Category Archive for Hong Kong + Macau
One of the perks of travel writing: you get to stay in a lot of nice hotels. At this point, it takes a lot to knock my fishnets off.
But Hong Kong’s modern luxury hotel, The Upper House, left me speechless. I can’t stop thinking about the Zen interior design, and attention to “guest experience” that goes far beyond 5-stars.
And boy did we have fun, partying in our mega-suite overlooking the harbor! We hope you smile at our video about the Upper House, and Miffy-madness below.
The seamless service began as soon as Yukiro and I arrived at Hong Kong Airport. A driver welcomed us with a “La Carmina” sign, and drove us straight to the Upper House hotel in a luxury black car. Instead of having to wait in a check-in line, our “Guest Experience Manager” immediately took us up to our upgraded suite on the 41st floor. After he gave us a tour, we fell over on the floor, dazed by the unpretentious yet majestic treatment we had received!
Death rang the doorbell (aka John Skeleton). Outside, Hong Kong is humid, aggressive and stifling. But here, we felt like we were floating in a Zen cloud, far above the madness.
The bathroom is as large as an apartment in Japan (400 sq ft), and stocked with every amenity imaginable. Tweezers? Check. Eye cream? Check. The star of the show is the limestone free-standing bathtub, fronted by a curved, abstract sculpture made of sandstone.
The Upper House is located at Pacific Place in Admiralty — an ideal location, only a few stops from Central and Causeway Bay. The staff knows every guest by name, and greeted us as we entered and exited. Yukiro was easy to remember, with his rockabilly hair and fiery disposition!
An epic view requires an epic pose. My dress is a present from Nanette Lepore: it’s this exact Runaway Stripe design, which is great for traveling since it can be dressed up or down. The crochet top is by Liz Lisa.
The Upper House staff goes out of its way to make guests blissfully happy, and left these thoughtful gifts in our room. During our room orientation, Yukiro mentioned that he wanted to buy Chinese tea. The next day, there was a complimentary tea box in the room, along with a handwritten note!
The Upper House is under the Swire Hotels umbrella, and designed by young architect Andre Fu. He received international accolades for his work here, and deservedly so.
At first glance, the interiors are minimal. However, the longer you stay here, the more you’ll notice subtle elements that convey a warm and peaceful feeling. Such as symmetry, rounded shapes, and natural materials (ceramics, wood, sandstone).
Case in point: the elevator has no “Close” button, to encourage guest to slow down and breathe. Yukiro decided to push “Yes” on Death’s t-shirt instead.
The 6th floor has a secret garden with a grassy lawn. Guests can relax and join yoga classes in this oasis.
We couldn’t keep our 1230 square foot Upper Suite to ourselves. So we invited over a few friends…
Once again, an example of the glorious guest service: the manager heard we were having a get-together, so he sent up a bottle of champagne!
Have you noticed that at my parties, someone always ends up on the floor, getting kicked?
Soon, we had a fabulous mix of fashion bloggers, designers, models, photographers, illustrators, Instagram stars…
Hong Kong doesn’t really have an underground or alternative clubbing scene. The best parties tend to be private get-togethers, like ours.
Everyone enjoyed relaxing on the bespoke furniture. Each room has an iPod touch and stereo set-up, so Death plugged in and DJ-ed.
Erm… things got a bit crazy…
How spooky, the far left face! Our guests ate up everything in the complimentary Maxi Bar: free coconut water, juices, beer, sweets, cookies.
We put the big bathtub to good use. I think we fit about 10 people in there!
The lighting and design make the Upper House an ideal place for Instagramming.
Want to see our Italo Disco dancing and shenanigans? Check out our silly video.
The next day, we discovered Miffy in the comfy bed. She refused to move from the 400 thread count linen.
She worked off her hangover by taking a bath, while gazing at the skyline view.
Oh Miffeh… that’s enough beer for you! And don’t try to leave with that robe!
One of my favorite parts of the Upper House was this dark entry tunnel. As guests ascend, they enter into a serene mindset, leaving behind the bustle and noise of the city.
My Cream Skull top and pink dress with Goth crosses are from Hyoma, Izzue / I.T store.
Andre Fu designed the space to feel like a private residence, hence the absence of a check-in counter and other typical “hotel” elements. Tranquility is the key here…
… communicated thorugh subtle design elements. We didn’t notice this Zen sand arrangement by the escalators until a few days later.
