Hong Kong: Eat, Drink and Stay

Places to eat and drink

butcherarmsThe Butchers Club (Burgers)

I stumbled upon the Butchers Club during one of my failed attempts at replacing my faulty camera. My photographic search may have been fruitless but at least I managed to find an interesting food joint that caught my eye. I immediately went back to my hostel, grabbed my pal and forced him here for dinner.

The Butchers Club specialises in fancy and imaginative burger concoctions and was mentioned in this year’s Hong Kong Michelin guide. There are seven speciality burgers to choose from: I ordered a Wu Tang Style which is a burger consisting of wholly Asian ingredients such as sriracha sauce, kimchi and kewpie mayonnaise and my friend, being American, unsurprisingly plumped for a Hogtown which includes pulled pork and bacon. Both burgers were very tasty but for the outlay (his was $100HK or £10 and mine was $120HK or £12) we were expecting slightly larger portions. Fries cooked in duck fat are an additional $30HK (£3) but from what we could see from other patrons’ tables were hardly worth the extra outlay. It was Drinks Happy Hour during our visit which meant 2-for-1 beer which did soften the blow of the expense somewhat.

burgers

Wu Tang Style (foreground) and Hogtown burgers

The interior of the restaurant is spotless and there are large windows looking out on a busy plaza which affords plenty of opportunities for people watching as you eat. Service was friendly and prompt with waitresses bringing the food to your table for you. Burgers, despite being small in circumference, are stacked high with ingredients and as such are very messy – be sure to bring plenty of napkins from the counter to eliminate the numerous return visits we had to make to clean ourselves up!

I was impressed by the food I was served here despite the high price. Mine and my companion’s burgers were both delicious, if a little small for what we were charged. If you fancy a great burger you could do a lot worse than The Butchers Club, although try and come during one of their Happy Hours or when set price lunch offers are available to get more value for your money.

Click here to visit the Butchers Club website for more information.

hungrykoreanHungry Korean (Korean)

Living in the north of England, the only chance I get to satisfy my cravings for Korean food is when I visit my sister in London. When I checked into my hostel in Hong Kong and found this restaurant just round the corner I was ecstatic for two reasons: 1) I could eat one of my favourite cuisines and 2) It was extremely cheap by Hong Kong standards.

We arrived at the Hungry Korean late in the evening to find all the tables were taken and there was a queue out the door. We took this popularity as a sign that the food inside must be of a good standard.

I chose to sample the pork gimbap (like a sushi roll with Korean fillings) and the toppoki (rice cakes in spicy sauce) and my companion went for the chicken gimbap. Service was fast considering the restaurant was packed out and there was a sizeable queue but, as the interior of the restaurant is so small, we had to take our food outside and eat on the street – luckily we chose to eat here during one of the few short periods during our HK visit when it wasn’t bucketing down with rain.

The food didn’t disappoint. The pork gimbap, in my opinion, was more tasty than the chicken version but both were nice. The toppoki tasted just like the portions I had bought from street vendors during my time in Seoul. The toppoki portion was good and the gimbap was fine but a little thin compared to similar offerings I’ve had elsewhere. Still, considering what I paid and the extortionate prices of nearby restaurants in HK I was very happy with what I received.

I tried the restaurant a few days later, arriving mere moments after it opened. During this visit there were plenty of tables available so obviously the restaurant’s popularity booms late at night when people are heading home and craving a quick bite to eat. As such, it might be worth getting here earlier in the day if you wish to have a more comfortable, sit down type affair.

Be aware that the restaurant, like many others around Hong Kong, will not accept small denomination coins. I found this annoying and inconvenient on the number of times I tried to pay with this lowly but legal tender but it seems to be a common thing around Hong Kong to refuse them. I mention this just as a heads up to avoid embarrassment in case you do not have enough silver dollars or notes to pay for your order.

If you are travelling Hong Kong on a budget and are a big fan of Korean street food then I’d highly recommend the Hungry Korean to fulfil your fast food needs.

Click here to visit the Hungry Korean website for more information.

cocoCoCo Ichibanya (Japanese Curry House)

I’ve made no secret of my love of CoCo Ichibanya across the other pages of my blog – when I find I’m in a country that has a CoCo Ichi, I have to hunt the store down and get myself a curry. I’ve tried them in Japan, South Korea, Thailand and now Hong Kong. I have no idea why or when I became so addicted to them but this has to be my favourite chain restaurant in the world.

