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In a city where bars and restaurants come and go like the seasons and dining concepts become increasingly new-fangled and social media-focused, you’d be hard-pressed to find establishments that have withstood the test of time for more than half a century. However, a small number of restaurants have outlasted others through soaring property prices, gentrification, and all sorts of societal crises, and still retain their time-honoured quality. Check out our top nine picks for historical restaurants in Hong Kong you should sup at, if only just to relive the past.
Amigo was opened by entrepreneurial legend Yeung Wing-chung—lovingly known as “Uncle Five”—in 1967 and has stood at their specially-built stucco mansion near the Happy Valley Racecourse since 1976. Though the building and name are Spanish, the restaurant is an institution for classic French dining. Signature dishes include Filet de Bouef “Mongolian” (a raw sliced beef dish prepared with a secret recipe), Scallops Provençal, and Bisque D’Homard Au Cognac (lobster bisque with a touch of cognac). Be sure to wrap up your meal with a slice of Amigo's Napoleon Cake, which is made to order and has layers of creamy goodness.
The other factor that keeps Amigo diners coming back is the service. At Amigo, the service is old-school and impeccable, with white-gloved, tuxedoed waitstaff (some of whom have been working for Uncle Five for several decades) presenting diners with personalised, embossed on-site notepads, and serving food on dishes from heritage fine china brand Wedgwood.
There is a sense of unwavering loyalty that comes with the nostalgia of Amigo: Mr Yip, who’s been working at Amigo for more than 30 years, is in charge of the restaurant’s wine cellar, where more than 2,000 bottles of mostly French wine ranging from first to fifth growth are kept. The oldest and rarest bottle is a 1911 Cheval Blanc that’s valued at over $60,000. Mr Yip has even taken sommelier courses to ensure that he can keep providing top-notch service to Uncle Five and Amigo’s loyal customers.
Amigo, 79A Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley | (+852) 2577 2202
Almost as iconic as the Mandarin Oriental itself is its famous watering hole, the Captain’s Bar. As you descend from the lobby into the cosy pub, you’re instantly transported into a bygone era. Even with updated renovations, the feel and style of the Captain’s Bar remain the same as it did when it first opened over 50 years ago, with its snug booths in wooden panelling, low red leather couches, chessboard etched glass dividers, and 18th-century British prints and old-world maps dotting the walls.
It’s easy to shed your worries here, as the seasoned white-tied bartenders provide the same jovial service to everyone who steps through the threshold. Whether you’re a wide-eyed tourist, tired office drone in need of a post-work tipple or five, or a first-timer looking for their new local, you can guarantee they’ll make you feel just as loved as a consummate regular when they slide you your drink in their nostalgic silver tankards. Local craft brewery Young Master brews their signature Captain’s Bar Beer, and the signature cocktails are nothing short of classic, such as the rum-based Captain’s Orders, or the time-specific Old Fashioneds (a modern take is served earlier in the evening while an old-fashioned Old Fashioned is the tipple past 10 pm).
As is tradition in a British pub, the best food you can order to line your stomach at Captain’s Bar is a Chicken Tikka Makhni with both basmati rice and naan bread on the side. If you enjoy a spot of live music, live jazz and blues performances are held every Tuesday to Saturday evenings. As the hours tick by, Captain’s Bar puts a whole new meaning to timeless.
The Captain’s Bar, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central | (+852) 2825 4006
Maintaining its Michelin star in the 2020 edition of Hong Kong’s Michelin Guide is Gaddi’s, a French institution with its own dedicated entrance at the historical Peninsula Hotel that’s been open since 1953. Dining at Gaddi’s has been a luxurious experience from the beginning, as it was one of the first European haute cuisine establishments in town, and was also the first restaurant to create a “Chef’s Table” seating arrangement, where the crème de la crème of Hong Kong could view their food being cooked right next to them.
Currently occupying the Peninsula’s former ballroom, the decor evokes old-school East-meets-West glamour with its opulent chandeliers, Tai Ping carpets, and Chinese silk screens. The waiters are always at attention, ready to impart their extensive knowledge of the menu and the wine list to you as the live band plays on.
