I’ve been to Hong Kong twice in my life, once with my parents in 1998 — Asian currency crisis time so everything was bargainous — and then again in 2000, at the tail end of my two week bike trip through China. There’s something about Hong Kong that makes me feel at home. I felt the same in 1998 and 2000 and I felt it again in 2016, 16 years after my last visit.
In 1998, I had my palm read at the Temple Street Night Market. “You will live outside the United States for many years,” the fortune teller told me. How much has been self-actualization since then? I don’t know. He also told me, “When given the chance to move, move. Moving is good for you.”
Moving IS good for me. Me and London get along very, very well, but maybe I should move to Hong Kong! (Apparently the expat tax situation is wonderous.)
Hong Kong was my first stop of my Asian sojourn because the flight was cheap — a Finnair business class bargain — and well, because of the crazy pull on the heartstrings. Also, my friend Eugene is there and it was time for a catch-up.
Besides coming down with an awful cold on the flight over, getting my credit card number swiped at one of my hotels, and living through the coldest day in Hong Kong in 60 years without a coat (34 degrees F, 2 degrees C), here’s what I got up to…
Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours, Sham Shui Po: I didn’t do much my first night in town — um, OK I paid $70 USD for a gel manicure at a place by my hotel — but I was up bright and early my first morning to join my guide Fiona for a food tour of Sham Shui Po, an older part of Hong Kong that I absolutely loved. I honestly can’t say enough great things about this tour. Fiona was lively, personable and funny and all the stops revealed a new little bit of old Hong Kong. We started off with a huge pineapple bun and milk tea, and then I ate all the rice rolls somewhere and all the roast duck and roast goose somewhere else. I would do this again and I would also try their other tours as well. Visit their website.
Good Evening Kowloon, Walk in Hong Kong: This tour took me to a bunch of cool places that I probably wouldn’t have gone to on my own. The craziest bit is when we walked into a singing parlour off of Temple Street and watched the old folks sing their favorite tunes. We also visited a parking garage for a great view of Temple Street Night Market. (Pictured at top of post.) We stopped at a pretty average place for dinner though, and our guide was not helpful in ordering. (I would rather a guide tell me what’s good than hand me a huge menu of unfamiliar dishes and ask me to choose.) This outfit has great reviews, so I think I just got a bum guide. (She was nice. Just nothing in comparison to the lively Fiona from the previous day.) Visit their website.
PMQ: A design-destination with lots of small little boutiques and interesting things to look at. Maybe it was the weather — freezing cold, raining — but there was no one there when I visited, which felt a little odd. I had about 13 people stop me and ask me to take a survey about why I chose to visit PMQ, which got a little annoying after about the fifth time. I really wasn’t in a shopping mood, but if you’re a shopper, you should go here. Visit their website.
This is the view from the ladies’ loo at Cafe Gray Deluxe…
Cafe Gray Deluxe, Upper House: I stopped in for lunch and drinks on my last day in Hong Kong, when the sun had finally decided to shine and the skies were a perfect crystal blue. It’s not cheap and I thought it a little odd that they sat me next to the only other full table in the place, but I enjoyed the views and my soup and I also really liked the loos. Go if you like expensive things and eavesdropping on private equity professionals. Visit their website.
Chungking Mansions: This building was fascinating! I wish there was a tour just about this space. To quote from Wikipedia, “Chungking Mansions features guesthouses, curry restaurants, African bistros, clothing shops, sari stores, and foreign exchange offices. It often acts as a large gathering place for some of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians (Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans), Middle Eastern people, Nigerians, Europeans, Americans, and many other peoples of the world. I wish I had taken more photos here. If you like slice-of-life stuff, this place is for you! Read more about Chungking Mansions.
Aberdeen Street Social: I know, I know. Don’t kill me. I went all the way to Hong Kong and went to a Jason Atherton restaurant. BUT…I was freezing cold and it was raining and I needed a rest. (Aberdeen Street Social is at PMQ.) So I dropped in here and had a glass of wine and caught up on social media. It was nice, cozy and warm. I did not have anything to eat here. Visit their website.
Din Tai Fung, Miramar Shopping Plaza: I ate all the XLB at Din Tai Fung, plus all the sesame noodles. There is nothing left now. Sorry about that. Maybe one day, they will open in London. One day… Visit their website.
Lung Kee Wanton, Tsim Sha Tsui: I dropped in here for breakfast one morning and boy was I glad. A huge bowl of noodles, pork wontons and fishballs. For cheap! Delicious. They didn’t speak much English but sign language and pointing worked perfectly well. Cheap and cheerful. Visit Open Rice.
