Wanchai has recently undergone an urban renewal and revitalisation of its local architecture. Restaurants offering a variety of international cuisines, modern shops, cupcake and coffee shops have set up either in new buildings or old buildings that have been renovated; truly a mix of old and new.
Start by taking the MTR to Wan Chai, Exit A3, come out turn left, cross over and walk left along Johnston Road for approximately 10 minutes to where Johnston and Hennessy Roads interconnect and then turn right into Mallory Street. Alternatively you can use tram stops 45E (Fleming Road) or 54W (Burrows Street).
Halfway down on your right (7 Mallory Street) you will see the Green House (so named because it was painted green) which is one of the few remaining ‘tong lau’ (shophouse) with balconies. Traditionally Southeast Asian shophouses are 2 – 3 stories high with a shop on the ground floor and residencies above. First built in the 1910s this block of 10 tenement houses was renovated in 2013 and now houses Comix Home Base (CHB website: www. comixhomebase.com.hk). Managed by the Hong Kong Arts Centre, its goal is to be a platform for local and overseas comics and animation industries. In the ground floor lobby they have a leaflet which discusses the architectural features. As you walk around the four floors there are also photos which document the revitalisation of the internal timber staircases, French doors, iron balustrades, cantilevered balconies and timber roof. It’s worth standing across the road to look at the building so you can admire its façade.
The building houses galleries which exhibit animation and comics, flea + cents (2/F, Open: Tues – Sunday 1 pm – 8 pm, closed Monday) a shop which sells an eclectic mix of furniture, lighting and collectibles, Comix Salon (2/F Open: Noon – 8 pm, closed Monday) which has a collection of local comics and there are also various food places. Several of the shops are closed on Mondays so best to make your trip here Tuesday – Sunday.
After walking round the building a great place to stop for a break is the Queen’s Café (1/F, Open: 11.30 am – 10.30 pm, Tel: 2116 1910). A retro café with great service, you can sit by the window looking out into the courtyard listening to their mix tape with music from the 70s and 80s. They have an afternoon tea set for two for HK$185 (2.30 pm – 5.30 pm). Calling itself a Russian restaurant (perhaps because they serve borsch) they have an extensive menu and we had the beef kebabs which were very tender. A throw back which hails from the 80s is hot lemon coke which I can recommend, especially good if you have a sore throat. On the ground floor is Queen’s Konditorei (Open: 8 am – 7 pm) which sells a selection of biscuits which in continuing with the Russian theme of Queen’s Café sells nougat in cute cardboard packets which look like Russian dolls.
If you are interested, CHB will run English docent tours for 10 – 20 people. Contact them on [email protected] or Tel: 2824 5303 two weeks prior to the planned visit. Come back to Johnston Road and retrace your steps following the tram tracks. Walk for about five minutes just before Tram Stop 56W (O’Brien Road) and then you turn left into Stone Nullah Lane.
Chinese like the use of nicknames and hence Wan Chai has Wedding Card Street and Toy Street, my nickname for this lane is ‘Diet Aid’ Lane due to the overwhelming assault to your sense of smell as you enter this lane heading up to Wan Chai market. If you have a delicate stomach make sure to take a breath before you start your walk up this lane. As you walk along you will see a multitude of open-air shops selling very fresh fish and meat with a fancy dress shop thrown in for good measure. The butcher shop on the left at the lane doesn’t seem to like wastage and so you will see some quite unique cow parts hanging here.
At the end of this lane turn right along the market for one block then right again into Tai Yuen Street, it will become immediately obvious why this is nicknamed ‘Toy Street’. A great place to buy presents for children (or yourself) and also festive decorations. Halfway down on the left is Se Wong Sun, a shop selling snake products but their menu isn’t in English so best to go with a local friend if you are feeling adventurous. As is so typical in Chinese medicine, the snake meat and bile are thought to be powerful aphrodisiacs, personally, I’d rather eat oysters.
Continue your walk down and turn left onto Johnston Road and after a few minutes’ walk you will come to Lee Tung Avenue (The Avenue) on your left. The Avenue is a new housing development which has a 200 metre pedestrianised area down the middle between Johnston Road and Queen’s Road East – a delight from the usual traffic onslaught. As you stroll up the middle of The Avenue you are delighted by the long row of red lanterns and bronze statues; an excellent photo opportunity and great place to take your visitors. The Avenue was previously ‘Wedding Card Street’ and to honour this fact in the middle of The Avenue you can take escalators down and here you will find shops selling items pertaining to weddings such as wedding invites, tea, jewellery and cakes.
A branch of the Wing Wah bakery chain sells traditional Chinese wedding cakes (marry girl or dowry cakes) – sponge cakes filled with different types of paste (lotus, green mung bean) stamped in red on the top with the double happiness symbol. These can be given in cute little red presentation boxes which they also sell. Another Cantonese treat is sweetheart cake or ‘Wife Cake’ which is made with flaky pastry, winter melon, almond paste, sesame and spiced with five spice powder. Wing Wah also has a great window display of traditional Chinese wedding items. You won’t lack for food as along The Avenue there are numerous different food places such as Le Pain Quotidien and Hei House. Go to their website - www.leetungavenue. com.hk if you want to know more about the shops, restaurants and activities on The Avenue.
By Frances Nicholls