Header image courtesy of @wpcpey (via Wikimedia Commons)
Exclusively reserved for Westerners in ye olden days, Mid-Levels has maintained to this day an image of a residential area for the elite and affluent. It is easy to forget that the neighbourhood, just above Central and mere tram stops away from the Peak, has natural sights on one hand and urban delights on the other—the best of two worlds to explore. The relative quiet of Mid-Levels is now home to recreational destinations, including green escapes as well as arts and culture hubs. In its nooks and crannies are some of Hong Kong’s best-kept gustatory and shopping secrets. Here, we have mapped out where you might find them!
Nestled in greenery just a brief walk upslope of bustling Pacific Place is the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre. Once the Explosives Magazine of the former Victoria Barracks, the structure is currently a blend of mid-nineteenth-century architecture and modern concrete-and-glass additions that house galleries, function spaces, and theatres. It is an Instagrammable heritage site as much as a host for a variety of cultural events such as workshops, recitals, and exhibitions. Whichever you are looking for—a breath of fresh air, a taste of history, or close contact with art—this place has it all.
Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty | (+852) 2103 9511
Longing for a break from the city? You just might find it within steps of your Central office building! With a conservatory, rich outdoor vegetation, and an artificial lake filled with turtles and fish, the eight-hectare park is an urban oasis that offers sightings of squirrels and endangered parrots. Its very own aviary is certainly a highlight—over 70 species of birds fly within the mesh-covered natural valley. Raised wooden walkways wind through the canopy to allow one-of-a-kind close encounters between visitors and the winged inhabitants. For those who would prefer more action, Hong Kong Park also takes pride in having an indoor sports centre as well as Hong Kong’s largest squash centre!
Hong Kong Park, 19 Cotton Tree Drive, Central | (+852) 2521 5041
Previously the residence of the commander of the British forces, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware is the oldest example of colonial Western-style architecture in Hong Kong. In contrast, its contents are characteristically Chinese. This branch of the Museum of Art displays a rare collection of teaware, ceramics, and seals that take visitors through the history and practices of the Chinese tea tradition. Its regular demonstrations and activities centred around tea-drinking culture are not to be missed.
Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central | (+852) 2869 0690
“vA!”—the short form for the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre—is said to express the surprise and wonder brought about by art. Indeed, it is a well-loved exhibition venue that also provides studio space for aspiring artists and those hoping to learn. While its well-equipped lecture theatre and ceramic, sculpture, and printmaking studios attract professionals and workshop participants alike, the building itself has its own charms. As part of the old Victoria Barracks, its glass and steel geometric design, fitted to the sloping landscape in a stair-like structure, is recognisable anywhere.
Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre, 7A Kennedy Road, Central | (+852) 2521 3008
Ocean Park aside, Hong Kong’s lack of a zoo is compensated by the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens—the oldest park in the city—with free admission. Since the days when it was still fondly called Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園)—“Gardens of the Commander-in-Chief”—it has been a popular destination for families and couples. Here, you can find furry friends of all shapes and sizes, including meerkats, sloths, and a family of orangutans, in addition to birds. On the flora side, the Botanical Gardens presents the Old and Valuable Trees trail and lists flowering plants each month for visitors to seek out.
Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens, Albany Road, Central | (+852) 2530 0154
Wondering about alternative ways to reach the Peak, other than by public transit? Look no further than the Central Green Trail, which spans across the Mid-Levels and—if you like—takes you all the way to the top. Right next to the Peak Tram Lower Terminus are stairs that mark its starting point. Its early sections go side by side with the tram tracks, giving glimpses of the operating Peak Tram and—further up—views of Victoria Harbour. Embarking on this 1.5-hour-long trail will let you experience both wildlife and historic buildings and might be one of the most unique hiking experiences Hong Kong has to offer.
Legend has it, a Japanese military officer fell in love with a maiden of the boat people in the aftermath of the Second World War. Unaccepted by their families, the two took their lives on Bowen Road and were immortalised in the form of a rock that has been blessing lovers who visit ever since. Thus, the Lover’s Rock along Bowen Road may be the reason why many look to the Bowen Road Fitness Trail, but the pathway is a lovely outing through nature in its own right. Compared to the Central Green Trail, this is an easy walk, with no fewer scenic spots. You only need to hop on a short bus ride from Central, then views of the Admiralty and Wan Chai urban jungle are all yours to feast on.