A peaceful pool, to encourage reflection.
I particularly loved the choice of contemporary art. Light and shadow near the restaurant, a “cocoon” in the elevator, all integrated naturally into the design.
I’m still thinking of my breakfast at Cafe Gray Deluxe. Yukiro enjoyed berry pancakes with creme fraiche, while I had truffled eggs on a croissant. Everything is made fresh to order.
I wish I could have spent more time on the 49th floor Sky Lounge, which has a fireplace, snacks, and reading materials. How about this view of Wan Chai and the Peak?
This photo says it all: we didn’t want to leave the Upper House Hotel! The most basic rooms are $700 US a night, but the numerous perks and attentive service make it worth the value. The staff cares about your experience, and doesn’t nickle-and-dime you for extras. For a special occasion, this is a splurge that is truly memorable. At the very least, come for dinner with a view, at Cafe Gray Deluxe restaurant (we reviewed it in this post.)
Thanks to the Upper House for this unforgettable stay. I felt rejuvenated, and renewed my appreciation for my friends and Hong Kong. It does’t get better than that.
PS: Don’t forget to watch our funny video about how we enjoyed our suite!
Ready for a double-dose of cuteness? My spooky friend John Skeleton has a special report for you — about the Hello Kitty cafe (My Melody & Kuromi pop-up) and One Piece exhibition in Hong Kong.
Quick, the “Sanrio Star Chef Institute” only runs until September 14 at Langham Place mall in Mongkok… so I hope you make it there on time.
If you miss it, you can instead visit the permanent Hello Kitty Secret Garden cafe (address: 19 Ormsby Street, Tai Hang near Causeway Bay). The “secret” seems to be arriving early, since this is a small cafe that is specially packed on the weekends. They don’t take advance reservations, and patrons often must line up for hours to get a table.
Back to John, who braved the Sunday crowds to visit the Sanrio pop-up. “If you’re looking for cute character goods in Hong Kong, Mong Kok is the place to go. The cuteness doesn’t just stop with plush dolls and accessories though.”
“Now at Langham Place, the kawaii invasion is in full swing, with a mini Sanrio village in the main atrium and Sanrio Star Dining taking over some of the stylish cafés in the upper floor.” (Address: 555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, HK.)
As you can see from his photos, the mall is filled with your favorite Sanrio characters, past and present. The Twin Stars, popular in the 1980s, have made a comeback (probably because their retro-pastel color scheme fits with the current pastel-goth and fairy kei styling).
You know the 1990s revival is in full swing when you see Bad Badtz Maru, the angsty black penguin. For some reason, I always thought he was a crow.
Kiki and Lala seem to be teaching a molecular cocktail lesson. All the Sanrio mascots appear in a food context, since this is a theme cafe takeover.
As you ascend the elevators, the statues indicate there is cute food on the way. Panda cake rolls, anyone?
Hana Maru, the white seal from the Bad Badtz universe, seems to be directing the crowd into an orderly queue. Hong Kong locals adore Hello Kitty and friends, so this exhibition got an enormous attendance.
It’s interesting to note that the usual star of the show — Miss Hello Kitty — is not the main focus. In fact, Kuromi and My Melody are the major players since they have their own temporary cafe here.
These gates welcome you into the culinary institute of Kitty. Notice that her pink hair bow is topped with a chef’s hat, forming a vaguely phallic symbol.
The kid’s face on the far left says it all. This is fun, fun, fun.
Everyone can pose and take photos with the giant statues of Sanrio characters. The backdrops are designed for 3D interaction, so that you can pretend to ride an ice cream truck with Hello Kitty, or take the cone from her hand. (I went to a similar exhibition in Songshan Park, Taipei — photos coming up soon.)
Every section was packed with people, especially families. John and his friend ate lunch at one of the themed eateries, “a collaboration with ishiyaki+café, known for its Japanese stone pot (ishiyaki) dishes.”
He says, “While the food is normally worth the price, now you can find enjoy your favorite cuisine surrounded by My Melody and Kuromi.”
“My latte, wrap, and scrumptious dessert were graced with the image of the mischievous Kuromi…”
“… while My Melody was featured in the stone pot dish surrounded by fresh salmon sashimi.”
