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Seeing (Michelin) stars and the movable feast that is Hong Kong

By VICKY VELOSO-BARRERA, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 07, 2023 5:00 am Updated Sep 07, 2023 1:35 pm

How wise I was, I reflect on the fourth of a five-day visit to Hong Kong, to pack an extra shift dress in addition to the fitted outfits I normally prefer. After all, one doesn’t attempt to diet in this gastronomic capital, as my elder daughter learned, to her chagrin. If it’s not possible to maintain the status quo, one can only hope to minimize the damage!

Hong Kong truly is a movable feast, as defined by the dictionary as “something that can happen any time or place that suits people.”

A cloudy Hong Kong skyline

There was a saying in the past that some Manila people (based south) went to Hong Kong more often than they went to Quezon City! Travel time may indeed be shorter considering our gridlocked traffic.

Like Hemingway’s novel, I will list down the places we visited that made Hong Kong a moving feast for us. Aside from that, here are tips to make any Hong Kong visit truly enjoyable.

View from The Peak

Buy the Octopus card. This rechargeable card can be used for the MTR (mass transit railway), buses, ferry, city trams, and even the Peak Tram with sizable discounts! Save yourself some money and the hassle of lining up for tickets; buy the card at major MTR stations and best buy the regular, not tourist version. With the latter, you have to go back to get a refund, pay the refund fee, etc. The Octopus card is good for 1,000 days and may also be used at 7-11.

Download the Uber app. When you are tired, in a hurry, or encumbered with packages, Uber may turn out cheaper than taxis for larger groups like our family of five. The service is extremely fast and efficient! Note: They only take card payments.

Michelin stars and other culinary stars

Dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant does not always translate into expensive; the stars are awarded to places fancy or plain that deliver delicious food and service of exceptional quality. Therefore you can find places for roast goose (Kam’s Roast) or dumplings with Michelin stars.

A trio of welcome bites at Estro

I opted for Estro, an innovative Italian restaurant at 1 Duddell Street across the Landmark in Central. I wanted my kids to experience the more upscale range of Michelin, and this two-year-old restaurant received its first star in a record six months. 

Price-wise, we paid the same as we would have at Bruce Rickett’s Mecha Uma back home. Hey, Michelin! We do have star-worthy restaurants in Manila like this one!

At Estro, the handsome general manager Andrea Angioni and his team preside over a smartly elegant dining room with service that is gracious yet deft and precise.

Scallop appetizer at Estro

We first served a trio of little tastes and a basket of delicious bread with four kinds of olive oil before our first course of scallops. 

The pasta course of ravioli-like bottoni filled with buffalo mozzarella and a liquidy tomato was a pleasurable pop in the mouth, and its method was similar to xiao long bao.

Estro’s bottoni

We chose the Iberico pork for our main and the strips of peppery meat melted like butter in our mouths.

Dessert is optional as they will serve you tiramisu in truffle-like balls and tiny fruit tarts, but we ordered both a refined cherry and chocolate concoction and almond in different permutations.

After Gaita Fores and Edu Manzano featured Estro in the first of two The Crawl Hong Kong episodes, they have had many Filipino celebrities coming over, including Vicki Belo and Hayden Kho, and artistas whose names the Filipino receptionist could not remember.

Dining spots that are my personal favorites

Crystal Jade La Mein at Harbour City has a Michelin Bib Gourmand, which is not a star but means it’s good value for money. Do not miss the scrambled egg white with conpoy, xiao long bao, and seasonal vegetables cooked in a broth with century egg!

If given a choice, I would gladly skip the queue at Kam’s Roast for Arirang, a Korean restaurant I have followed all over Hong Kong since my college days. It has moved from the former Hyatt on Nathan Road to Prince Hotel to an alley off Haiphong Road to Ocean Terminal—mercifully, it has stayed put in its current location in Wanchai for my past three visits already. The lamb barbecue will make your whole visit worthwhile!

Luscious Peking duck

Conveniently located near me at Harbour City is another old favorite, Duck Victoria. Delicious and reasonably priced are the Peking duck, xiao long bao, deep-fried prawn crab claw, and pea shoots cooked with conpoy or dried scallops.

Victoria Duck’s molten raspberry cake
The Star Ferry

There is talk that’s hard to confirm whether the beloved Star Ferry, a true Hong Kong institution, is shutting down or not. It is clear that the company incurred great debts because of the 2019 street protests and the loss of tourists due to COVID-19. But hopefully, it is true that a billionaire family will keep the Star Ferry going.

Museums and art spaces

Do not miss M+, Teamlab Big Box, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the MoMA Store at K11 Musea!

K11 Musea

Speaking of the new K11 Musea, this “mall” combines retail and gastronomy with art that engulfs you with almost sensory overload, as you take in visual drama and even scent. Do not fail to get to the very top and cross the semi-see-through glass spaces where your steps can be seen from the ground floor, if you dare!

Yayoi Kusama skateboards at MoMA
Art supplies

As for the HK MOA, enter the worlds of Cantonese trade, Chinese love letters and see the art of calligraphy in a whole new light. And if you are inspired to try your hand at calligraphy, head over to Man Luen Choon, where I used to accompany my longtime friend Mark Higgins to buy ink, paper, and other art supplies. It’s on Wing Kut Street off Queens Road Central.

Calligraphy at HK MOA
Calligraphy and other supplies at Man Luen Choon
Cat street, ladder street, and man mo temple

If you have already made your way to Wing Kut, another 10 minutes or so will take you to the steep Ladder Street. Don’t worry, the reward will be shopping for little and not-so-little Chinese artifacts on Cat Street and photo ops at the Man Mo Temple.

On Ladder Street

Do the Peak Tram at night. The Peak tram has been renovated to make the trip more seamless, though I do miss being able to watch a slanted angle of Victoria Harbour go by. We find the Hong Kong people to be disciplined and courteous, but there are many tourists here who have no qualms about pushing and shoving, so take care. 

We watched the Symphony of Lights from the tram going up to Victoria Peak, which was not only a colorful spectacle of the city lights but also a much cooler time to visit.

Stay safe. Hong Kong is generally a safe city, but as in other cities, avoid the dark alleys at night and always be mindful. That way you can have a memorable visit that will have you looking forward to your next one!