Chinese “Father of the Nation” Dr Sun Yat-sen is honoured by this museum on the Central and Western Heritage Trail. The Edwardian building, also known as Kom Tong Hall for its original resident Ho Kom-tong, is a grand example of the colonial businessman’s residence, complete with sweeping balconies and stained-glass windows. Post-revitalisation, it pays tribute to Sun with exhibitions of historical artefacts and audio-visual programs. Walk through its doors to hear the story of the man who brought about the birth of modern China, some of whose roots are here in Hong Kong.
Dr Sun Yat-Sen Museum, 7 Castle Road, Mid-Levels, Central | (+852) 2367 6373
The Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, yet another declared monument in the area, is more than just a sight to behold. Beneath its red brick façade, the laboratories and offices of the Old Pathological Institute collect and exhibit artefacts of Hong Kong’s medical history, where a century ago, scientists worked to contain the bubonic plague outbreak. This museum is true to its predecessor in its continued promotion of local interest and knowledge in medicine as well as health.
Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, 2 Caine Lane, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2549 8123
Not far from the University of Hong Kong is the Lung Fu Shan Morning Trail. A concrete paved track for most of the way, this trail is notable for the many historic landmarks along the way. As the hiker encounters old boundary stones, remains of bunkers and of batteries behind overgrown leaves, the trek becomes not only one into nature but also one into the past. Head to the very end of the Hatton Road cul-de-sac and cross the little overpass to embark on the Lung Fu Shan Morning Trail.
In the depths of the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, AMMO is a secret within a secret. The award-winning Italian-Japanese fusion bar and restaurant holds true to its name and motto—“Asia, Modern, Museum, and Original.” Floor-to-ceiling windows allow for natural lighting and full views of the surrounding hillside greenery; Hollywood-esque interior design creates a classy and atmospheric environment; but the stars are, of course, its food and drinks. From its flavourful Koriyaki king crab fettuccine ($260) and M5 Wagyu ribeye in sukiyaki jus ($260) to the lighter afternoon tea set or just a cocktail, AMMO has something for everyone hoping to take some time off.
AMMO, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty | (+852) 2537 9888
A full-vegetarian dim sum restaurant and tea house, Lokcha Teahouse has established itself as a tea expert. Its modern take on dim sum does not disappoint—its signature truffle siu mai ($48) and deep-fried vegetarian prawn roll with cheese ($48) are always to be recommended. But its traditional Chinese tea house environment tells the customer that its tea menu, with its wide range of white tea, yellow tea, and different types of oolong, is where the real delight lies.
Lockcha Teahouse, G/F, The K.S. Lo Gallery, Hong Kong Park, 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Admiralty | (+852) 2801 7177
To enthusiasts of authentic Sichuan cuisine, San Xi Lou would be a familiar name. At its hidden location overlooking Central skyscrapers, take your pick out of full Sichuan courses, hotpot, and dim sum. Whether you are a spicy food lover or are about to brave Sichuan flavours for the very first time, the restaurant’s stewed fish, mouth-watering chicken, and mala hotpot are must-tries.
San Xi Lou, 22/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2868 0988
Chuan Yue Lou was opened by ex-staff from San Xi Lou in the same building—what a power move—but with a new fascia and menu. As its name indicates, the branched-off restaurant adds Cantonese cuisine to its old Sichuan speciality—and the quality is equally excellent. On top of the marinated ox tripe with chilli sauce and mapo beancurd, check out its pan-fried prawns with salted egg yolk.
Chuan Yue Lou, 7/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2838 2828
This trio of old-fashioned Hong Kong takeaway eateries might be dismissed for their simple and unassuming exteriors, but they are not collectively called the “three treasures of Kennedy Road” for no reason. King Sing, Man Lee, and Huen Kee have been neighbours since the 1950s and have won over generations of students and workers with household dishes at once cheap and delicious. Though each has its own original menu to delve into, personal favourites include King Sing’s steamed fuzzy melon with pork ribs, Man Lee’s curry beef, Huen Kee’s burger patty & fried egg with soy sauce.
