A few weeks ago, I showed a friend around Wan Chai. I made a point of gesturing across the street towards my favourite sugar cane juice and herbal teahangout. After we said our goodbyes and parted at the MTR station, the small person requested for her favourite five flower tea.
Imagine our disappointment when we found the place torn up and undergoing extensive renovation!
Small person couldn’t understand it and kept insisting that she wanted her tea. We hung around almost in disbelief. Finally a guy came out and pointed some signs which were pasted on the pillars beside the shutters.
“The shop has moved to Hollywood Road No.60.” He said. “But if your order is over 100HKD, they’ll deliver”.
That’s quite a lot of drinks I’d have to be ordering to make it worthwhile.. Such a pity these excellent little shops are being evicted for higher rent when they’ve plied their business here for years.
We had two appointments on a sunny Saturday. First, a brunch at a friend’s house in Parkview at 11am then a 3pm play date at the Hong Kong Jockey Club club house in Happy Valley.
We left Parkview at 2pm and our Parkview host suggested that we could get to Happy Valley via a trail. As we had an hour, bright sunny weather and it was largely downhill, I agreed to give it a try.
First we did a short steep uphill from just outside Parkview’s entrance. Two stone cubes mark the start of the trail.
Then you’ll see some steps with a trail signboard.
This one indicates you’re on a hiking trail.
Immediately, we entered a nicely shaded path that had railings on one side and a water pipe on stilts beside a ravine.
Continuing along the trail, there were trail markers and distance posts which told us we weren’t lost. I saw several caves leftover from the war that were not in good repair, partly collapsed and covered in shrubs. It was interesting to see, photos didn’t come out well though.
There were some beautiful views along the way when the path twisted along exposed mountainside.
Then we came to a proper map and information board. We then got a better idea of exactly where we were.
More shaded walking after that along leaf strewn narrow pathways that only fit us in single file.
Subsequent to the sign post above, it was gradual downhill stairs pretty much all the way.
The gradual stairway led to a covered reservoir with a lookout point. This was Jardine’s lookout. It was very exposed and the grass looked rather burnt so we didn’t linger long.
The next part of the trail was part shaded but with very steep uneven stairs and low hanging branches.
The descent then got rather exposed toward Happy Valley, with bigger and more numerous pipes visible.
The trail ends by a small Towngas supply station.
The trail ends at Tai Hang Road.
We crossed over to Green Lane and walked down the sidewalks to the Hong Kong Jockey Clubhouse.
It was a good downhill walk, good to check that your thighs and knees are in good shape. I would recommend doing this walk only when it’s dry… There is no shade from rain and the paths could get slippery.
If you’re a guest at the Ozo hotel or you need a place to have a meal or a drink off the tram line, Hoko Farm might meet your small snack needs. It’s basically a dressed up Hong Kong style Cha Chaan Teng.
Bright interior decor with a fun feel makes this a good place to head to with kids. There’s a ramp access to the restaurant, you can wheel your stroller right in.
The restaurant is quite large, you can choose to sit on the left or the right of the entrance, the right has wall-bench sofa seating which works well for children and larger groups.
The menu for breakfast is quite limited but the afternoon menus seem more extensive. I went for the featured breakfast set.
It reminded me of a McD’s breakfast… Pancakes which were slightly stodgy, a skinny sausage that was over condimented and undercooked, a twisted up omelette which looked appetising but had a tad too much water in it. (Ok, I am fussy about my breakfasts, I admit it.)
The pancakes are served with some syrup in a small pan handle bowl which is a nice touch. When I asked for butter, it came partially melted in a similar bowl which worked great for dipping the pancake pieces. I had to ask for the sausage to be re-cooked as it came positively pink inside when cut. The staff did replace the sausage and topped up my cup of hot lemon water.
It was a mediocre breakfast but the small person enjoyed it tremendously and pretty much polished everything off. I can’t really complain very much, the service was decent and the price was equivalent to what I would pay at any other HK style cafe.
She also loved the mural.
Ok so here’s the menu in case you’re in the neighborhood and want to give this place a try.
Here’s where it is:
On the ground floor near Caffe Habitu and after the 759 snack store.
When my friend VL visiting from Jakarta asked me this morning by whatsapp whether I knew this traditional Hong Kong dessert:
I immediately responded ” is that dragon beard candy?”
She said she loved them and asked if I knew where to get them. I recalled a shop along Wan Chai Road that sold them and a quick search online showed that they are also sold at the gift shops of the Conrad and Shangri-La hotels by a company known as Dragon Rich Profits under the brand Bamboo Garden. How very Hong Kong! It goes to show how these desserts are mostly relegated to foreigners buying them as gifts.
Buy me two boxes please, she said. I popped the small person in the pram and took her for her morning walk along Wan Chai road. Disappointingly, the entire row of shops which included a little bakery among other little shops were shuttered. Perhaps it was further along? I continued along until I reached Mallory Street, which was when I knew the shop was truly gone. I stopped at Queens Cafe Bakery to ask if they sold it or knew where might. The lady manning the store was singularly unhelpful. She told me she had no idea what it was and to go ask someone else.
I hung around outside the store for a bit wondering who else I should ask, when a guy who happened to be walking by asked if he could help. I showed him the picture and he said “Oh… Long So Tong“. Well at least he knew what it was.
Then he said that there used to be a store on Wan Chai road but that had shut down. There were no others in the neighborhood that he knew selling these candies. His very important tip, was that the shop in Wan Chai moved to Sheung Wan.
Where in Sheung Wan? I asked.
Near the Wing On departmental store. He said. Do you know where?
Yes I said
It’s in the lane right beside the store.
I thanked him profusely for his information.
