Tag Archives: spring garden lane

Bye bye Mr Simms, Hello Dr Wong

The olde Mr Simms sweet shop sat on an unassuming corner on Spring Garden Lane. It’s a good location, just next to QRE and Hopewell Center, across the road from the jockey club gambling ticket office (not sure if this is the right description for it). The sign didn’t really stand out though, and when I went in once looking for a particular item, the shop girls in there were unnecessarily terse with me. So despite it’s appealing window displays and witty blackboard signs left on the pavement, I never went back in.

The irony of its replacement was not lost on me. From a candy shop that stocked almost every coloured additive to a great deal of sugar and possibly a similar amount of starch and flavouring, the space has now become a GP clinic.

It’s too bad that Wan Chai is losing diversity in shop choices… perhaps Okashi land is drawing most of the crowd. Will the Mr Simms sweet shop move elsewhere in Wan Chai? I’m guessing that the GP will make more money in the long run.

What is a Cantonese wet shave? Find out at Oi Kwan Barbers

Despite being a resident, it’s fun to view daily life through a tourist lens. It never gets boring.

Spring Garden Lane for example, looks a little different every day and the mood of the street also varies according to the hour of the day. It’s tidal. The ebb of people heading towards Queens Road East for work in the morning and the flow back to the MTR station at 5pm. The smokers and queues at the Hong Kong Jockey Club branch on Saturdays, the queue for Kam Fung during breakfast and lunch hour seven days a week.

On a bright November afternoon last year, I happened to be strolling down Spring Garden Lane and saw a film crew right outside Oi Kwan’s barber shop. Most people wouldn’t even notice this hole in the wall. The barber shop occupies a narrow space between a florist and a very busy local restaurant. The reason why I noticed it at all is because I have an interest in barber shops. Well, ever since SW asked me to find one for him in Singapore many moons ago. The where can I get a good shave question just had to be answered.

If you did a search for shaves in Hong Kong, you’ll probably find the most famous and classiest one in the Mandarin Oriental hotel where the barber also offers waxing and pedicure services (hey, guys only). Then you’ll get the hipster barbers in Central up by Soho where guys sport instagrammable haircuts and a couple of tattoos on each arm and an earring. Some will offer you a glass of whiskey or brandy to get you in the meditative mood. To go to these, you’d either have to be rich or trendy, probably both.

Not so at Oi Kwan. This little barber shop that started in the 1960’s seats three and there are no luxury bells and whistles. Goodness, there isn’t even a door.

Oi Kwan Barbers closed on Wednesday
Shop is closed, all boarded up
It’s well lit and open on weekdays for hair cuts and shaves. You get your hair washed by sticking your head over a sink and a rudimentary shower hose douses you with water. Check out this review from a customer. 

This little old barber shop has survived despite the gentrification of Wan Chai and has opened a branch at the Comix Home Base in Mallory Street.

Mallory Street entrance, Oi Kwan Barbers
I think it’s pretty funny that it took them half a century to open a branch, but that’s the way opportunities show up. They just launched this new branch on the 30th of March 2017. From the looks of it on the FB page, it’s a bit more upmarket and swanky, I’m sure the prices will reflect it too.

Perhaps this is to compete with all the swanky barbers in Central…

Their write up (above pic) tells you a bit more although the translation is a little dodgy. Just in case you can’t read it in the picture, I’ve typed it up here.

Living in history and a living history- best describes Oi Kwan barbers Hong Kong and China.

We walked with Hong Kong’s growth, reminded ourselves the treasure the prosperity earned through hardships.

In Spring Garden Lane where the ceiling fan turns slowly, the old radio gives its broken sound and the cut-throat razor gives you a gentle stroke, you recline on the chair, close your eyes, forget Hong Kong’s hot humid weather, forget the crowded alleys…. hold a old comic book and immerse yourself in this street corner… and 50 years passed.

Our fathers came from war shaken 1950’s China as most of the Hong Kong populations, started this little workshop. Enduring the hard times, Oi Kwan served generations to generations, from the neonates to their grandfathers, they all walked from this little alley with a refreshing and neat look.

Succeeding our fathers, we stood fast against the economic bubble of Hong Kong.

You can check them out if you need a shave in Wan Chai.

Customer getting a hair cut at Oi Kwan Barbers

Read more about its current owner Mark Lau here.

A new meat shop in Wan Chai

If the number of high end meat shops in your neighborhood is an indication of changing tastes and socio-economic affluence, then Spring Garden Lane is a reflection of what residents and visitors to Lee Tung Avenue have become. 

A new meat shop quite obviously and fittingly called “The Meat Shop” has opened along the busy thoroughfare. 

I popped my head in to see what they had on the shelves.

In the freezer on the left of the entrance, beef patties, T bone steaks, ossobucco, lamb racks, iberico pork. All prices for frozen food seemed reasonable.

