttlefish toast, black garlic and corn puree and finish with pan-fried pigs brain, burnt pear juice and white soy. The cocktail list is also divided between safer and more adventurous tastes — the Swoon Lee is made up of white rum, watermelon and salted black lime, or push the cocktail boat out with a Durian Painkiller, comprising dark rum, toasted coconut, durian, pineapple, orange and nutmeg. The decor is all neon lights and retro ’80s furniture, and the playlist follows suit. As the meal winds down, the music flares up and the whole restaurant turns into a bar-cum-nightclub.
Any time spent in Hong Kong just wouldn’t be complete without a full dim sum experience and Dim Sum Library in the Admiralty shopping centre will allow you to tick off every dumpling goal. The menu is long and tantalising, and everything on it is worth tasting, but highlights include the black truffle har gau, Hokkaido king crab and sea urchin spring roll, and crispy aubergine tossed with salted fish and Chinese chives. If you’ve still got room after the dumplings, dive into the crispy duck and slip into a well-earned food coma.
KICK START YOUR HEART
The number of Aussie implants in Hong Kong continues to rise, and barista, coffee roaster and ex-Sydneysider Scottie Callaghan spotted a gap in the market. “Coffee to the locals here is treated as a luxury, but the expats know it’s a necessity,” he explains. “No one was opening early enough to cater to the before-work market, so I knew there was an opportunity here.”
After coming to Hong Kong as a barista, Callaghan now runs Fineprint and is building his coffee bean roasting business, Redback Specialty Coffee, which supplies to cafes all around the city. His is one of the first cafes to open its doors at 6am to ensure the expats walking down the hill are well fueled for the day ahead. Which is exactly what you’ll need to explore this most vibrant of Asian cities.
Words by Kirsten Rowlingson
Mott 32 – www.mott32.com
Happy Paradise – www.happyparadise.hk
Dim Sum Library – www.dimsumlibrary.com.hk
Fineprint – www.fineprint.hk
Redback Specialty Coffee – www.redbackcoffee.com.hk
To make Hong Kong your next travel destination, visit our website or call 13 67 89 (in Australia) to book flights or holiday packages with Virgin Australia.