Header image courtesy of Happy Paradise
An aesthetic that’s practically synonymous with the nightscapes of Hong Kong, neon signs have long been a part of the city’s visual configuration, and also happen to double as a tangible piece of heritage. With the wealth of eateries designed to impress those who appreciate a little pizzazz in their surroundings, here are the places that merge together Hong Kong’s signature glow with beautifully composed interiors.
Follow the mosaic-bespeckled entryway and push past the door marked by bright yellow bananas to encounter the multicoloured dazzle of Happy Paradise. The grand splash of blues, pinks, and reds offers an elevated sense of camp that never ventures too far into gauche, and is at once nostalgic and futuristic. Conceived by the award-winning chef May Chow of Little Bao and Second Draft, and designed by Australian studio Mash, the venue plates up Neo-Cantonese cooking that offers unique reinterpretations of the cuisine’s familiar palate.
The menu is centred on seasonal ingredients and is constantly being renewed, while its list of tipples showcases an impressive stock of wines and electrifying cocktails like the well-seasoned five-spice gin and tonic ($138) or the vodka-based Hong Kong lemon tea ($98) with sweet soy extract. Happy Paradise’s sentimental attitude to local food is reflected in the environment’s playful references to the era of oversaturation. Its Formica tabletops and prints would put the Memphis group designers to shame, alongside familiar cha chaan teng set pieces like the pleather steel-legged banquettes that you may have sat on for your afternoon tea break (下午茶; haa6 ng5 caa4).
Happy Paradise, UG/F, 52–56 Staunton Street, Aberdeen Street, Central | (+852) 2816 2118
Intended to serve as a “base” for local millennials to chill out and enjoy their time with friends, this upbeat locale is recognisable by its large panorama of swirling neon lines depicting an astronaut amongst planets made from bar snacks and adorable mushroom-shaped UFOs. Aside from the tinge of shisha fragrance next to the smell of black truffle french fries ($88) and pan-fried foie gras toast with yuzu jelly ($158) in the air, you will also be greeted by the arcade-inspired display of a starting screen above the bar, setting a tone of anticipation.
Likening its bold signs to a form of graffiti, the shopfront renovates its main light fittings every few months, the exposed concrete pillars and walls playing host to snappy idioms and cartooned shapes evocative of doodles scribbled over exercise books between daydreams. Staying until the later hours of the night will reward you with glimmering sights and opportunities for moody shots, as the fill lights are turned off every day at 10.30 pm.
Base, Shop A, G/F, Quality Tower, 29–31 Hillwood Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2361 3118
Holy Eats might easily be mistaken for a too-cool-for-school tattoo parlour amongst the eateries of Elgin Street. Its iconic blue and purple neon sign is only the first of many thrills to delight the senses. Every corner is bedecked in elaborate illustrations and prints of old-school designs, interspersed with baby pink paint and tiny sticker decals enshrined all around, showing an eye for ornamental details that appear right down to the patterns on its plates.
This hip mainstay is never short of banging deals, with insane promotions offered every day of the week except Saturday. Aside from downing a glass (or three) of its infamously affordable Drink of the Month ($30) that range from house pours to craft brews, the sinfully savoury fusion bites are a must-try. Favoured picks include char siu tacos ($98 for two), grilled octopus ($158) in chimichurri sauce, and the irresistible prawn ceviche ($138).
Holy Eats, 23 Elgin Street, Soho, Central | (+852) 2890 2892
An offshoot of its sister restaurant, Holy Eats, this explosion of neon takes you on a trip into the raunchy pages of the Hong Kong adult magazine that it was named after. Looming over the entryway is a neon sign evocative of the gaudy yet captivating signage of spas and massage parlours that lie covert all around the seedy corners of the city. Immediately out-doing this striking display are bushels of pink bananas hanging overhead once you enter, one of the tamer signals to the salacious iconography that awaits.
No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you—despite the mezcal kick from the Kitty Juice ($130). Served on brazen plates of blurred out R-rated imagery, Lung Fu Pao’s fare revolves around creative interpretations of fresh Japanese ingredients, rolls, and seared yakitori. Expertly seasoned and grilled to perfection, the pork belly ($58) and chicken and leek ($38) skewers will have you feeling hot and heavy in a good way, whilst the snapper carpaccio ($158) and plump dragon roll ($158) just hit the right spot.
Lung Fu Pao, 47B Elgin Street, Central | (+852) 3460 4609
A Smoking Affair comes in hot with its bawdy references. In Cantonese slang, its cheeky name is a double entendre meaning “heading out to get up to no good,” while also presenting a more literal wordplay of “gwan” (滾; boil), which references the toiling hot pots. Assuming the theme of old nightclubs, colourful silhouettes and murals of qipao-clad figures adorn the walls, casting their gaze across tables lined with menus printed as newspaper ad spreads.
