Words: Kate Springer; Illustrations: Angela Chan
Rougher around the edges than glossy Central, Wan Chai has shed its skin countless times. It’s been a quiet fishing community, then a ritzy colonial settlement in the 19th century and more recently Hong Kong’s de facto exotic nightlife district. Today, it’s a quintessential melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures, sporting world-class skyscrapers, historic architecture and a variety of dining experiences. Here’s a mix of all the best bits for your next visit:
Just like the Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok, the Wan Chai Street Market is a chaos of sensory experiences. In these narrow lanes, lively hawkers attract crowds with a seemingly never-ending haul – everything from household goods to clothes, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Travelling with little ones? Head to nearby Tai Yuen Street Market, also known as “toy street”, where they’ll be delighted by quirky games, novelty knick-knacks, vintage tin robots and limited-edition anime figures.
For over two centuries, pawn shops have been a vital part of Hong Kong’s economy and a select few are now landmarks in their own right. One of the most iconic was the four-storey, pre-war Woo Cheong Pawn Shop built in 1888. The Urban Renewal Authority acquired the site in 2003, then partnered with the Press Room Group and local artist Stanley Wong to transform the historic building into The Pawn – a restaurant with graceful balconies, tasteful wood décor and a menu by British celebrity chef Tom Aikens. It underwent another refresh in 2014, again at the hands of Wong, unveiling a brighter, more contemporary look and refreshed menu.
The St Regis Hong Kong
Designed by renowned Hong Kong architect André Fu, The St Regis Hong Kong opened its doors in April to much fanfare. Home to 129 spacious rooms, the hotel brings together a mix of Chinese décor and colonial grandeur that echoes the district’s diverse history. You’ll also find dining spots such as Rùn, a contemporary Chinese restaurant led by culinary king Hung Chi-kwong. Business travellers will appreciate the butler services and convenient location close to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Hong Kong Blue House
A series of colourful four-storey tenement houses or tong lau are some of the must-see landmarks in Wan Chai. Among them is the Blue House, built in the early 1920s as the original site of the Hua Tuo Temple and Hospital. It is a classic example of a tong lau, featuring well-preserved iron balconies, timber staircases and patterned floor tiles. And now, visitors can immerse itself in its history through “HKACT! Act 1 BeHere” – an augmented-reality exhibit that allows people to see what Blue House looked like in days of yore.
From the same people behind Francis, a wildly popular Middle Eastern restaurant in the Star Street precinct, Mr Brown recently made its debut on Ship Street. Headed by chef Asher Goldstein, the buzzy grill and smokehouse comes decorated with charred wood and an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work. The menu is all about Mediterranean-influenced barbecue, so expect to salivate over smoked, roasted, baked and grilled beef, duck, lamb and pork and more – plus a line-up of craft beers and cocktails.