Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Second time around in Hong Kong

Today I took the first flight out on PAL for Hong Kong for a few days of fun, good food and a cover shoot. This is the second PAL flight I’ve taken in less than four weeks and I was happy to again note that the flight was very much on time, the airplane was clean to my squeamish standards, food was pretty good and the service was prompt and courteous.


I arrived in Hong Kong mid-morning to cloudy skies but perfect weather. Temperatures hovered at just below 20 degrees, so it was perfect for wearing a coat but not freezing. It was wonderful walking weather as well so I took the opportunity of good weather and a safe environment to walk as much as possible rather than take the car somewhere.

Usually I take the hotel car straight from the airport, but this morning, inspired by the weather, I took a train instead to IFC in Central to drop my bags and then I walked over to the Hong Kong Club to meet an old friend for lunch.


It’s a long story but I’d been putting off a meeting with this old friend for a couple of years now, never saying yes to his many invitations to have lunch or dinner in Hong Kong or Tokyo whenever we were there at the same time. But last week, his secretary learned that I would be in Hong Kong for a few days and so she sent off an invite for a meal, perhaps expecting me to say no again.

But it’s Christmas and I felt that we’d not been in contact long enough, so last night I emailed from Manila to say yes to lunch today. I could rearrange my schedule and get to lunch from Hong Kong airport easily.

Well, it must be the good times again in Hong Kong because every single good restaurant in the Central district was completely booked. His secretary tried all the fancy restaurants, knowing very well my preference for quiet, spacious and delicious in a pricey city completely built up over a small piece of land. So she tried my usual haunts at the Mandarin Oriental and the Four Seasons but she just couldn’t get a table. Of course. It’s the holiday season after all and I’d given her only a couple of hours to get lunch organized.

“How about a nice restaurant in IFC or Landmark?” I asked her last night. I know I was being incredibly picky, but I just felt like a very nice meal after not seeing my friend for years. I was just about to reluctantly agree to meeting in a hotel in Wanchai – a pretty nice one, mind you, but still in my opinion not in the same level as Mandarin or Four Seasons – when she emailed me with good news upon my arrival in Hong Kong this morning.


“He’s gotten a table at the Hong Kong Club for noon,” she messaged. “The Red Room is fully booked but there’s been a cancellation in the Jackson Room.” When I got his secretary’s message, I realized that the Hong Kong Club – after the Mandarin Oriental – was exactly what I wanted. Classic cooking, no-nonsense food, a great clubby atmosphere and enough space to relax and just talk.

So with the logistics for lunch set, I took the train to IFC and then walked from there to Hong Kong Club via the circuitous but covered route of the Landmark, Alexandra House and the Mandarin Oriental. It sort of made me sentimental, remembering so many nice memories with different friends in this area.


There was a time I used to meet a friend for dinner all the time in Hong Kong, and our rendezvous place was the very center of the ground floor of the Landmark.

I smiled as I passed Landmark, remembering so many happy times from over 20 years ago. Then, of course, I’ve had so many dinners at the Mandarin that I’ve lost count. There’s really no hotel that’s like home in Hong Kong for me other than the Mandarin. I remembered one particular dinner at the Mandarin Grill which involved a gift in lieu of dessert, of a beautiful diamond necklace.


The Hong Kong Club is a very proper British institution and a real gentleman’s club. There was a time when ladies weren’t even allowed in, or else they were confined to coming only at certain times. Today, I don’t think they have women members yet, and they’re certainly not active at all in recruiting new members; so it’s pretty much still a very conservative club where the men are in suits and the very few ladies are escorted by men and they come in equally conservative attire – dark clothing, pearls, proper handbag. You get the picture.

The Hong Kong Club is one of Hong Kong's oldest and most prestigious private clubs. It's a real old-fashioned club from British colonial times, but it's been fully renovated in a very nice way so that it’s retained some of its old flavor and design, but also become more fresh and (slightly) modern. I took the stairs up and I so enjoyed looking at the illustrated portraits of all the club chairmen in their favorite dress. And you can tell exactly what kind of club it is by the attire most chairmen chose: tartan skirts and bagpipes, judge’s robes, suits. Again, you get the picture.


My friend YY was waiting for me at the top of the landing. I hadn’t seen him in years and it’s really my fault that we’d not been in contact for so long. And when I saw him again, in an instant I felt a lot of regret for making a small slight come between our friendship for so long so that we actually missed out on years of meeting up somewhere in the world, the way we used to do before.

Let me tell you that in hindsight, slights aren't worth it. Don’t let stupid things come between you and your friends because the opportunity to restore the friendship may never come again. I was just lucky that my friend YY was so persistent and that yesterday I was finally in the mood to say yes and I was actually headed for Hong Kong.

“You’ve made my day,” he told me. Then he revised his statement. “Actually, you’ve made my week.”


We had lunch in the Jackson Room, which is the more informal restaurant of Hong Kong Club, as it was the only venue with a table that suddenly opened up because of a cancellation. But I was happy we were here as it was bright and light. We entered and sat in the exact middle of the room; and within a few minutes it was indeed full of businessmen doing power lunches.

YY is an institution in the Hong Kong Club and he knows everyone here, so I got introduced to a couple of gentlemen coming round to say hello. Then we looked at the menu. I have a whole week of meals at Michelin-starred restaurants before me so I was planning to do a healthy meal of my usual favorite Ceasar’s Salad and then fish for lunch.


But what did I see on the menu today but dry aged sirloin steak? My good friends all know that I have a soft spot for dry aged steak and so I quickly chucked the salmon idea out the window and ordered the steak. Life’s too short, I reckoned, and for good measure I also said to myself: "It's Christmas."

And was I glad to eat that steak. It was perfect. I can’t describe it any other way. Slightly fatty, incredibly tender and very tasty. I ate every single piece of it, and it was a very large steak. Then it was time for me to go as I had a next appointment at IFC.


“Dessert?” YY asked. I replied: “I’d love to, but I don’t have time.” We’d talked so long and I’d eaten so slow as usual that the entire lunchtime had been taken up just with the steak.

“Come on, have dessert,” he said. Our waiter – who I recognized from previous visits to Hong Kong Club – was his partner in crime. The waiter said at exactly the right time: “Our chocolate mousse is the best in Hong Kong.”

That was all I needed to hear to capitulate. I almost sighed as I said: “I’ll have it then. But we’re sharing.”

Again, almost like meeting again, we were so glad to order this chocolate mousse, which came with a very generous serving of fresh cream. It was indeed the best chocolate mousse in Hong Kong, and the cream surprisingly gave it a wonderful smoothness. YY never has dessert but he was very surprised to find this incredibly delicious dessert at his own club where he's eaten at least several times a week for decades.

Finally, it was really time to say goodbye. YY walked me to the entrance of the club. “I can’t believe we’ve met again after all this time, and it’s just like another lunch between old friends.”

I replied: “But we are old friends.”

He answered: “Actually, we're not. It’s one old friend and one young friend.” I’m so hoping he meant me, with this “young friend” comment. Haha.

Just another day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


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