After dropping the toddler off at playschool, I headed over to Sheung Wan by MTR. A few minutes were spent considering which exit I ought to emerge from. I decided to try the one that took me out to Bonham Strand where I knew there were lots of little shops.
It was a rainy day which made s search like this more awkward and difficult than usual. An umbrella to shield from rain, negotiating wet and uneven pavements without slipping… While keeping your eyes open for the right store.
I emerged from the exit and walked west toward the Western Market. A quick peruse through it and like the game of blindfold, I knew it was cold.
I popped the umbrella back open and headed out into the rain. This time down Wing Lok Street. Halfway down, I stopped to ask if any of the local dried seafood specialists standing on their little shop patio had any idea… Nope. All just pondered the photo, shook their heads. They were local and yet had absolutely no idea of their own traditional dessert, much less where to get it. No wonder it’s a dying trade. All just told me to keep asking someone else.
Ok I’ve had enough of the seafood sellers, time to head back towards Wing On departmental store and walk around it, maybe it was on the perimeter although I recall the store owning the block, with walls, glass and entrances on three sides. No room for shops on its doorstep.
I cut back onto Des Veoux road and retraced my steps past the Wellcome and back to the B entrance of the MTR that I emerged from. Nearing the traffic light junction, I looked ahead and couldn’t believe my luck. There, right in front of me was a large sign for traditional desserts. My excitement was palpable. I skipped across the road and indeed this was the shop that sold the Dragon Beard Candy.
Speaking with the young man running the shop, I remarked that there were only 5 packets in the display cabinet.
No problem, how many do you want? I have more in the fridge.
I asked for 10 packets. Each packet was quite small and HKD 18 each.
As he wrapped them up for me, I asked if this was the store in Wan Chai before.
Yes, he said. But rents went up and it was too expensive to maintain. We sell things for 10-20 dollars each, how much would we need to sell to pay the rent?
I nodded in understanding. Wan Chai’s gentrification was forcing out small businesses as landlords run their hands awaiting higher yields on rent. I hope that landlords will understand that all neighborhoods need a mix to survive. The shops in the Avenue for example, are not catering much to locals except for the upscale western cafes.
If St. James settlement could somehow include an aspect of this in their Blue House revamp, perhaps a traditional candy store could be a feature worth preserving. Tourists and interested locals could watch the process of constructing these pastries and also buy some… Not limited to purchasing from gift shops in the five star hotels or other usual tourist traps. I see many tour groups daily coming to Wan Chai for their architectural or heritage tour, wouldn’t it be appropriate to include a food tour as well if it could be done cleanly and nearly?
I presented the 10 packets to VL later that afternoon, she was overjoyed and will be hand carrying it back to Jakarta tomorrow as a treat for the rest of the family,
If you need to satisfy your Dragon beard candy craving (or indeed any traditional cookie craving), look for the Hillier Street Exit B, turn left as you emerge and the shop is directly across the street.
Thanks to the Sassy magazine of which I’m a regular reader, I now know that there’s a salsa party happening this Saturday. The forecast is for rain so I have no idea whether there’s a wet weather plan or if it will continue regardless.
Update: it’s being held at Hej House, more or less directly opposite Le Pain Quotidien.
Outside Le Pain Quotidien, there’s a big music set up going on. A bit unclear if this will be leading up to it or if it’s their own launch party.
I’ve been waiting for LPQ to open for a while…. Teething problems must have delayed them from the planned launch in February (website recently changed opening date to March). Many disappointed customers have stood outside, shaken their heads and headed elsewhere.
How can you possibly advertise breakfast yet open for business at only 11am? Quite unacceptable.
I have been craving Japanese for a while. Not ramen noodles but bento box style Japanese cuisine.
As we left home, a quick scan of my brain map showed the nearest Japanese restaurants. There’s Grand Asia right above the Stone Nullah Tavern (ok but not fantastic) and the places I’ve yet to try near Wood Road (but that entails a less pleasant walk). I remembered that there is a small Japanese sushi type bar in Amoy Street near the completed Avenue development.
It was only 11am and after a session on the swings, the small person was happy to walk anywhere for some food.
The restaurant was called 魚八 or Fish Eight. It had just opened for the day and was completely empty when we stepped in. The staff were cheerful and welcomed us in. I was trying to decide which bar seats would suit us best when one of them suggested we sit upstairs at the tables.
Up a nicely decorated flight of stairs, we were offered any table we liked but the ladies responsible for service upstairs pointed us toward the corner table. Nothing like a good corner to corral an active toddler.
Upon presentation of the menu, the staff informed me that if we paid up before 1pm, we’d get a 10% discount. Sounds like perfect timing. The lunch menu was reasonably priced and more extensive than I thought.
I decided to go with the eel rice box, small person wanted noodles, so it was the udon soup for her.
As it was a lunch set, our meals came with miso soup and a bean mochi dessert.
My unaju was pretty good. Tender and a right amount of sauce. The ratio of eel to rice was also just right. The miso soup was flavourful and had a good amount of tofu, mushroom and seaweed (hate it when they skimp on that).
The udon soup was so-so, the soup base was quite thin but the pork slices were quite tender. She enjoyed the smooth noodles.
The bean mochi was sweet and small, I liked the taste and it didn’t stick to the teeth which is a thumbs up.
Overall I thought the prices reasonable for a set lunch and the atmosphere better than I had expected. The waiter was extremely diligent about topping up my glass of warm water without being asked. That in itself deserves a star for service.
Return again soon? Yes indeed.
Note: no space for prams and strollers. No high hair for kids but they do have kid friendly cutlery.
Digging beneath the dirt… To find the good and the gritty