As always, I only scratched the surface during my short visit to Hong Kong. My cold and the absolutely freezing cold weather that I was not prepared for also put a bit of a damper on things. No problem though because I am pretty sure I will not let another 16 years go by before visiting again…
Gatwick, in April on my way to the Dominican Republic
If you, like me, are going to spend umpteen hours on a plane this holiday season — and in the back of the plane no less — it helps to be prepared. Over the years, I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles all around the world and I’ve really learned that you can never be too prepared. One of my worst flights was a few years back, when I loaded up my iPad with movies and TV shows for the long flight from Chicago to Amman Jordan, only to get on the plane and realize I had no battery left on my iPad. Also, the entertainment system on the plane was also broken. (#firstworldproblems, I know.)
The long stretch of boringness during that Amman flight still serves as a powerful, simple lesson for me all these years later. So starting with that, let me give you this gift. My holiday travel tips for 2015..
1. Make sure your iPad is full of good stuff — movies, TV shows, books, and games — before you get on a plane. (I like logic problems, myself.)
2. Make sure your iPad is also fully charged before you get on a plane.
3. Stop saying “It’s impossible for me to sleep on planes.” Try to sleep during your flight. My mindset now is “I must sleep!! I must sleep or I will die!” My family lives in Florida, so by the time I get from London to Florida, I am exhausted. (Especially when I have to connect through Newark like this upcoming flight.) I like to think I am a relatively calm person, but I can tell you that family squabbles are not infrequent within an hour or two of my arrival. I don’t know whose fault this is, but I’m much calmer about it all if I’ve had some sleep. So now I make sure to take two Tylenol PM when I get on a plane and try to rest for an hour or two.
4. Fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for maximum space in Economy. Stretching out is NICE. My work schedule means that it is hard to get away mid-week. BUT! Whenever I can, when I am flying long-haul economy, I try to book tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Flights just seem to be less crowded then, and if you are are really lucky, you will get an entire row to yourself!
5. Nylon tote bags are your friends. I bought a bunch of these puppies and boy am I glad. My normal routine when I get to the airport is to head to the newsstand and buy all the trashy magazines, snacks and the biggest bottle of water I can find. (Hydration, people.) Rather than use one of the plastic bags from the store — the plastic bags ALWAYS rip — I unroll my nylon tote bag and in everything goes. Tip: Get one in a bright color. Otherwise, you may accidentally leave your new nylon tote bag behind. eBoot makes nice ones.
6. I’ve learned the hard way that some coach seats may have the plane’s audio/visual equipment under them, making it hard to stretch out. So check Seatguru before you board and choose your seat carefully.
7. Check your passport in advance. One of my most stressful travel experiences was a few years back when Virgin Atlantic threatened not to let me on my flight to New York because my passport expired in exactly six months. (I defeated them with logic.) So make sure you are always travel ready. Last minute getaways are brilliant, but not so brilliant if you realise your passport has run out. If you need to renew your passport in a hurry the Passport Office offers urgent passport services to UK citizens and you can have your new passport within a week or even a day depending on your needs. So if you need your passport quickly visit www.passports-office.co.uk/booking.asp for more information. Find out more about your travel destination’s requirements by visiting the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website here: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before you book.
8. Compression socks are your friends. I don’t care how dumb you might feel or look wearing them. For a long-haul flight when you are sitting down for hours on end, they are very important for circulation. GET THEM.
9. SIGN UP FOR HEATHROW REWARDS. I spend a lot of money in airports. I don’t know why. Actually, I do know why. I am a captive audience. You are too. If you plan on buying magazines and having a meal in Heathrow, sign up for Heathrow Rewards. Like seriously. (They should pay me for saying this, but they’re not.)
10. Most importantly, relax. Don’t stress out if the guy in front of you puts their seat back. Don’t stress out when the US airlines charge you for booze. (Thank you, United Airlines, for providing wine for free again.) And don’t stress out when your flight is delayed eight hours. Just try to relax! Really.
I know I’m a broken record, but I really love Vietnamese food. I could happily eat it all day, every day. Even pho, which I once wrote off as boring. Pho is now one of my favorite things ever. Particularly for breakfast, which is when it is more typically eaten in Vietnam. (Who knew? This was a surprise to me too.) So when I noticed that Kavey was raving about Viet Food in Chinatown, I made a beeline for it and all its delicious Vietnamese food.
Today was my second visit but I sat in the same exact spot as my first visit: at a stool by the window, watching Wardour Street walk by. How do all these people fit into Londontown? I do not understand.
I like the decor of Viet Food. They’ve taken it very seriously. I like the tile entrance and the vintage-industrial feel of the loos. I also really, really like the pulsating electronic music.
I also like the very reasonable prices on the menu, although I wonder sometimes how Chinatown restaurants will survive, the way rent prices are going. I would honestly pay a few quid extra if it meant the Chinatown survives. (Please Boris, protect it.)
For today’s lunch, I ordered the seafood balls — exactly what you’d think they’d be — and the Vietnamese chicken curry. The seafood balls were super, super hot and while they were good, I had higher expectations. (I did sort of fall in love with the tiny little jar for the sauce that came on the side though.) The chicken curry was great and I would gladly have this again. The curry is more subtle than Thai curries. If I were a better home cook, I’d know why. My guess is that the Vietnamese version has more lime and more lemongrass.
