While the mighty, fearless and all-wise Chinese Communist Party sorts out what to do with the Hong Kong publishers it has kidnapped and the stock market that for unfathomable reasons deviates from the central plan, we can look for a little light relief in beautiful downtown Soho.
Just as the Mid-Levels Escalator picks up, conveys and discards a never-ending stream of humans, so the streets of this little neighbourhood host a ceaseless coming-and-going of restaurants. They open; they produce food for a few years; and they shut down, snuffed out by the landlord pushing up the rent in the knowledge that some other idiots will come along with even more cash and less sense.
One interesting – perhaps Darwinian – side-effect is that, over the years, desperation to be different from all the other plasticky cookie-cutter establishments has intensified. Gone are the days when Argentinian or Manchu stood out as exotic. Now the concepts and themes have to be zany, even if the result is off-putting, incomprehensible or in some other way self-defeating.
The space that used to be the Tex-Mex Caramba! was recently renovated for a new tenant/victim. Builders drilled and banged inside and applied an undercoat of paint to the exterior. And then work seemed to stop, presumably while they were waiting for the new eatery’s eye-catching sign to be delivered. But passers-by soon started to notice that lights were on inside in the evenings. Peering in through the weird and barely permeable screen thing in the window, they could just make out some sort of movement. It was actually open.
The drab matt tone (‘duck-vomit green’ to wearers of colonial-era Hong Kong Police summer uniforms) was final. And there was a sign after all – small and unobtrusive and high, high above, where only a giraffe would see it. And a menu, which revealed the new place to be one ‘Juhu Beach Club’ (because ‘Juhu Narrow Grimy Street Club’ wouldn’t fit on the tiny sign). The concept is Indian-food-American-wimps-can-handle. What this district needs is a straight HK$90 vegetarian thali, but this place has other ideas. Papadums and pickles, which usually come free in Indian restaurants, are HK$68, and there’s ‘Brussel Sprouts Nest’, ‘Holy Cow Short-Rib Curry’ and other stuff that is probably pretty tasty in a Californian-friendly way, but relentlessly over-fancy and over-fussy sounding. As with making it impossible to see in from the street, they probably feel they have no choice but to make it bizarre: nothing ‘normal’ would justify the prices, and nothing else in Soho has survived the extreme rents.
Where have I seen that look – the colour and the curved shape? Why yes…
…Environmental Protection Department waste transit facilities, as found in the seamy underbelly of every outlying island.
Juhu Beach Club is at the OK-if-someone-else-is-paying end of the scale. Next door is something called Naked Gurume Gyarare. The menu outside is full of clumsy and embarrassing puns about sex, plus rather a lot of quinoa. It says here, apparently with a straight face, that the concept is ‘Japanese-influenced fusion-tapas’. The more down-to-earth Time Out gives it two stars out of five. Visually attractive (if you’re into Jeff Koons), one-bite-and-it’s-gone. Again, because this is Soho, and giving hungry people what they want isn’t financially viable, you’ve got to offer over-priced weirdy-woo stuff and hope that’ll work. The mind boggles as to what will take its place when the lease comes up.
Would you want to take someone you like and respect to a place where this comes under ‘Foreplay’ in the menu?
I declare the weekend open with the consoling thought that we still have areas with real restaurants serving real food for non-rip-off prices. Let’s say watching David Attenborough’s BBC documentary The Secret Life of the Deep Fried Snubnose Pompano Fish has given you a major appetite. Over to Western you go…
You never talk about the hygiene, the main point about eating out in Hong Kong. I gave up restaurants years ago. I cook superbly at home. The girls love it. I used to get gastroenteritis four times a year eating out. How can you eat where they do the quickie rinse in the dire den called a toilet? And all that reused pork fat and MSG.
The majority of Western restaurants I’ve tried in HK (with a few exceptions) offer the distinct pleasure of tasting terrible, corporatized facsimiles of modern dining trends copied from NY/LA/Sydney with the NY/LA/Sydney prices still intact (or sometimes even higher prices).
For a supposed “food city,” the food here is pretty uninspired. It’s a big challenge to even get a decent Chinese meal if you want to eat something that’s not some variety of Cantonese, Hakka, or cha chaan teng. You can get better Sichuan and Dongbei food in L.A. and Queens.
And yet, I’ve met more self-proclaimed “foodies” here than anywhere else, save perhaps Singapore where discussion of food is the only thing that engages locals more than competitive luxury shopping. But I guess there’s no easy way for a population weened on 火腿通粉 and McDonald’s to have developed sophisticated palettes nor appreciation for quality ingredients.
However, I do agree with Hemlock–some of the vegetarian Indian places are truly excellent…
Rinse bowl, glass and chopsticks in warm tea, and you’ll be fine.