The fare served here is pretty basic but really tasty. You choose the meat, veg or a combination of both that you want and it gets served on a bed of rice with a covering of delicious curry. My clear favourite is the chicken katsu (or chicken cutlet depending on location) but there are a multitude of options from deep-fried pork, sausage, omelettes, croquettes, seafood and fresh vegetables to pick from – the menu can be slightly overwhelming with the weight of its choices! The heat of the curry can be tweaked depending on heat preference with five levels of increasing spiciness to choose between. Those with a weaker resilience to hot food need not fret as a milder version of the base curry can be requested if required. Those with heftier appetites can also choose to add additional servings of rice to their meal for small price increments or chuck in extra ingredients in the form of cheese, bacon, natto (fermented beans which stink but taste pretty decent, actually) and the like.

The location I visited (three times, embarrassingly, during my visit) was based in the Silvercord shopping mall on Haiphong Road and the interior was clean and modern. Although the staff were pretty miserable during each visit the food did not disappoint (although the recipe definitely seems to have been tweaked slightly with the Chinese customer base in mind) and the prices are very reasonable when compared to other eateries in and around Tsim Sha Tsui. If you fancy a quick, convenient and cheap bite of Japanese cuisine during your stay in Hong Kong then I’d heartily recommend CoCo Ichi.

Click here to visit the CoCo Ichibanya HK website for more information (in Chinese).

tonkachiTonkachi (Japanese)

Having arrived in Hong Kong late in the evening we set out to look for food feeling ravenous and worn out from our flight. We wandered for a good long while, overwhelmed by the vast number of choices available to us until we stumbled upon Tonkachi, a Japanese places situated at the bottom of a flight of stairs sandwiched between two busy drinking holes. Having both lived in Japan for a time, my companion and I decided we would plump for something we were familiar with and headed inside.

Tonkachi is mainly a tonkatsu restaurant specialising in deep-fried pork dishes served in a variety of ways, although it also offers other Japanese dishes sushi and shabu shabu. Prices here are relatively expensive, starting at  £10 to £12 for a meal set and climbing steadily from there – thankfully portion sizes are substantial and you also receive complimentary side dishes such as daikon radishes and miso soup. Early bird specials are available at lunchtime which drastically reduced the cost of certain meals but these are severely limited in number so you have to be there right after the restaurant opens otherwise you will miss out. Japanese beers are available and are also quite expensive – we opted for Asahi beers which came in at roughly £5 for half pints.

I opted for a pork cutlet with curry and my friend went for the donburi (pork cutlet served on rice with a layer of egg). Dishes are served in typical Japanese fashion, with lots of effort taken to make sure your food is neatly and considerately laid out on your plate – often in places like this it seems a shame to tuck in and destroy all the chef’s careful preparation! We both thoroughly enjoyed our choices with nary a crumb left upon our plates after we had finished.

tonkachi

My pork cutlet curry which was equally as good as any I’ve tried in Japan

What we found most impressive about our visit here was the extremely friendly staff. Numerous different staff members bustled and fussed around us despite our  arrival very close to closing time, making sure our meal was as pleasant as possible. Service was quick, the food was authentic and equal in quality to similar dishes I have sampled whilst living in Tokyo. Staying true to the design of many restaurants in Japan, Tonkachi even has a private room solely for the use of drunken salarymen – what fun it sounded like they were having!

We left Tonkachi with full stomachs and a real sense of satisfaction after our meal. This restaurant offers an authentic taste of Japan in the heart of Hong Kong and is well worth a visit.

timhowanTim Ho Wan (Dim Sum)

We had heard that Michelin starred Tim Ho Wan was the place to go if you wished to experience the best quality dim sum available in Hong Kong. With this in mind we set off on an arduous trek to find one and, after almost an hour of trying to navigate ourselves through Hong Kong’s seemingly inexplicable floor designations, we stumbled upon our destination.

Even considering our lack of direction, we managed to arrive just after opening time and were led to a seat immediately. However, the place is extremely popular and gets busy very quickly – a mere ten minutes after we rocked up, a huge queue had formed stretching far beyond the front of the restaurant.

dscn5120

Our menu showing what we ordered

Dishes here are exceedingly cheap by Hong Kong standards ranging from about £1.50 to £3.20 per serving. Upon being seated you will be given a small slip of paper on which you mark the dishes you would like to try and list the quantity you require. The menu is quite small, so gluttons or large groups should easily be able to sample everything listed upon it, including the delicious-looking braised chicken feet in abalone sauce (stomachs fragile from a night of boozing, we passed on this delight). Portion sizes were pretty decent, with each small plate having between three and five servings per selection. The dishes were a bit hit and miss for me (the steamed rice rolls with barbecued pork were especially bland and stodgy), as I seemingly don’t have a palette for more traditional Chinese flavours. That said, the BBQ pork buns that the restaurant is famed for and the shrimp and vegetable spring rolls are definitely worth a try. Service is brisk and unsmiling, and the restaurant is so crowded there is barely room to move, but as this is a popular eatery in Hong Kong this is to be expected.

