Never a city for the claustrophobic type seeking Scandinavian minimalism or countryside grazing, the constant buzz of activity in Hong Kong is part of its unique charm and allure.
For those seeking respite through coffee and cocktails, look beyond the noise on your next visit. As Hong Kong buckles from the pressure of rising property prices and dwindling commercial space value, some have worked even harder to preserve their chosen crafts in spaces that, in themselves, do not look fit for purpose. Whilst some of these ventures are in paper-thin properties that might not otherwise warrant a second glance, they’ve defied the odds to thrive. Innovation, authenticity and painstaking originality are the watchwords here, delivering their message with flair in an almost cheeky rebuke to the city’s conformists. Nor do they pander to the advent of social media–they’ve chosen to serve a select few rather than the vast spectrum. You might have to turn sideways to fit through the door, but once inside, you’ll find a tiny spot you can call your own.
1. One Dim Sum
Away from the central hub of commerce, the provincial-yet-gaudy charm of One Dim Sum in Mongkok doesn’t deter dim sum devotees from making a beeline for their steamy, tiered baskets. What this sliver of a ground floor shop lacks in aesthetic charm or design sensibilities, it more than compensates for in terms of more-ish tastes. For those seeking something quintessentially Hong Kong, eschew the tourist favourites and try a “Ja Leung”–think a saucy-yet-light Chinese-style cannelloni stuffed with a delicate, savoury doughnut. Though now firmly ensconced in the Michelin Guidebook, One Dim Sum remains as true an example of local grit as there is, with sharing tables the norm. Come with an appetite, and don’t flinch when the older patrons shout horse racing tips across the table as you indulge.
2. Mizunara The Library
Hidden deep within the yellowing corridors of a fading, non-descript commercial building, it is difficult to sense the closeted beauty of Mizunara The Library until stepping past the threshold of thick oak doorway. Here, tuxedo-wearing compere Endo-san showcases possibly the most diverse collection of single malts on Hong Kong island. Observing the same degree of fastidiousness seen in many of his homeland’s whisky bars, Endo-San’s seasonal cocktails (bearing notes of botanicals harvested from his foraging in Japan) command serious attention. Ever the showman, the flurry of his French-cuffed hand, steadying a flight of peaty rock glasses, only heralds the start of a night well spent. If it all gets too much, breathe in the neon fumes of HK’s great outdoors from the little Japanese rock garden terrace. Reservations a must.
3. Winstons Coffee
Winstons–from its Melbourne tiles to 80s cassette player–is as good a place as any in Hong Kong to rediscover the joys of a dark cold brew. With a regular lineup of events from speciality Negroni evenings to retro quiz sessions, the warm welcome has now extended to a second location on the westside of Hong Kong island. Unusually for Hong Kong, staff relish a good joke and will happily chirrup about whatever is on your mind on a rainy afternoon. Take in a classic board game and feast on the fluffiest, happiest pastries this side of the Shenzhen border. The coffee itself is, of course, life-affirming.
4. The Old Man
Survey the long, single bar at The Old Man, caked in burnished gold, and you might be forgiven that this was nothing more than another pretentious Hong Kong luxury hotspot beloved by the city’s many tycoons. Betrayed by the candour of their bartenders, the superb creativity of their cocktail menu and their surprisingly affordable prices, this hidden speakeasy embraces you like a seaside hug on an autumn day. As your chosen cocktail chills on a block of ice that runs along the entirety of the main bar surface, you might well afford a glance to their large Hemingway mural and be glad that you reeled in this big fish. Try ‘Death in The Afternoon,’ a heady potion of champagne, absinthe and coconut-pandan yogurt. A brisk 10 minute walk from the city’s main drinking quarter, it couldn’t be any more far removed in another sense.
5. Halfway Coffee
A Chinese nod to the likes of the aforementioned Winstons, Halfway Coffee sports an impressive, achingly Instagrammable array of Chinese crockery from which to sip your chosen latte. The space itself is beautiful, organized chaos, sporting old world Hong Kong mementoes and bizarre trappings of Chinese life, like the odd box of nail clippers that “some installation artist left behind.” Much like the others on this list, although it lacks somewhat in capacious seating, it nuzzles you like an elderly Chinese aunt when you first dip your fork into their well-coddled eggs. Taking its name from the fact it is wedged through two antique shop laden alleys, this is one Halfway that goes the full distance.
Photography by: Justin Lim