And then some premium sausages from the UK, frozen tuna sashimi, quite inexpensive frozen chickens.

In the cool fridge beside the freezer, processed meats such as chorizo and wafer thin slices of iberico pork.. Ready to be tossed into a salad, rolled in the a rock melon or draped on a home made pizza.

Then there’s the main display counter featuring the better cuts of chilled imported beef and lamb.

It’s interesting that they had an Australian M6 Wagyu striploin, it looked quite nicely marbled though I think not as evenly as the Japanese versions.

Another deep freezer to the right of the counter had more frozen chickens and assorted meats, mostly to replenish the display when it runs out.

The guys running the shop seemed young but enthusiastic, they didn’t seem to speak much English though and if that’s a requirement for you, you’re better off going to Derek’s Foodies Gourmet. But if you’re right there and know what you need, I’m sure active finger pointing will get the job done. 

Here’s their phone number and address.

There’s already several high end meat shops selling imported frozen or chilled beef in the neighbourhood. Notably, Foodies Gourmet, which sells frozen cuts of U.S. pork, Spanish iberico pork, frozen lamb chops, chilled French chicken and chilled sashimi grade Norwegian salmon. Derek, the owner, can help you select your meat (he will marinate the French chicken upon request) and he’s a trained sashimi chef who will also prepare your salmon sashimi for the dining table. Foodies Gourmet is on Wan Chai road, near Fu Wing fruit stall. The shop generally opens by 10am and shuts around 7/8pm.

Another meat and seafood shop is One Stop Food Supply along Ship Street. Owner Ben will cut, recommend a recipe and cook your meat sous vide for you upon request. Check out their meats and seafood at their Facebook page. 

Restaurant to avoid: Yuan Yang Cafe at the Avenue

We had high hopes for this upscale swanky looking Cha chaan Teng that opened brazenly just down the street from Wanchai stalwart Kam Fung. The menu looked appetising and extensive, the prices double that of Kam Fung, but the premium could be justified by similar food in a less squishy and more comfortable environment.

We chose to try it on an off peak hour one Saturday afternoon. 

Yuan Yang Cafe is a place you won’t regret missing. A fusion menu that is confused, quantities of food that do not live up to the menu description and pricing expectation. 

We ordered a few basic items to share and none of it was good. 

The vol-au-vents were small and unfulfilling, it was an expensive starter. 

The chicken curry rice was mediocre… Appearance wise it looked ok but the flavour was flat.. They could have garnished it better. 

The instant noodles were just flat out rubbish. We should’ve gone to Kam Fung for that. The only thing going for this place is the service, which was polite and attentive and the fact that it’s wheelchair friendly with ramp access for a pram. 

Too bad the kitchen was such a let down. They’d be better off streamlining the menu and focus on delivering a few good dishes instead.

We didn’t finish our food. And it wasn’t because the portions were too big. I recall that bill almost came up to almost HKD 400. 

Spring Garden Lane Swings & Sitting Area

Spring Garden Lane Park
Spring Garden Lane Park

This street is often choked with honking taxis, cars and trucks. The sidewalk during rush hours are filled with waves of people marching either towards or away from the MTR station. Massive construction of the Avenue residences is almost complete (a relief to all residents), but the anticipation of a flood of new tenants will certainly either elicit trepidation or glee… Depending on whether you own a business in the area.

Spring Garden Lane Park
Spring Garden Lane Park

This is a one-way main street in old Wan Chai which connects Queens Road East (Hopewell Center) to Johnston Road. If you’re coming with a pram, use Queens Road East to get to this park.

The pavement on the left as you follow the traffic is decent from Queens Road East until you get to the Avenue development about half way down. The pavement becomes almost shoulder-width after that all the way till you get to Johnston road.

If you are in the hustle bustle on this side of Wan Chai – and need a place to rest tired feet, contemplate Hong Kong, feed the baby (and/or yourself), this is a decent rest spot- as long as it isn’t peak hour lunch time when everyone else wants to nap and eat on the benches. Avoid the smokers puffing away at the entrance near Sam Pan Street and use the pram friendly entrance facing the pharmacy.

Swings! only two...
Swings! only two though…

There are only two swings in this little park so if you have a few toddlers in tow, they’ll need to take turns with some of the others who show up with exhausted mums, dad’s or helpers during the day. There are bins around to dispose of those diapers. (nearest current decent public toilet with changing facilities at Hopewell Center, use the elevator to get to the 1st floor, looking forward to more accessible ones at the upcoming Avenue development).

Park Benches aplenty
Park Benches aplenty
Shaded seating area
Shaded seating area

Note: please don’t feed the pigeons. They sit up in the tall leafy trees and are not at all shy about using you as a toilet target.