The Verdict: I like Viet Food. I like the decor, the service is okay, and I like the prices. I haven’t eaten at enough of the world’s Vietnamese restaurants to make a fair comparison, but I’d recommend a visit if you, like me, love Vietnamese food.
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2015 has been the year of saying “Yes!” I’ve been saying “Yes” to a lot of the things that I used to say no to. Firstly, I have more time than I used to have. Secondly, and frankly, I got tired of saying “No.” Of the many things in life I really can’t say no to, French food ranks highly. Very highly. One day, I will go to France and learn to cook. I promise you, mom. (My mother learned to cook by mail in the 1970s. The Grand Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu. She still has the binders. She wants me to learn.)
So French food. Brasserie Gustave invited me and a +1 to come along for lunch one day, so I brought along Jen and a +2, Baby Arden. (I asked in advance if that was okay.) It was time to introduce Arden to the concept of “Ladies Who Lunch.” Given the speed at which Arden shoved two beautiful madeleines into her beautiful gob, I think she is now a convert, both to “Ladies Who Lunch” and to madeleines. Thank you to the staff at Brasserie Gustave for providing the madeleines. Also thank you to Brasserie Gustave for putting up with our mess because this is how things looked when we left…they get extra points for this…
But really, our meal at Brasserie Gustave was tremendously lovely. I understand now why Fay Maschler liked it. And Jay Rayner. If you are looking for a place to take your parents for lunch or dinner, Brasserie Gustave is it. The space during the day is light and spacious, the service is attentive, and the food is deeply French and deeply good.
Deeply, deeply French like delicious, garlicky escargot…
And deeply, deeply French like perfect, buttery foie gras…
Richard, our host, was very attentive and kind during our meal. So too our server — the one who brought Arden the madeleines. Richard brought us his suggested wine pairings with each course. (Whenever I am in a French restaurant or in the hands of a knowledgeable server, I put myself in their hands.) My favorite was the Coteaux du Layon from Maison Langlois-Chateau, a honey-toned Chenin Blanc.
For lunch, Jen and I “pseudo-shared” our two mains. I say “pseudo-shared” because of course we were like “We can share!” but really, we each enjoyed our mains so much that there was really the only tiniest bit of sharing there towards the end. (After we had finished talking, you know.) My Rossini was honest perfection, the beef perfectly medium rare, the spinach perfect and well…more perfect foie gras. How many times can I use perfect in this blog post?? I see now that they are offering a Chateaubriand Rossini for two for £70. You should go to Brasserie Gustave with that special someone in your life and get it.
Jen ordered one of the day’s specials, a baby chicken perfectly prepared. I would tell you what it tasted like but Jen only let me have the tiniest of bites at the end of our meal, so enthralled was she in the entire dish. By this point, I knew the feeling.
The Verdict: I tremendously, tremendously enjoyed my meal at Brasserie Gustave. If my father ever makes good on his threat to come visit me again, this is where we are going. Richard and his team are fabulous hosts and the food is fabulously French. Prices are a tiny bit high but honestly, it’s worth it. Go go go. (They also get super extra credit for dealing well with an active 13 month old.)
I was a guest of Brasserie Gustave. They are very kind hosts. We tipped on our guesstimate of the full bill.
How do you write about a thermos? (Or, well, in this case, a Thermos®.) I hadn’t considered how to write about a Thermos until AFTER I attended a coffee-making workshop at Workshop in Clerkenwell hosted by the PRs behind Thermos. In hindsight, I exhibited very poor planning skills.
Because it’s really hard to write about a Thermos.
It’s easier to write about coffee or well, making coffee. So in many ways, the Thermos PR team were absolutely brilliant in coming up with this event. They chose a great location — Workshop in Clerkenwell — conveniently located down the road from me. They brought in a fantastic barista. And they served us some great coffee. (Or, well, we served ourselves great coffee after we made the coffee ourselves under the expert tutelage of the instructors.)
The Genuine Thermos Brand Beverage Flask keeps drinks hot (or cold) for up to 24 hours, thanks to the double-wall vacuum insulation. The team demonstrated this magic by filling our Thermoses with coffee the night before the event. I had a cup the next morning — 36 hours later — and the coffee was still pretty warm. Definitely drinkable.
The baristas at Workshop showed us how to use an Aeropress and a coffee cone — aka the V60. I like the idea of a coffee cone because it’s so low-tech. I like low-tech a lot these days. Life is too complicated already. Here’s a Vine I made of the coffee cone process:
This was a fun event. I learned a lot about coffee-making and left so caffeinated that I had to go buy a banana afterwards to slow myself down. (The potassium in bananas are good at absorbing caffeine, apparently.) And now I have a nice new Thermos.
I was invited to attend this event. I received a Thermos and a traveling coffee mug in return for my attendance and writing up the event.