The menu is primarily French with European influences. Ingredients are imported fresh from all over the world and turned into classy dishes like the Dover Sole Meunière, the perfectly tender Poached Lobster in Red Wine Sauce, and Roasted Veal Sweetbreads in Vadouvan Spice with Greek Yoghurt. Current head chef Albin Gobil may be young, but he shares the same philosophy as the past chefs of Gaddi’s, which is to create gastronomic delights with the best ingredients in the simplest of techniques and presentations. There really is nothing as indulgent as a dinner at Gaddi’s.
Gaddi’s, 1/F, The Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2696 6763
Hoi On Café is one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it types of places, tucked into an unassuming shopfront that’s stood by the Sheung Wan waterfront for over 70 years. Hoi On Café is a traditional bing sutt (literally an “ice room” where seamen and neighbourhood regulars would pop in to cool off on a hot day) through and through, with a menu that specialises in Cantonese comfort food, and decor that hasn’t changed since its opening.
Authenticity is the name of the game at Hoi On, as you’re packed into its quaint room sharing tables with other hungry strangers. Their most well-received offering is the Char Siu Lo Mein, a simple dish of mixed instant noodles topped with juicy cuts of roast pork. If you’re craving something sweet, their bite-sized Hong Kong-style French toast is the perfect accompaniment to their silky smooth iced milk tea, with thick slabs of toast slathered in butter and generous amounts of syrup. Another crowd-pleaser is the Minced Beef and Shallot Egg Scramble on Thick Toast, a flavourful open-faced sandwich that’s a decent way to get your protein intake up.
You’re likely to find the Localiiz team here at lunch sometimes, as Hoi On Café is immensely popular with the Sheung Wan lunch crowd. Remember to come before 4 pm though, as they close up shop for their own family dinners.
Hoi On Café, 17 Connaught Road West, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2540 6340
We’ve used the word “institution” a lot in this round-up, but Jimmy’s Kitchen is truly one of the greats. A continental restaurant that has served locals, expats, and tourists alike for over 90 years, Jimmy’s operates under long-serving traditions. From the dim and cost decor to the meticulous service and the extensive Western menu, everything at Jimmy’s evokes nostalgia. There’s not a lot of places you can get a Steak Diane or a Baked Alaska anymore, and Jimmy’s insists on keeping it on the menu because that’s just how things were done back in the day. Servings are more than ample and perfect for a group outing where everyone can reminisce on the “good old days” of colonial Hong Kong.
Jimmy’s Kitchen, G/F, South China Building, 1–3 Wyndham Street, Central | (852) 2526 5293
La Taverna was the first traditional Italian restaurant in Hong Kong. Opened by Milanese brothers Giuseppe and Aldo Macchetti in 1969 after they became homesick, La Taverna has remained rustic, popular, and as Northern Italian as ever despite the growing popularity of Italian-American concepts.
Stepping into La Taverna feels like you’re in an old trattoria miles away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, thanks to the stucco and painted signs outside, and the charming interiors decked with straw-covered wine bottles hanging from the ceiling, and antiques like a century-old cash register tucked in a corner. Everything that surrounds you in La Taverna was brought here straight from Italy, and if that isn’t enough, surely the food will help to complete the picture of your imaginary nonna cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
The menu is complete with your standard Italian fares like wood-fired pizzas and tiramisu, but the must-try dishes here are the hearty classics like Scaloppine di Vitello and Fettuccine al Ragù e Funghi. Regulars have come back time after time with their children, even grandchildren in tow, in search of these old-fashioned Italian flavours, and you should too.
La Taverna, G/F, 36–38 Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2376 1945
Lin Heung Tea House is home to ancestral chaos and rare dim sum. The first Lin Heung Tea House was opened in Guangdong in 1889 and the three Hong Kong branches popped up in 1918. The only surviving location has been at its two-storey stoop on Wellington Street since 1996, and despite a closure scare earlier in the year, they are still chugging along.