Although I wasn’t blown away by what Tim Ho Wan had to offer it is at least worth a visit so you can claim you have eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant and all for a price similar to what you’d pay for a meal from McDonald’s – if you can easily locate one of the restaurants in the labyrinthine streets and shopping malls of Hong Kong that is! Good luck!

Click here to visit the Tim Ho Wan website for more information.

Fatt’s Place (Beer and Bar Food)

Fatt’s Place is an open-fronted pub in bar-heavy Hart Avenue. What drew us in here was the persuasive but not-too-pushy wait staff and the monkey nut detritus scattered across the floor. The walls are decorated with doctored movie posters all of which have references to being overweight or obese in them which can raise a few drunken chuckles when noticed. Staff are friendly, attentive and provide free trays of monkey nuts for each table. Popping them out of their shells and throwing the waste on the floor can become very addictive and your tray will quickly empty – thankfully they are refilled once you have devoured your initial serving! The place is evidently popular so during busy periods you may have to wait briefly for a seat.

fatts.jpg

Monkey nut shells cover almost every inch of floor space

Fatt’s Place offers a vast selection of world beers (both bottled and on tap) and what are dubbed ‘boring beers’ from closer shores such as China and Hong Kong itself. Also present was one of the Kirin slush beer machines that were common around Hong Kong that I have never laid eyes upon elsewhere – I didn’t sample one owing to the lofty pricing, however. Regular drink prices here reflect similar places in Hong Kong and beers can come in at around $45HK during Happy Hour and anywhere between $90HK to $200HK outside of any offers.  I didn’t order food here myself but a companion ordered a burger and the portion size was substantial in comparison to what was paid. Big screens show sporting events regularly and, in what turned out to be an exceedingly English occasion, we took in the Manchester derby over a few Black Sheep Holy Grails.

The atmosphere at Fatt’s Place is a pleasant one which drew us back over other bars on subsequent nights and the offer of free peanuts in a place such as Hong Kong is not to be sniffed at! If you are looking for a dive bar in Hong Kong where you can catch some sport and quaff a few beverages into the bargain, then look no further than Fatt’s Place.

Where I stayed

urbanpackUrban Pack

Urban Pack is located in the Haiphong Building just off Nathan Road, near Kowloon Park. The location is great as you are situated in a busy shopping district and right on Tsim Sha Tsui underground station which enables easy travel around the islands. The hostel, however, is not signposted at all and you will likely spend a good long while locating it – even our taxi driver, a native of HK, had no idea where it was.

Once you do stumble upon the entrance, you will have to travel up to the 14th floor in a cramped lift to get to the reception desk. This area is only open daily from 9am to midnight so if you want to check in during that nine hour unstaffed dead zone you are out of luck. Upon parting with by far and away the biggest payment I’ve ever made for a hostel, we were informed we had to throw down an additional $200HK for a key deposit – that is £20, an outrageous sum if ever I’ve seen one! I’m aware that travellers, especially backpackers, can be slack and lose things, but this charge was, for me and my travel companion, inconvenient and exorbitant.

We were shown around the 14th floor common room and had it explained to us that there were other areas to mingle across the floors of the building and also at a completely separate location. As we were travelling as a pair, this didn’t bother us, but it isn’t really conducive of meeting new people if you are travelling on your own. One thing I will say for the place is that they provide free wi-fi on all floors (which was exceptionally quick and easily the most stable of our entire journey) and they have Apple computers scattered in the different common areas if you need to upload photos or book flights.

We were placed on the 10th floor. We were taken down by our host and shown how to access our rooms via the clever locking mechanism that will reassure worried travellers of the safety of their belongings. The corridor area leading to our room was cramped but pleasantly decorated and we were confident our room would be similarly comfortable. We were in for a massive shock. When the door opened, we were left aghast. There was a bunk bed inside and the floor space adjacent was roughly half the bed’s width. This was in no way properly sufficient for two fully grown adult men with large backpacks. I am aware space is at a premium in HK, but for what we paid for the room, the space provided to us was in no way acceptable. To make matters worse, there were no windows and, as a result, no natural light. My friend, who suffers from anxiety issues, had a really tough time of it in here, coming close to panic attacks on two separate occasions. He soon took to calling the place Urban Prison.

tinyroom

Me holding the door to our room open from my bunk while my roommate took a picture from outside to demonstrate our lack of space

Sucking it up, we went out, had some dinner and came back to rest. As we tried to sleep we discovered that the contained noise of the common area really travels so we heard every door slam, toilet flush and creak of the chair as another guest sat typing long into the night on the communal Mac. Our rest was interrupted frequently by drunken revellers and late night comings and goings – let’s face it, backpackers often aren’t the most considerate of guests!

