Hong Kong’s famously efficient MTR transit system recently added a few extra stops on the western leg of the Island Line, including Sai Ying Pun, University of Hong Kong and Kennedy Town. The western neighborhoods have been percolating for the past couple of years — particularly Sai Ying Pun, which has seen a string of gentrified bar and restaurants openings alongside the area’s charming traditional shops. Thanks to the aforementioned rail advances, it’s easier than ever to stray from the main tourist trails of Central and Tsim Sha Tsui and head, instead, to a couple of these fresh finds.
Walking into La Paloma, you’re met with a flurry of energy, color and delicious Spanish aromas. This brand-new spot, conveniently located next to the Sai Ying Pun MTR station, pays homage to a famous Barcelona nightclub of the same name. A chiringuito beach bar theme permeates the whole place, from the colorful lanterns, to the breezy terrace and Spanish-inspired menu. Dig into flavors — some simple and traditional, others more playful — like the explosive salmon ahumado, a heaping pan of paella, or the succulent suckling pig that’s been roasted at 572 degrees in a huge asador clay oven for an extra-crispy finish. At the time of writing, La Paloma was BYOB, and was patiently awaiting its liquor license. Soon enough, expect to wash dinner down with one of the many sangria varieties, a Spanish beer or a refreshing Agua de Valencia.
Ping Pong 129
Anchoring the west end of Second Street, Ping Pong 129 attracts a well-heeled crowd thanks to its artistic atmosphere and superb gin and tonics. The hip gintonería boasts more than 80 types of gin — many of which are craft bottlers that you’ve likely not heard of. Wondering what the neon Chinese sign says above the bar? It’s a shoutout to the establishment’s former life as a ping-pong hall, translating to “Train Your Body.” Lovingly restored from its former days, the interior is unique in this dense, cramped city. After entering through a nondescript red door and descending the stairs, you step into a spacious room with soaring ceilings. During thoughtful renovations, the owners retained many original features, including the stairwell bannisters, and wall and window details. With equal parts style and substance, Ping Pong easily ranks among Hong Kong’s top watering holes.
Craft Brew & Co.
After a successful debut in Central last year, Craft Brew & Co. opened up a new branch for the thirsty folks in Sai Ying Pun in January 2015. The compact, industrial-chic space doesn’t afford much more than standing room, but it’s well worth a stop if you need a break from ubiquitous Tsingtao — Asia’s answer to Bud Light — or have a penchant for craft pours. You’ll find a pretty impressive lineup, including the company’s very own brand on tap, as well as the likes of Anchor, Mountain Goat, Rogue and Hong Kong’s Young Master Ales. If you appreciate robust pale ales, try the latter’s hoptastic Island 1842 Imperial IPA. Travelers with an adventurous palate will want to make a beeline for outside-the-box bar snacks like sausages made of cobra and rabbit.
A High Street mainstay, Metropolitain brings open-air, French-dining vibes to Hong Kong with classic fare to match. A go-to for long lunches fueled by the obligatory bottle of Chablis, the outdoor area books up quickly; however, there’s extra space inside in case you can’t land a table in the sun. The décor tastefully mimics a Parisian metro station without entering gimmick territory. The selections coming from the kitchen prove pretty authentic, too. Look for everything from imported French cheese to escargot. Still, the highlights are the tartares; choose from a generous portion of steak, salmon or a duo that’s topped with a sprinkle of pepper and a splash of Tabasco.
One of the hottest new restaurants to hit the neighborhood, U-Hang has a fantastic open-air design and tremendous Korean-American cuisine. Funky hanging lamps light up the quirky, U-shaped interiors. The menu is just as fun. Dig into delicious fusion fare like the show-stopping mini tacos packed with fresh salsa and bulgogi (beef); kimchi spaghetti; Korean fried chicken; and charred pork belly ssam (lettuce wraps). A casual, colorful addition to the High Street food scene, U-Hang brings something a little different to the ever-evolving area.