We’ve brought many a visitor to Lin Heung, but nothing prepares you for the hectic dining experience until you’re right there with up to 300 other starving diners vying for just the seat (“Please let me find a seat soon, my empty stomach cannot provide much sustenance for me to stay standing much longer,” is the message potential customers convey through their eyes).
Lin Heung makes zero concessions for foreigners, so make sure to bring a Cantonese-speaking friend (or Google Translate) or have your best Charades act on. After you successfully find a homebase, get ready to fight over food as the waitstaff push out all your favourite morsels on old-school trolleys. Uncommon dishes are made common at Lin Heung, where you can find outdated recipes like Quail Eggs or Pork Liver Siu Mai, Steamed Chinese Sausage Rolls, and Steamed Chicken Buns come to life.
Once you snag yourself a steamer basket, the waitstaff will stamp your tally card which you use to pay at the end. Besides dim sum, Lin Heung is also known for its Winter Melon Soup, Stuffed Mud Carp, Steamed Goose Intestine in Egg Custard and the superb Eight-treasure Duck. Instead of tea in communal pots, diners must look after their own cups, and attempt to flag down a waiter to top up their cups with boiling water. Just remember to come early in the day, as dim sum runs out fast, and Lin Heung doesn’t open for dinner anymore.
Lin Heung Tea House, 160–164 Wellington Street, Central | (+852) 2544 4556
If you’ve ever been up to our beautiful Victoria Peak, you must have seen the Arts-and-Crafts-style English cottage that stands on the side of Peak Road. Originally built in 1901 as a workplace and living quarters for the British engineers that were hired to help build the Peak Tram, it was first turned into a sedan chair shelter, then finally the famous Peak Café in 1947.
Diners can choose to dine inside surrounded by exposed stone supposedly left over from building the old Governor’s Peak residence, Mountain Lodge (now demolished) or outside on the gorgeous terrace overlooking the South China Sea. Before the impact of 2018 super-typhoon Mangkhut, the tables under the shade of the old tree were the perfect place to relax and unwind.
Unfortunately, the Peak Lookout was hit hard and the tree was too. Nevertheless, the tandoori grills on the terrace still make divine Indian meals, or if you’re looking for something more Western, the menu caters to an international clientele with everything from nachos to moules-frites. Feeling full? Take a stroll around to admire the old photographs of life on the Peak from generations past.
The Peak Lookout, 121 Peak Road, The Peak | (+852) 2849 1000
Tai Ping Koon is the grandfather of “soy sauce Western” cuisine, a type of fusion cuisine that’s ubiquitous in Hong Kong—it’s representative of how locals made the most of our colonial past. The founder of Tai Ping Koon, Chui Lo-ko, was originally a chef for a Western trading company in Guangzhou, where he learnt how to make classic western dishes. He opened the first Tai Ping Koon in 1860 (China was still ruled under the Qing dynasty then!) then his successors brought the restaurant to Hong Kong in 1938.
The current managing director is Chui Lo-ko’s great-great-grandson, Andrew Chui, and he’ll be damned if anything about Tai Ping Koon is changed. The dedication to continuing his family business at the high degree of notability has not gone unappreciated by both regulars and tourists alike, and the story of how “Swiss-sauce” braised chicken wings came to be still lives on.
No visit to Tai Ping Koon is complete without an order of their famous baked souffle, a sweet and fluffy dessert that’s bigger than a lot of people’s heads. Depending on which location you visit, you will be dining with a different crowd. At their oldest branch in Yau Ma Tei, there are lots of regulars or simply those who seek some privacy, whereas the Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay branches are more popular with tourists. The Central location is a popular lunch spot for older finance workers, as well as visiting Hollywood stars such as Matt Damon.
By the way, if you’re wondering why the waitstaff reminds you of your uncles and aunties and even grandparents, it’s because the Chui family values the connections made with regulars and the staff are just as much a part of the restaurant as the food. They even provide staff quarters near the restaurants so that the staff can rest well after a busy day.