Header image courtesy of @singsingshum (via Instagram)
Originally posted by Sophie Pettit. Last updated by Annette Chan.
Ah, Wan Chai. It’s known for a lot of things—not all of them good—but there is so much more to this historic area than just red-light districts and orientalist novels from the 1950s. (Yeah, we said it.)
Its name—meaning little bay or cove—refers to the coastline that ran along what is now Queen’s Road East prior to extensive land reclamation. What began as a humble fisherman’s village quickly developed into a colonial stronghold thanks to its desirable location on the northern shore of Hong Kong Island. Nowadays, Wan Chai is a cultural hub where historical landmarks rub shoulders with trendy restaurants and vibrant open-air markets. Sure, it’s got a disproportionate amount of pubs and “girlie bars,” but it’s also got an unusually high number of bathroom- and kitchen-fitting businesses, too.
Technically, Wan Chai District covers everything from the western end of Queensway to the base of Stubbs Road in Mid-Levels. In casual conversation, however, people generally mean the neighbourhood between Admiralty and Causeway Bay when referring to “Wan Chai”—and that’s what we’re going with too. Read on for the best things to do, see, eat, and drink in the glorious Wanch.
Located just a hair past the Wan Chai borderline, this unassuming upstairs restaurant is incredibly popular with office workers in Admiralty and Wan Chai. It’s technically members-only, but that really just means you need to call ahead to book a table. The flavourful, authentic Thai fare and affordable prices make this the perfect weekday lunch spot, but we also recommend passing at least one special occasion here so you can get the signature mango sticky rice “birthday cake.”
Sawali Club, 2/F, 18–20 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2811 2360
For flawlessly executed Cantonese home-style cooking, look no further than Kin’s Kitchen. Founded by a pair of father-and-son food critics, this is an eatery that takes a studious approach to Cantonese food and cooking techniques and elevates it with high quality, locally sourced produce. The atmosphere is elegant but not stuffy, and the service is polished but unfailingly warm. Don’t miss the char siu (叉燒; barbecued pork) or the crispy-skinned pigeon, if it’s available.
Kin’s Kitchen, 5/F, W Square, 314–324 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2571 0913
This convivial restaurant and wine retailer is always busy on weekdays, thanks to the incredibly filling three-course lunch set (starting from $198). The menu changes regularly but the absolute must-try is the beef tartare, which we think is one of the best in town. It’s also a convenient place to buy well-priced French wine since you can try the wares over lunch and grab a bottle on your way out.
Le Bistro Winebeast, 35–45 Johnston Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2782 6689
If you ask a local where the best egg tarts in Wan Chai can be found, they’ll either send you to Kam Fung, an old-school cha chaan teng (茶餐廳; Hong Kong-style diner), or Bakehouse, a hip bakery and café founded by the former executive pastry chef from the Four Seasons. They’re both excellent choices, though Bakehouse has a slight edge since we’ve never seen sourdough egg tarts anywhere else, let alone for $12 a pop. Make sure to go early—these custardy treats are only served between 8 am and 1 pm to 2 pm, and the breakfast queue is no joke. If you’re not fussed about sweets (or queueing), drop by during off-peak hours for a ham and cheese croissant.
Bakehouse, 14 Tai Wong Street East, Wan Chai
Tucked between a coconut shop and an alleyway barbershop on the oft-overlooked Spring Garden Lane is Sun King Yuen, a classic Hong Kong-style curry house. Their most famous dish by far is juicy pork chop curry rice, which comes with a mild but rich curry sauce (complete with a single boiled potato) on the side. One regular-sized portion will easily feed two, so make sure you bring a reusable lunch box to “da bao” (打包; take leftovers to go) if you’ve got a small appetite, or just go at lunch for the smaller, cheaper portion. If you’re not in the mood for curry, the wok-fried flat beef noodles (干炒牛河) are always good too.