As well as all these aforementioned issues, we also noticed the hostel was looking to wrangle money out of its guests at every available opportunity. There was a list of rules as long as your arm affixed to the back of the door in our cell and threats of large fines were also posted near the showers on the 15th floor. In conjunction with these rules and the ludicrously high key deposit, there is also a charge (roughly £5) to store your bags here past 1pm on the day of your departure. I found this charge laughable and nothing more than a cheap ploy to extort even more money from the beleaguered folk who stay here. I have never come across this before and I have stayed in hundreds of different lodgings, from hostels to 1* hotels to 5* resorts. As much as the owners will argue they have seen higher charges elsewhere, I never have. This service should be complimentary at any hostel and has been literally everywhere else I have ever chosen to stay.

Credit where credit is due, the bathrooms on our floor were spotless and the futuristic showers were a relief after some of the less than acceptable offerings we had experienced on prior legs of the trip. The cleaners were also in on a regular basis keeping our floor perfectly clean.

Would I recommend staying here? Unfortunately not. We soon became aware that Hong Kong doesn’t really cater for the backpacker/budget traveller crowd and this hostel was no exception. If you come here you will be forced to part with large wads of cash for everything from food to shopping and if you can afford to do this you would be much better served paying the additional premium and plumping for a hotel. If you are backpacking or on a strict budget I would highly recommend you skip Hong Kong entirely and look to visit somewhere cheaper unless you are absolutely desperate to see the (admittedly impressive) skyline or the Bruce Lee sculpture.

Additional Note Regarding Urban Pack

This review was also posted on Trip Advisor. I try to make all my review as fair and subjective as possible. My aim is to give people an idea of what the places I stay at are actually like, attempting to list the positives of the place as well as the negatives. I tried my best to do that with this review as I do with all others.

Before I posted this review of Urban Pack, I noticed that the owners are very sensitive to critical reviews and have a habit of losing their tempers with authors of low star reviews regardless of how objective their writing is. I gave my Trip Advisor review 2 stars so was not surprised to receive a lengthy response (which can be found here). Owners are well within their rights to counter any reviews they receive but the tone and content of that response, however, has needled me somewhat. As some of the owners’ claims about my visit are inaccurate and I cannot respond via Trip Advisor, I would like to take some time to address them here instead.

First off they claim that on check-out they asked myself and my roommate if our stay had been acceptable and we said it had been good. This is an outright lie as my roommate left two days before I did and we did not inform the check-in desk before his departure. When I left the hostel they took the room key and didn’t once ask me about my stay.

They then say that, if we thought the room was like a prison, we should have demanded a refund forthwith and left immediately – it seems they conveniently forget the signs plastered across the front desk which warn customers that refunds will not be given under any circumstances. As well as this, we were not shown our tiny windowless room until after we had paid and, contrary to the owners’ claims, the Hostelworld synopsis (found here) certainly doesn’t mention any of the rooms being this claustrophobic and totally lacking natural light. So did the owners expect us to waste over £200 on this accommodation, take the loss of our money on the chin and then find somewhere else to stay? As for broaching the subject with them in person, can you imagine having to deal with this indignant attitude face-to-face?

In the reply to the payment for storing bags we are told that this includes use of the showers, coffee machines, etc. That is all well and good but I didn’t use any of these after my check-out time so why should I have to pay for them when all I want to do is stow my bag for a few hours? It is also claimed that printing facilities can be utilised but they fail to mention that there are further additional costs based on the number of pieces of paper you consume.

As well as this I am called ignorant for suggesting Hong Kong might not be the best place for backpackers owing to its very expensive prices. This is a personal opinion and people can disagree if they please but to call me ignorant is offensive and uncalled for. I would wager that I have travelled far more than the owners of this place. Hong Kong is mentioned in the same breath as Tokyo – a place where I actually lived! – and I can confirm in confidence that to visit Japan would be far more cost efficient as a backpacker than what I experienced in Hong Kong. I have also visited Seoul, another stick used to beat me with, and there is literally no comparison in terms of cost with those two places – Seoul is far and away cheaper. I will admit to having not seen the beaches and undertaken some of the hikes mentioned but this was down to almost continual heavy rain and fog during our visit, something conveniently forgotten in the owners’ often very personal rebuttal. My friendship is also called into question just because I dared to write a critical review. I will not even dignify this accusation with a response. In my opinion it just serves to highlight the apparent pettiness of the owners.

What I would advise the owners of this place to do is take constructive criticism in good grace and see about addressing the issues raised instead of going straight on the defensive. I also believe that ill-conceived responses like this to people’s honest opinions will likely do the hostel few favours when people read the reviews in the future. The hostel usually achieves high review ratings, but if the owners put as much effort into addressing the issues people highlight for them as they do aggressively responding to reviewers then perhaps the place would gain even fewer poor ratings.

Click here to visit the Urban Pack website for more information.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s