Framed as a unique “all-in-one” base of operations for night owls to let out their wild side, the space offers more than hot pot with its famed signature chicken with fish maw and shark fin soup base ($498), and also encompasses a 650-square-foot balcony in addition to VIP rooms for karaoke functions.
A Smoking Affair, 27/F, Midtown Soundwill Plaza II, 1 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2543 8222
A mainstay along the canted slope of Second Street, and one of the first to bring about the wave of revived locales around Sai Ying Pun, this former ping-pong-gym-turned-bar has cemented its place as one of Hong Kong’s most Instagrammed places—if you manage to find it. Behind its bright red door is a vast space that’s awash in the red glow of its famous neon-lettered sign—“Build up one’s body” (強身健體; keung4 san1 gin6 tai2) in Chinese—a relic of the venue’s original purpose that now carries a tongue-in-cheek undertone.
Designed by architect and co-owner Hugh Zimmern, the furnishment features works by local designers and artists that elevate the retro ambience, from the recreated aluminium window hatch by Naddim Abbas down to the calligraphy by King of Kowloon. Enveloped in this hodgepodge of influences, sip on one of 120 globally sourced gins and tuck into platters of Spanish nibbles, as the tabla de ibéricos ($168) is absolutely heavenly.
Ping Pong 129 Gintóneria, G/F, Nam Cheong House, 129–135 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun | (+852) 9158 1584
A lustrous break from the muted earthen-toned cafés of Sham Shui Po, Ppalli Ppalli’s shopfront stands in beguiling silver and blue. Evocative of Y2K-tech aesthetics that you may sooner find in a futuristic cybercafé or even spaceship, this sleek spot carries an intriguing menu of Korean-Italian delights by chef Marco Livoti.
As the neon sign beckons, let the “good times roll” with mouthwatering fusion delights like the Wagyu beef cheek sourdough with kimchi ($98) and the crunchy K.F.C chicken (starting from $88)—not to be confused with the Kentucky variety—served classic or with its signature 8282 sauce. Surrounded by bare grey walls, glass-bricked windows, and the constantly-in-flux light installation that beams its sea of cobalt all over the storefront’s reflective surfaces, your time here is best described as “out of this world.”
Ppalli Ppalli, G/F, 230 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2982 8219
A gem amongst the backstreets of Wan Chai, Tai Lung Fung derives its name from a local Cantonese opera troupe that used to be active around the 1960s. Placed above the shuttered entryway in buzzing red neon letters, the words are translated to literally mean “big dragon phoenix,” which signifies fastidiousness over something of little significance. An irony, as its immaculate vibes and mouth-watering menu are things to write home about.
Decked out in snazzy décor that works in tons of nostalgic call-backs to old-school Hong Kong, with overhanging red plastic lamps and trinkets we’re likely to find stashed in our grandparents’ storage, the venue serves as a relaxing backdrop for conversations over reasonably priced cocktails.
Tai Lung Fung, 5 Hing Wan Street, Wan Chai | (+852) 2572 0055
Located in the Prince Edward branch of Weave Studios, this edgy eatery is nestled in one of Kowloon’s hipster enclaves. A mishmash of striking aesthetics, Fong Waa Parlour ties together local neon sign art with Thai- and Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine. Green and white brick walls hearken back to the quirky shapes that were all the rage during the 1980s, juxtaposed against the gleam of bespoke neon script that draws in eager Instagrammers. If the eye-catching interiors have not already captured your attention, then the aroma of the massaman curry ($98) and barbecued flathead mullet ($188) definitely will. Add on a draught (starting from $50) and you are all set.
Fong Waa Parlour, 1/F & 2/F, 36 Boundary Street, Mong Kok | (+852) 2366 2113
After a transplant from its former location on Peel Street and shedding its previous moniker of 65 Peel, Ho Lan Jeng has been reborn as a continuation of its past glory in the form of an unpretentious craft brewpub with quality fare. Stamped in bright blue betwixt two hand-painted illustrations of a phoenix and a dragon, its name is a naughty play on the explicit Cantonese phrase used to exclaim that something is “so effin’ good.”
And effin’ good it is indeed, as the food menu provides phenomenal eats like the slow-cooked 24-hour Ibérico char siu ($178) as well as a seared pork belly and cuttle fishcake burger ($128) that ties together a one-of-a-kind fusion combination. Complemented by a rotation of brews from local sources that span from Citibrew to Moonzen Brewery, you will not leave disappointed.
Ho Lan Jeng, 2/F, LKF29, 29 Wyndham Street, Central | (+852) 2342 2224