King Sing, Man Lee & Huen Kee, 4–8 Kennedy Road, Mid-Levels
Every 10 minutes or so, the Peak Tram passes just outside the Tram View Café’s windows. Some, looking to be even closer to the iconic Hong Kong transport, elect to sit in the outdoor terrace for an experience you can find nowhere else in town. Inside, the café provides simple Western mains, classic cha chaan teng snacks, and nostalgic Hong Kong desserts. Surrounded by its warm British furnishings and sipping on artisanal coffee and tea, the afternoon goes by in a blink.
Tram View Café, G/F, 2 Tramway Path, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2323 6873
Do not be deceived by its storefront—Elephant Grounds’ Caine Road branch is, in fact, one of the beloved coffee shop’s largest, replete with outdoor seating and a second floor. As with all Elephant Grounds shops, its chic décor and scents of in-house roasted coffee make it a relaxing place to be. When itching for a bite, order its avocado toast ($105) or indulge in an ice cream sandwich ($68).
Elephant Grounds, 61 Caine Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2535 7155
Hige Izakaya’s tatami seating can have it mistaken for a local establishment down any Japanese alley where friends gather for a good time. At this casual after-work bar, have a pint of beer or your choice of sake and whet your appetite with fresh sashimi, tempura, and meat skewers of every kind.
Hige Izakaya, Shop A, G/F, Woodland House, 9A–9C Castle Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2503 3533
Oh, to have a good taco in Hong Kong! When in Mid-Levels, Xoco Mexican Cantina & Bar is the place to be for anyone going through Tex-Mex cravings. This restaurant may be on the small side but the food portions certainly are not. No matter what you order, be it the loaded big burrito ($155) or belly-warming chilli con carne ($165), your taste buds and stomach are sure to be satisfied.
Xoco Mexican Cantina & Bar, Shop 2, G/F, 31–37 Mosque Street, Mid-Levels | (+852) 3620 2323
You can find few better fish and chips takeaways in Hong Kong than Hooked. Using seafood imported straight from New Zealand and Australian sunflower oil in its making, Hooked makes sure customers can take each bite without worrying about taste and quality. Signature blue cod fish & chips ($80) aside, its battered oysters ($20) are ever-tempting. Do pair these with an organic NZ soda ($38)!
Hooked, 80–88 Caine Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2915 1118
Speciality coffee and smoothie bar Blend & Grind now has several locations, but all started right here in Mid-Levels. Chill, quiet, cosy—you name it, Blend & Grind is it. Many return for its bagels, especially the smoked turkey bagel with green apple ($85). We find the yoghurt shake ($65) with its assortment of health-boosting fruits and various coffee blends memorable, as befits the place’s name.
Blend & Grind, G/F, 1 Princes Terrace, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2887 3232
Take your first step towards a healthier lifestyle at this shop-slash-café. SpiceBox Organics caters to every one of your basic household needs, providing a great selection of certified fresh produce, organic seasonings, and sustainable home products, among many others. At SpiceBox’s communal tables, you can always sit down after you’ve finished your shopping for a vegan meal and organic smoothie.
SpiceBox Organics, Shop 1, Golden Valley Mansion, 137 Caine Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2559 9887
Yes, you can enjoy gourmet meals right at home when schedule or pandemic disrupt your dinner plans! For starters, browse through Pacific Gourmet’s range of cold cuts and cheese. Its assortment of high-quality Australian and Norwegian meat and seafood serve well as main dishes, too, and imported treats round off the meal. In the mood for a vintage? Look no further than the fine wine section.
Pacific Gourmet, 53 Caine Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2898 9000
Towering shelves that display spines you can tell have been loved. Thick tomes basking in mid-morning rays on the windowsill. Stacks placed somewhat haphazardly on the tiles, the perfect height and distance to reach for from your coffee table. To any bookworm, Books & Co.’s sights and smells are stuff that literary dreams are made of. This beloved second-hand bookstore and café welcomes anyone hoping to lose themselves between pages for a few hours or more.
Books & Co., 10 Park Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2559 5199
Before it made a name for itself with its gorgeous toasts and hand-drip coffees, Bone Coffee & Design Studio first explored art and design. If this is not clear enough in the exposed Japanese-inspired décor, the studio offers quirky design accessories, stationery, and homeware for you to browse through and purchase. Add an artsy touch to your life and bring away with you more than just a full belly.
Bone Coffee & Design Studio, Shop 2B, 38 Bonham Road, Mid-Levels