Why anyone would look for South Asian outside of Chungking Mansions is beyond me…
Hemlock, have you considered moving to a less overweeningly pretentious neighbourhood? But then there goes a quarter of your blog material, eh?
“Enid Ronay”, another of not-so-gorgeous George’s avatars. The guy’s shameless.
RSG, the word’s palates, not “palettes”. You should have been an artist.
With the exception of some of the better hotels (the Conrad does a perfectly decent lunch buffet), Western food in Hong Kong is, almost without exception, both dire and grossly overpriced. Far better to save your money and go to a local restaurant, a Chungking Mansions Indian, one of the wet market cooked food centres, or places like Habibi in Wellington Street or Nirvana in Wing Lok Street for some tasty, unpretentious fare at a price that will not outrage the pocket.
As for Singapore, there’s certainly an awful lot of high priced, stuck-up stuff on offer, but there are also fantastic hawker centres that for quality and value put anything we have in Hong Kong to shame. For the cost of a “meal” is some crap Elgin Street rip-off joint or a “wet fart on a plate” by Joel Robuchon, you can fly down to Singers, get the train to Bedok, and loll about in the hawker centre scoffing carrot cake, bak kut teh and popiah, all washed down by a few cold Tigers.
The word “is” after “meal” in my final paragraph should, of course, read “in”.
I point this out before any of the Enids who haunt this room do it for me.
You can buy the most brilliant steaks at Citisuper for $100-200- Add some fresh oysters, some smoked salmon and you and the princess/ helper / hooker / Mum can eat like royalty for less than $ 300- each. Who needs fancy ‘Italian’ restos, managed by Indians, served by Flippers and cooked by, errr, Indians.
I don’t get it with the ageing lothario ginger george when he cooks cheap dinners for the brainless barkers in his not-so-lux hideout in Stanley, don’t they all leg it after the starter? Is he “Hong Kong’s Dad?”
Just saw a pic of starving kids in Syria. Like, Holocaust starving. Enjoy your lunch buffets this weekend.
Cheerful thought, Gretchen. Thanks very much.
You must be a barrel of laughs to have lunch with.
Off-topic link for fellow Lychee-ren, on the risks of the breaking of the narrative of CCP competence.
And yeah food scene outside of cha chaan teng, cantonese roast meat places, dumplings and noodle places, Loaf On in SKG and a few badass dim sum spots, sucks big fat donkey balls (not the delicious kind of donkey balls, either)… sadly. Some really good homestyle dongbei, sichuan and xinjiang food would be awesome … as always the HKG rentier mental sickness is to blame.
You need to get out more: Habibi has been the Butcher’s Club Burger joint for about a year.
I don’t see the connection you’re trying to make. Yes, it’s horrible that such disgusting scenes are happening in 2016. But the world is full of terrible things, and we will never eradicate all these atrocities. All we can do is sympathize, send money to charities, give of our time, and berate world “leaders” who got us into this mess. But the world, and eating, carries on. Which brings me to Juhu Beach Club. Check out the opening hours. How can it possibly make money opening so few hours a day? Rich husband perhaps?
I’m glad, in fact gloating, to see someone address this situation. A tangent might be the facade of “traditional culture” in Hong Kong, which in the case of the rip-off eateries of Central is reduced to a subset of hardheaded non-negotiated greed in tandem with crass pretentiousness.
Lines for the Honourable Mrs Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee GBS, JP
I will admit, I’ve been impressed
By her spirit and her zest.
When she spoke, I liked to hear
Her well-phrased statements, plain and clear.
When she lied, her voice would change;
Ill at ease, she sounded strange.
She couldn’t help it: you could hear
That she was being insincere.
She couldn’t wholly play the part;
I liked to see her lack of art.
I didn’t chortle when she cried;
I liked to see her female side.
* * * *
Regina always had to say
Something striking every day.
Hemlock and the gang
Would always disrespect her.
Wanted to protect her.
Will you take a tip?
O, Mrs Ip,
Bite your silly lip!
She wanted everyone to see
How patriotic she could be.
Hemlock and the gang
Were sure that they had caught her.
Wanted to support her.
Cut the silly crap!
Shut your silly trap!
* * * *
You ask me, “Come on, did you ever feel
This strong, articulate woman had sex appeal?
Had you a passion for her, deeply hid?”
No, I assure you! No, I never did!
But now, her words on boats and immigration
Have caused (at last) a re-evaluation.
I’ve read them up and down, but it’s no use;
For what she said, there’s really no excuse.
O, Regina! I have done my best,
And bravely here your praises have been sung.
Still your friend, I tactfully suggest –
Hold your silly tongue!
I find some of the posters here insufferably British.
Sad news indeed. Says it all, really.
One further reason for not getting out more, I suppose.