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March 20, 2008

Table for One: Hong Kong  

From towers to basements, this Asian financial center has a wealth of food choices—and challenges.


You would expect good food from people who greet each other by asking, "Have you eaten well today?" And in Hong Kong, you get it.

But dining in this vertical city can be tricky. Some of the best bites can be found in divey noodle shops. Restaurants are often hidden in office towers or shopping malls, and there is a dearth of good restaurant guides. (Zagat plans to launch its first Hong Kong-Shanghai-Beijing edition in late April.) Then there's the nature of Chinese cuisine, which traditionally revolves around large groups and shared dishes.

With a little intel, however, a business traveler can eat gloriously well—and often with a spectacular view. The city has a diverse range of dining options, from regional Chinese (Cantonese, Chiu Chow, Pekingese, and Shanghainese among them) to Italian, French, Japanese, and about anything else you might desire. In recent years, Hong Kong has attracted its fair share of celebrity chefs: Alain Ducasse (Spoon), Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (Nobu), and Joël Robuchon (L'Atelier) are all here. Many of the best restaurants can be found in the Central district of northern Hong Kong Island, or in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood. Both offer dramatic views of the harbor and skyline.

You might even forget you're alone.

Central: Luk Yu Tea House
24-26 Stanley Street
2523 5464

Tucked away on a side street near the bottom of the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator, Luk Yu dates back more than 60 years. The dim sum is standard but satisfying, the service efficient but brusque. With its dark wood paneling, lazy ceiling fans, stained glass, and cozy booths, however, Luk Yu offers a charming, colonial-era ambience that's hard to find. It can be jam-packed during peak lunch and dinner hours; off-hours, when you can slide into a cozy booth and slowly work your way through the menu, are more pleasant. The dinner menu offers a greater range of options, including duck, prawns, tripe, and bird's-nest soup.

Dress: Casual 
Prices: Inexpensive
Reservations: Recommended
Close to: Four Seasons Hotel, Exchange Square

Central: Lumiere
3101 Podium Level 3, I.F.C. Mall
2393 3933

Located in the I.F.C. mall, next to the International Finance Center, this Sichuan bistro and bar shares a dramatic space and harbor views with Cuisine Cuisine, its Cantonese sister restaurant. Lumiere is more casual and inviting, with a long cedar bar where you can dine. Chef Ronald T.L. Shao serves up inventive cuisine, putting Latin American twists on traditional Sichuan dishes—a spareribs starter on cucumber pedestals, a chicken dish studded with vibrant red peppers. There are also contemporary cocktails and more than 120 wines from around the world. Try the Bordeaux-style Chairman's Reserve from Grace Vineyard, considered China's best winery.

Dress: Smart casual
Prices: Moderate to expensive
Reservations: Recommended
Close to: Four Seasons Hotel, Exchange Square, Star Ferry

Central: Mak's Noodle
77 Wellington Street
2854 3810

Perhaps the city's most famous wonton and noodle-soup joint, Mak's still looks like the kind of place adventurous travelers dream about stumbling upon, its steamy windows promising savory delights within. Inside, the restaurant is small, clean, and bright, and you can join the crowd slurping away in anonymous abandon. The menu is simple: soup with dumplings, soup with noodles, or soup with dumplings and noodles—all for less than $5 a bowl. The flavors are fresh, and English menus are available.

Dress: Casual 
Prices: Inexpensive
Reservations: Not taken
Close to: Escalators, Central Market, Exchange Square

Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui: Felix

Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Road

2315 3188

This Philippe Starck-designed restaurant has its own elevator to whisk you to the top floor of the historic Peninsula. For the best views of the harbor and skyline, request one of the small tables along the floor-to-ceiling windows. Or grab a seat at the long communal table at the back and strike up a conversation. The black-clad waitstaff is friendly, and the contemporary cuisine—tuna tartare with avocado, pancetta-wrapped lamb, mango-rice-pudding roll—stands up to the view. There are wines by the glass or half-bottle, and a nice selection of teas.

Dress: Business/fashionable

Prices: Expensive

Reservations: Recommended

Close to: Sheraton and InterContinental hotels, Star Ferry

Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui: Hutong

28/F 1 Peking Road

3428 8324

Hutong takes its name from the courtyard-lined alleyways of old Beijing. But while the decor features antique furniture, red lanterns, and bamboo birdcages, this is a thoroughly modern eatery. Hutong serves contemporary Northern Chinese fare that is flavorful and MSG-free (which is welcome after a few local meals). The challenge is choosing among the many mouthwatering options, such as the deboned lamb ribs Hutong-style (crispy on top, succulent underneath), soft-shell crab with Sichuan red pepper, and bamboo clams steeped in Chinese rosé wine and chili sauce.

Dress: Business/smart casual

Prices: Expensive

Reservations: Recommended

Close to: Langham Hotel, Star Ferry

Kowloon: Nobu

InterContinental Hotel, 18 Salisbury Road

2313 2323

The Nobu InterContinental, has a more intimate scale than some other Nobus, making it comfortable for a traveler—even when the staff shouts "Irashaimase!" (Welcome) to greet you. It's easy to make a meal of small plates; along with sushi and the usual Nobu favorites like black cod saikyo yaki, the menu features a selection of the chef's local specialties, including bamboo pith with shrimp and scallop, and Japanese beef tartare. There's a great selection of sake in various sizes.

Dress: Business/smart casual

Prices: Expensive

Reservations: Recommended

Close to: Peninsula and Sheraton hotels, Star Ferry

Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui: Wu Kong Shanghai Restaurant

27-33 Nathan Road

2366 7244

This basement-level gem is full of civilized warmth and the buzz of contented diners—and it has several smaller rooms and smaller tables where solo eaters can happily settle in. The menu is extensive and includes dumplings, noodles, vegetarian dishes, and Shanghai classics, all at extremely modest prices. The Shanghai-style pork dumplings (a.k.a. soup dumplings) are sublime, with little bursts of rich broth. Also delicious are the Shanghai-style noodles and garlicky Chinese broccoli.

Dress: Casual

Prices: Inexpensive

Reservations: Recommended

Close to: Peninsula, Sheraton, and Langham hotels; Star Ferry



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