Sun King Yuen, 20 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai | (+852) 2574 9172
Those who keep up with the city’s food scene will need no introduction to Samsen—this shabby chic Thai hole-in-the-wall has attracted hours-long queues ever since it opened in 2016. While the latest Samsen outpost in Sheung Wan focuses on curried khao soi noodles, the signature here is hearty, filling boat noodles in a rich soup thickened with pig’s blood and topped with fatty, medium-rare Wagyu beef. Wash it all down with one of Samsen’s refreshing fruity drinks—we like the mango passionfruit—and have them spike it with a shot if you’re in the mood.
Samsen, 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai | (+852) 2234 0001
One of the newest additions to Wan Chai’s third-wave coffee shops is Crew on Queen’s Road East. You can’t miss the stunning forest-green exterior, but thankfully what’s inside is pretty good too, with its artisanal menu of espresso-based and hand-dripped coffees. Don’t fret if you prefer a cuppa cha—there’s also cold-brew teas and tea lattes. Don’t forget to take a minute to enjoy the cosy outdoor seating area (weather willing) before you go.
Crew, 9A, G/F, 156–164 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai
With its old-school metal shutters, red lanterns, and neon sign, it’s easy to get swept up in the romantic retro atmosphere at Tai Lung Fung. Tucked away behind the historic Blue House, this lively neighbourhood bar is a homage to old Hong Kong, and the inside is brimming with vintage toys, movie posters, and other bric-a-brac that harkens back to the city’s golden age in the 1960s and 1970s. While it’s not technically a speakeasy, the quiet, backstreet location and idiosyncratic style makes it feel like a hidden gem.
Tai Lung Fung, 5 Hing Wan Street, Wan Chai | (+852) 2572 0055
We would call Thaiwan “industrial chic,” but given that it’s literally on the doorstep of the Hopewell Centre II development, it’s more like “construction chic.” You’ll often spot crowds of regulars spilling out onto the street outside this casual bar and restaurant, which derives its name from the founding couple’s home countries. There’s a focus on craft beer from local and international breweries and a small but satisfying menu of light Thai and Taiwanese bites. Of course, you could just pop across the road to their sister restaurant, Thaipei, if you’re hankering for something a little more substantial.
Thaiwan, 31 Ship Street, Wan Chai | (+852) 3709 6595
The drinking scene in Wan Chai isn’t just limited to dive bars and pubs, however—hidden on the fourth floor of a nondescript commercial building is Mizunara: The Library, a tranquil, refined Japanese whiskey and cocktail bar. Even the most discerning drinker will find Mizunara hard to fault, between the exceedingly hospitable white-tuxedoed bartenders and the zen Japanese garden.
Mizunara: The Library, 4/F, 361–363 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 3571 9797
Wan Chai is known for its kitchen and bathroom fitting stores, but many don’t realise that it also has one of the best homeware stores on the island. This two-storey shop has been open since 1954 and specialises in Chinese and Western porcelain, but it’s stuffed to the rafters with all kinds of interesting goods, from shiny brushed chrome pedal bins to Japanese knives and even nitrile gloves. The namesake porcelain is also excellent, with everything from dinky prosperity teacups to statement-making antique vases for sale at reasonable prices.
King Tak Hong Porcelain, 128 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai | (+852) 3118 2422
This open-air bazaar, which spans multiple streets between Queen’s Road East and Johnston Road, is one of the biggest—and certainly one of the most famous—markets of its kind in Hong Kong. Lovers of all things kitsch should check out Tai Yuen Street, or “Toy Street,” as it’s more commonly known, while those looking for fresh produce cannot miss the warren of stalls around Cross Street. There are also fresh flower stalls scattered throughout the bazaar, but we particularly like the house plant selection at the intersection of Gresson Street and Queen’s Road East.
Wan Chai Market, Tai Yuen Street, Wan Chai
It’s impossible to talk about shopping in Wan Chai without mentioning the computer centres. Yes—computer centres, plural. Though the three-storey Wan Chai Computer Centre on the corner of Hennessy Road is the most famous one by far, there are actually two other tech-focused malls in Wan Chai—the 298 Computer Zone and the Oriental 188 Shopping Centre.
