With its steep streets thronged with expats and Hong Kong natives, Sheung Wan is one of the territory’s most charismatic enclaves
Sheung Wan is ground zero for Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan young expatriates, and it is not difficult to see why. The neighbourhood is a relatively quiet one for this electric metropolis – an enclave of narrow lanes, chic cafes, and bourgeois art shops – but it is also a short walk (or shorter metro ride) from the dizzying, bustling heights of Hong Kong’s central business district.
At sundown you’ll find young traders and gallery owners happily congregating outside the trendy hotspots of Hollywood Road, fresh from the office. Less than a block away an aging Cantonese woman will be wrapping up after a day of selling ginger and dried jellyfish from bins outside her shop.
Sheung Wan is a microcosm of Hong Kong: a hilly bazaar of activity that effortlessly fuses the city’s global new with its provincial old, with no hard feelings between the two. Expats sometimes call it the “Brooklyn of Hong Kong,” and that’s a compliment to New York’s hippest borough.
1. Dim Sum Square
Dim sum is the quintessential Hong Kong meal, and the pleasantly overcrowded Dim Sum Square may offer the best in town. Locals prefer to take their dim sum as brunch and expats seem fine eating it around the clock. At peak times the line for a table might stretch out the door and onto Jervois Street. Don’t despair. The indefatigable staff works with Germanic efficiency and thus the wait is negligible (and worth it regardless). The menu is a delicious mishmash of orthodox Cantonese fare – fried barbecued pork buns, steaming rice pots topped with beef and fried eggs among the treats – and borrowed or innovative creations. We recommend their xiaolongbao, the succulent Shanghai pork soup dumplings, or the rice rolls wrapped around deep-fried spring rolls. A satisfying meal won’t cost more than HKD80 (about USD10).
Slightly up the hill is Chachawan, a chic Thai restaurant and cocktail bar that opens up onto the expat flurry of Hollywood Road. The more frugal curry traditionalist might be happier at the no-frills Sheung Wan Cooked Food Centre, but Chachawan’s upmarket twists on old Thai favourites are worth the occasional splurge. The gai yang – chicken thigh marinated for a day in garlic and spices – is tasty, and the cocktails are impressively crafted, with unconventional garnishes and spices sitting in glass jars atop the bar. The place is a microcosm of Sheung Wan: at once rustic and hip, only slightly pretentious, and tailored for discerning expats and locals alike.
3. The Summa
The Summa is one of the most recent additions to the enclave of luxury high-rises sitting on the lower slopes of Midlevels just above the busy streets and lanes of Sheung Wan. It sits on the neighbourhood’s imagined boundary with Sai Ying Pun (a similarly retro enclave that’s also enjoying a cultural renaissance) and, like the neighbourhoods themselves, offers a respite from the mayhem of Central. The Summa’s two glass-and-stone towers are handsome and intricately designed, and so are the apartments inside with glass and marble fixtures and delicious views of the city spread before it. Units with balconies range from HKD23-119 million (USD3-15.4 million) and monthly rent on a two-bedroom flat is around HKD48,000 (USD6,200). The complex has a range of facilities: two clubhouses offer a gym, an outdoor and indoor swimming pool, and several terraces.
Transplants from New York or Paris might bemoan the fact that Hong Kong isn’t an oasis of high culture, but the storefronts along the narrow, hilly lanes of Sheung Wan might just correct the record. InBetween is a dusty, cramped bazaar of retro jewellery, art-house movie posters, and kitschy artefacts from the last few decades of British Hong Kong. It’s the postcolonial Muggle’s version of a Diagon Alley shop from Harry Potter: it has a massive collection that seems implausible given its claustrophobic quarters – be careful not to accidentally knock anything over when you walk around – and its staff has an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything they have to offer. Unlike the trinket stalls nearby, you know what you’re buying is authentic, and so it isn’t dirt-cheap, but the friendly guy behind the counter will smile even if you leave without making a purchase.
CentreStage’s name speaks for itself. From its prime location on Hollywood Road, residents are a quick walk from the trendy restaurants and bars of SoHo, the nightlife of Lan Kwai Fong, and the myriad offices of Central. Views from its terraces remind you that you are at once above and in the middle of one of the world’s most vibrant metropolises. Its two towers loom 46 storeys over Hong Kong, with 388 units within them. Perhaps because it is slightly below, topographically speaking, the steeper climbs of Midlevels Central, its prices are relatively reasonable: around HKD25,000 (USD3,200) a month if you’re renting an 800-sqft unit on a higher floor, with sale prices ranging from HKD8 million (USD103,200) to HKD20 million (USD258,000). Tel: +852 2202 4018.