An insider’s guide to Hong Kong
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
I was born in Hong Kong and raised in Shanghai, but I returned here in 2020 because it is unequivocally the best place on earth to start a watch business. Even the older taxi drivers wear Rolexes, and they are all genuine. Rents are high but there is no retail tax, and there’s an entrepreneurial spirit that makes doing business in our industry extremely easy. I’ve been interested in watches since I was four years old.
I co-founded the Shanghai Watch Gang in 2018 before launching Wristcheck, our reselling platform, in 2020. All the major brands have stores along Queen’s Road Central, but there’s nothing to try on as they sell out so quickly, which is why we opened.
I meet with Audemars Piguet a lot, as I collaborated with the team on a limited-edition Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar for China in 2020. We usually meet at AP House in H Queen’s Tower, which is a sort of vertical mall filled with restaurants and galleries including David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth. You can spend a lot of time there if you are into watches and art.
Much of my job entails entertaining clients and brand executives, so typically we stay in Central. There are so many bars and restaurants in Soho, the area bordered by Queen’s Road Central and Hollywood Road. I take them to Arcane, which is the perfect setting for a business lunch or intimate dinner, or we go to The Diplomat, a cocktail bar that also does the best burger in Hong Kong. It’s low-key with a reservations-only speakeasy-style club in the back room. The music is great, and they serve all the classics along with vintage liquors. At midnight the waiters come around with freshly baked cookies.
Yardbird, with its yakitori-style dishes, and Carbone, a New York Italian restaurant, are other favourites for a great vibe. I always order the spicy rigatoni vodka at Carbone, where they hand out shots of limoncello to everyone. Yardbird in Sheung Wan got its name because all its dishes are chicken-based. It also makes its own spirits, notably a branded whisky called Sunday’s.
For traditional Chinese food, I head to On Lee Noodle in Shau Kei Wan, which I believe is about 60 years old and makes the best brisket noodles. In that area and around Sheung Wan, you get a flavour of old Hong Kong, or you can go to North Point for the older cha chaan teng diners. These are cheap, casual places serving a mix of Chinese and western food, with menus revolving around tea. I think they’re great.
Hong Kong is constantly evolving with new cultural developments such as M+, the big contemporary arts space on Kowloon side where I saw a Yayoi Kusama exhibition. A lot of historical places are being completely revamped – I’m thinking of Central Market with its food stalls and restaurants. I also like to wander around Tai Kwun, which used to be a prison and is now a huge space with art galleries, exhibitions and restaurants set amid beautiful 19th-century architecture. It’s right by Lan Kwai Fong and Soho and is easily accessible. Nearby is PMQ – the Policemen’s Married Quarters – on Staunton, which is similarly restored and is now a thriving creative hub of small design studios and galleries.
The Landmark, one of the original luxury shopping malls in Hong Kong, houses plenty of flagships. Wristcheck is based there between Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. There are also excellent tailors: Jasmin Pang’s JSMP is my favourite for modern designs and twists on the classics.
At the weekend I go hiking with my girlfriend and my dog Milo, a toy poodle. I live in Mid-Levels and so can walk up to the Peak – Victoria Peak is the tallest hill on Hong Kong Island, which you can also get to via the Peak tram. Or we’ll drive to one of the many beaches around Shek O and Repulse Bay. For longer hikes we head over to Sai Wan at Sai Kung Country Park in the New Territories, which has stunning coastal views. Hong Kong is 75 per cent green and a lot of this is protected. We sometimes encounter wild boars and cows, but they are generally docile as long as you don’t approach them. Of course, you might also come across snakes.
The beauty of Hong Kong is that everything is so accessible – everywhere is walkable or reachable by car in 20 minutes. Where else on earth can you have lunch at a three-star Michelin restaurant, then go for a hike, meet friends on a yacht and end the day on a beach?