Driving into Hong Kong from the airport for my first ever visit, I'm struck by how green this fast-paced and high-energy Asian city is. I was prepared for good food and plenty of humidity, sure, but I wasn't prepared for the landscape - clusters of high rises, beaches, large blocks of social housing flats, all surrounded by lush mountains. It is in fact about 70 per cent green space, making for a beautiful city, and I learn on my cab ride into town that it's well known for the many hiking tracks surrounding it. I'm not here to hike though: I'm here to eat. And I'm more than spoiled for choice.
Hong Kong is a city of extremes - you can get Michelin-starred dumplings for a few dollars; an excellent Western-style flat white coffee; traditional Cantonese wonton soup; congee in a local greasy spoon; or one of the best wine experiences the international stage has to offer - all in the same day if you were game. There are chefs modernising yum cha for young people, and others embracing global trends in farm-to-table dining, and they all sit comfortably alongside restaurants that have been serving roast goose since the '40s.
This is a city that has it all, and one that caters for all tastes and budgets.
Dim sum is the perfect place to start when it comes to eating in Hong Kong. My local guide Fred takes me first to Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan (numerous locations) which is famous for not only their long line out the door but also their crispy pork buns: I'm told they sell 1500 per day of this dish alone. Smaller than a standard BBQ pork bun, they have a slightly sweet and crisp pastry that encases sticky, unctuous barbecue pork. I also try prawn shiu mai dumplings, vermicelli rolls with pig's liver, and a lotus leaf parcel containing rice, chicken, mushrooms and an excellent Chinese sausage made of duck liver.
Fine dining/Michelin stars/Dine with a view
With a swathe of Michelin-star restaurants, and a town full of ex-pats and tourists, fine dining is alive and well in Hong Kong. Atop the ICC building in Kowloon is Tosca, a 2-Michelin starred Italian fine dining restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton hotel. As the sun sets over the city it's one of the more spectacular views for a meal I've ever experienced. The chef tells me the lamb, which is soft with a crisp edge and tastes like suckling pig, is milk fed for 20 days, and comes from France. The service from our sommelier in particular is exceptional, as are the interesting wines he pairs with the six courses of immaculate food.
And to drink?
The bar scene is a fun one, with a mix of craft beer, cocktails, and beautiful wines from around the world. Ophelia (in Wan Chai) is a Peacock inspired lounge, with opulence the main game. Beautiful drinks, dancers fanning themselves elegantly behind the bar, this feels a bit like another world and is an amazing place for an elaborate cocktail.
Over town in Soho is 65 Peel (on 65 Peel St, funnily enough) a craft beer bar with a very cool semi-industrial fit-out and plenty of interesting beers. Try one of their 12 local brews on tap, or a selection by bottle from the international craft beer community. From big, hoppy pales ales, to a wheat beer with lemongrass, this bar is casual and cool and a great stop for beer lovers.
Cobo House is the Hong Kong outpost of Singaporean celebrity chef Janice Wong, where she brings her signature flair for desserts and chocolate and all things sweet. These elaborate desserts are a true experience: the chocolate H20 is her signature dish - an aerated, frozen chocolate dessert set on chocolate soil, with oozing salted caramel and Kochi Yuzu sorbet.
The cassis plum bombe is a beautiful purple number, with elderflower yoghurt foam, choya granita, and yuzu pearls. The art on the walls at this very cool restaurant matches the art on the plate. Well worth a visit.
Farm to table dining is an international trend that has a real movement in Hong Kong also. An increasing desire for diners to know where their food is coming from, and eat local, has supported this. I'm treated to a meal at Yin Yang Coastal, the restaurant of chef Margaret Xu. We get out of our taxi near the beach, then walk down lanes amongst houses and then across the sand to get to this beachside house, which features just a few tables; it's a bit like dining at a friend's house. The sun sets over the view of the city, and the food we're served is something special: clay baked organic chicken, fresh squid over squid ink on a giant plate, baby abalone in whisky, and a plate that's as beautiful as it is tasty: textures of the garden, with all fresh home-grown vegetables.
Also a trend internationally, there are lots of fun, casual, and modern eateries taking the traditions of Cantonese food and mixing things up. Little Bao in Soho does exactly that - bao buns with different fillings, the pork belly is excellent. It also does as Asian take on poutine - fries loaded with truffle butter and parmesan - a fun take on fusion and the perfect place for a shared feast.
Cathay Pacific currently has special return economy class fares from Auckland to Hong Kong from $1499, on sale until September 30.
The writer travelled courtesy of Cathay Pacific and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.