It’s easy to lose a few hours in any of them browsing through all manner of electronics, but if you’re looking for something in particular, you can look the price up online first to narrow your search down to a specific mall or vendor.
Tip: if a price sounds too good to be true, it’s probably an imported grey market item. If it’s a legitimate product from the brand, you can still take it to the manufacturer to be fixed, but it won’t be covered by the warranty. The decision is yours to make, but just keep that in mind.
This sleek little shop next to the stately Hung Shing Temple on Queen’s Road East is an upscale, modern version of the classic Hong Kong hoi mei (海味; dried seafood) shops. They specialise in dried abalone, bird’s nest, fish maw, sea cucumber, and other less common hoi mei “goodies,” like pre-packaged braised abalone. They also carry a number of high-quality imported products from Japan and Taiwan, as well as other unique and hard-to-find ingredients (seriously, we once found a hot sauce called Ass Reaper).
Goodies, 131 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai | (+852) 2771 2827
Given that Wan Chai is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Hong Kong, there are quite a few historically significant landmarks dotted around—despite the best efforts by certain developers. Everyone knows about the Blue House cluster on Stone Nullah Lane—and it is definitely worth a visit, especially since the establishment of the Hong Kong House of Stories—but history buffs absolutely have to continue up the road to Pak Tai Temple.
This exquisitely preserved monument, which was built in 1863 for the Taoist martial god Pak Tai, is the biggest temple on Hong Kong island. The main temple, which is decorated with lotus lanterns and dragon sculptures, houses a 400-year-old statue of the eponymous deity and features a series of antique bells that are as old as the temple itself. Don’t forget to check out the façade of the Old Wan Chai Post Office on your way back down to Queen’s Road East!
For the gents whose five-o’clock-shadows or unruly sideburns need careful tending to, there’s nowhere better to spend an hour than Oi Kwan Barbers, a traditional Cantonese barbershop tucked away in a narrow alleyway. This family-run shop has been a mainstay of Spring Garden Lane since 1962 and its barbers have groomed generations of Wan Chai residents, some from infancy.
It even appeared in Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels (1995), which inspired second-generation barber Mark Lau to preserve his father’s business and Cantonese-style techniques while modernising its social media and grooming products. The shop is appointment-only, so make sure to call ahead. For the closest, smoothest shave of your life, request the hot towel wet shave.
Oi Kwan Barbers, 20 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai | (+852) 2303 1733
During temperate months, there’s nowhere we like to be more than a rooftop. While rooftop bars and restaurants are wonderful, there’s something magical about curling up on a beanbag and watching a film under the stars (or clouds, since this is Hong Kong). Short of suddenly winning the lottery and setting up a sweet home cinema on your fantasy terrace, the best place to do that is at co-working space The Hive’s Wan Chai branch, which hosts a monthly open-air film showing on their palm tree-lined rooftop. Entry is free with the purchase of a snack and drink combo, but you have to RSVP.
The Hive Wan Chai, 21/F, 23 Luard Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 3568 6343
Unfortunately, Comix Home Base has moved from its pre-war digs on Mallory Street back to its original home in the Hong Kong Arts Centre (which is more Wan Chai North than Wan Chai proper). However, Wan Chai’s art scene is still alive and well at Foo Tak Building. This 14-storey commercial building might not look like much from the outside—it’s not as flamboyant and immersive as Paris’ 59 Rue de Rivoli, or even the Cattle Depot artist village in Ma Tau Kok—but it is incredibly significant to Hong Kong’s grassroots community.
About 20 units in the building are owned by the same landlady, who leases them out at a few thousand dollars a month to deserving tenants through the non-profit Art & Culture Outreach, allowing them to develop their work in a safe and welcoming space. Tenants range from independent media organisations to video artists, fashion brands, and more. Visitors can check out a selection of the resident artists’ works at the ACO’s top-floor café and bookshop year-round, but do try and return for one of the annual open days if you fancy exploring their portfolios further—or even meeting the artists themselves.
Foo Tak Building, 365–367 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai