Update from Hemlock

Wild American friend Odell takes a sip of his organic tea tree oil and couscous cappuccino and taps at his iPad. We are in the Caine Road Starbucks, the one remaining coffee place for several miles around. First, the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee closed to make way for the overpriced and tacky TWG pseudo tea shop in which Mainland tourists can sit and think they’re being cool. Then that chain’s Lyndhurst Terrace outlet closed down to make way for a boutique selling giant perfumed candles to (we can only presume) people who have to buy a gift at short notice for a woman they don’t like much. Then the Starbucks in the little street up from Queen’s Road shut down and was converted in less than 72 hours into an authentic ladies’ Belgian lace swimwear emporium for tea-sated Mainlanders. Humble caffeine-and-easy-chairs spots are being driven into oblivion by locust-visitors and inane high-margin luxury goods.

The lapsed Mormon is reading the news on his iPad. “Wow – that blind guy Chen phoned a congressional hearing in Washington DC. Live. On air. Amazing. He had a lot of requests.”

Odell reads out activist Chen Guangcheng’s wish-list. “A meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; an opportunity to thank Mrs Clinton; assistance from Mrs Clinton in coming to the US, with persecuted family; a chance to meet Bill Clinton; an hour throwing hoops with basketball legend Jeremy Lin… a ride in a fire truck with the siren on. Yeah, why not? I mean, think what this guy’s been through. He’s earned it.”

At this point a striking woman in flowing burnt ochre and turquoise silk and a huge puce raffia hat strides up to us. It is Yummy Chow, noted food writer and critic. She sits down with a cup of tastebud-preserving warm water and gives me a gleaming grin.

“It’s that time of the year again!” she announces.

I am slightly puzzled for a few seconds before it dawns on me. “Of course! The Worst Restaurant in Soho Award!”

“You’ve got it,” she says. “And I think we might already have a winner.”

Past holders of this much-admired prize, and runners-up, come to mind. Duke’s Burger, with its HK$250 caviar-and-beef sandwiches. The dismal Soho Spice, with its quasi-Vietnamese fare. Countless insipid, cramped, pretentious themed concept dining experiences set up by beancounters who can’t cook an omelet, usually closing two cynical years later when the landlord puts the rent up, only to be replaced by another off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter fake eatery.

“There’s a new Italian place about to open,” Yummy explains. “It’s opposite where they’ve just renovated that Australian group’s Thai grill, the one a few doors down from where the Nepalese-owned Argentine steakhouse just moved to, near where they’re tearing down the deluxe pizza joint to put in the Australian group’s Nepalese dumpling lounge.”

“Yeah – I know it,” Odell interjects. “Gonna be called Nico’s.” Yummy nods. Odell shows us some photos he took on his iPad. “It says it’s gonna be a ‘spuntino’ bar.” He looks at Yummy, who knows everything about everything where cuisine is concerned. “What the hell’s spuntino?”

Yummy looks a bit awkward. “Ah… Well, it’s a kind of meat. The spuntino is, um, a small, furry mammal that traditionally frolicked in the forests of Sardinia. But nowadays they’re mostly reared on farms. Having said that, it’s not eaten much these days, even in Italy – it’s, uh, very much a poor person’s food. I’m surprised anyone would open a spuntino bar in Hong Kong. That’s why I think this place could be this year’s Worst Restaurant in Soho winner. This is about as desperate as you can get.”

Odell is Googling ‘spuntino’. “Oh my freaking God!” he exclaims…


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17 Responses to Update from Hemlock

  1. Barbara Woodhouse formally known as Bela Lugosi says:

    Dream on. Your fantasy of being able to eat dog in Hong Kong will not be realized even under the new rapprochement to the Mainland. Neither will your fantasy of being able to beat children with rolled up newspapers as a civic right.

    On the other hand, I am sure there will soon be DOGS ONLY restaurants. People in Hong Kong now sit canines at the table with bib and bowl. The next step is to park them in a doggy eatery for the morning whilst one does the shopping.

    Did they ever catch the Bowen Road dog poisoner?

  2. Joe Blow says:

    Yummy !! Dogmeat !

    Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.

  3. pcrghlll says:

    I wonder how early Bela starts checking each morning so he can be the first to post. Troll behaviour, mate.

  4. Faery says:

    pcrghlll, we just got him off vampires, don’t start him on trolls.

  5. Foxtrotosca says:

    Is the weekend open yet?

  6. Groucho says:

    How are your SHKP shares doing Mr Hemlock?
    Time to buy more, or sell the lot?

  7. Mary Hinge says:

    When I saw the picture of the kid grimacing whilst gnawing at his fingers, I wondered what kind of horrific, sick, twisted evil a “spuntino” might entail. This, coupled with “Launching in June”, seemed to convey enough double entendre to raise a complaint to the Obscene Articles Tribunal.

    Thank goodness I was totally wrong and it’s only killing and eating young dogs. Phew!

  8. maugrim says:

    Mary, no doubt you are a fan of the good Dr. Spooner or his student, Ronnie Barker?

  9. Barbara Woodhouse formally known as Bela Lugosi says:

    I’m a bit late with this one.

    ICAC arrest ex-SHKP head Walter Kwok
    3:24pm Sun Hung Kai Properties’ ousted chairman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung has been arrested in connection with a bribery investigation, the company said on Friday.

    As they used to say at Reader’s Digest: “Collect The Whole Set”.

  10. Real Tax Payer says:

    It sounds more like a cross between Cluedo and Happy Families.

    Does anyone have Mr Plod the policemen to exchange for Walter Kwok?

  11. Stephen says:

    I had Walt down as the man grassing his brothers up! He was looking a bit smug recently – must have just taken his lithium tablets – any chance the ICAC can make a move on some of the other tycoons;

    KS Li – For Coda Plaza, Henderson Li for Conduit Rd and those wacky guys at New World for a whole host of things.

    It must be beer o clock.

  12. BH&R says:

    Hemmers might want to walk up the escalators just a bit to find coffee…Pacific Coffee opened on Mosque Street. And irritatingly when I google and wiki Spuntino (in English and Italian) I fail to find puppies!

  13. Joe Blow says:

    You make it sound like it is a bad thing that you cannot buy a (paper) cup of mediocre coffee, from a self-service counter, for a fairly absurd price. Or absurd products: just this afternoon I walked past the [fill in name of pretentious chain] near Millennium Plaza/ Costco Tower (same thing) and they were promoting something like a “Cocoa Crumble Crescendo” (if you must know: a liquid at the bottom, a swirl of “cream” (yeah right) from a can, and ‘sprinkles’ on top, for about $40- or so.

    When the revolution finally comes, these places will be torched.

  14. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Stephen

    I reckon Henderson Li is next in line for the ICAC death squads on account of Conduit Rd. I know a few people in the property business and they all agree Henderson Li has cut more than a few corners in his time

    As for superman, I bet even the Central govt dare not touch him ( which a sad reflection on a sunday morning)

    But .. heh heh … after Jospeph and Thomas Lau were named as paying monstrous bribes to whatshisname Ao , doesn’t that give the ICAC prima facie case for arresting them ? The ICAC ordinance surely does not just cover paying bribes to HK residents … or does it?

  15. Jonathan Stanley says:

    @RTP: Superman Li is more untouchable in the CCP pantheon than Princeling Bo XiLai? Really?

  16. Chopped Onions says:

    Joe, when it starts let me know fella, got a list of places that would burn in the fire of revolution! Any place that advertizes itself with a phrase beginning ” the art of……” is pretty much no1

  17. paul says:

    Er, ‘spuntino’ means simply ‘snack’ in Italian as you would well know. So no support here for your usually better founded attacks on our anthropomorphs of canine persuasion.

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