“If you plan to visit, make sure you arrive well in advance, as the wait time was five hours when I stopped by! If you’re willing to brave the queue, ishiyaki-café’s My Melody and Kuromi pop-up café is more than enough to satisfy your craving for food, sweets, and extreme levels of cuteness.”
Langham Place also has a Little Twin Stars Pop-up Café at the moment. How creative are these decorations? I’d be tempted to eat the pastel Twin Stars macaroons, Kuromi berry tart and Pom Pom Purin pannecotta.
Remember that this Sanrio food fiesta closes on September 14 in Hong Kong, so get there stat.
Mr Skeleton went to another quirky Hong Kong exhibition, this time starring your favorite Japanese anime pirates.
“Avast, One Piece lovers, and prepare to be boarded! One Piece Docks in Hong Kong’s Times Square!”
The Straw Hat Pirates seem to have left a souvenir on top of the Causeway Bay clock. Unfortunately, the One Piece ship has sailed, but you should still check out Times Square Mall for its ever-changing free exhibits. (Address: 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay)
My Pirate reports, “First appearing in 1997 in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump, Oda Eichirō’s beloved manga has spawned 74 volumes to date and has also become a hugely successful animated television series.”
“One Piece (ワンピース) is now a global phenomenon, and Hong Kongers are also in love with the story of Monkey D. Luffy and his quest to become the Pirate King.”
“I visited Times Square to relive these favorite moments with Luffy and his crew, and an 11-meter-tall replica of their pirate vessel! If you’re brave enough to face the lines (up to 90 minutes!), you can even board the vessel for a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity.”
“Inside Times Square there is more pirate mayhem to be found, including life-sized statues of One Piece’s most memorable characters, and massive displays of the many figurines available.”
This little boy seems more enraptured with the toys than the gargantuan Battle Frankies, a type of battleship.
“Don’t forget to check out the Marketplace, where you can find a wide range of One Piece goods.”
“And be sure to get your picture with everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic reindeer, Tony Tony Chopper.”
Photography is allowed — unlike in Japan, the attitude towards photo-taking is more relaxed in Hong Kong. Regardless, this statue seem to be crossing her arms to say “forbidden” (or “dah-meh”) in Japanese.
Hong Kong always has funny, kawaii exhibitions — most are free, and open to the public. When you visit HK, make an effort to find out what’s currently on (most take place at PMQ, Langham Place, Times Square, and Tsim Sha Tsui terminal).
We also posed for photos at a Batman display — I’ll put those up soon too.
Thanks to John Skeleton for the photos and guest post on my blog! Stay tuned for the news about where I’ll be next… hint, I’ll be in three very different cities.
Who is your favorite Sanrio character? Do you watch or read One Piece?
Hong Kong is a fusion foodie paradise! It was Yukiro’s first time in the city, so I wanted him to experience the sky-high harbor views, and local spins on sushi.
My Pirates and I were invited to try some of Hong Kong’s newest restaurants, which are raising the bar on an already top-class food scene. We indulged in sexy naked rolls, got high on “magic mushrooms”, and drank wine with Miffy the blow-up bunny… Intrigued? Ready to laugh? Read on, and don’t miss the hilarious final photo.
(My skull dress is by Gladnews; more pics soon.)
We began at the top: or rather, on the 29th floor, at Sushi To (Soundwill Plaza II, 1-29 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay). Celebrated local chef Harlan Goldstein opened this Japanese restaurant earlier this year.
Causeway Bay is one of my favorite shopping districts, and this is the ideal place to stop for lunch — the iconic view says it all. From our window seat, we lorded over Victoria Harbor, silver skyscrapers, and traditional red junk boats.
Harlan has an immense local following, and is a rock star among Hong Kong chefs. He opened several European restaurants in HK throughout the past decades, and this is this first foray into Japanese cuisine. (More about our meeting with him, below.)
Sushi Tō specializes in omakase, and Harlan honored us with a “La Carmina Tasting Menu!” The selection encompasses more than sushi: there are his unique takes on robatayaki, teppanyaki and more, with creative ingredients such as “magic mushrooms maki”.
(I know you’re staring at my Totoro nail art. It’s hand-painted, using bio sculpture gel, by Vancouver-based Glam Nail Studio.)
We were speechless over the starter: a salad with slow-cooked salmon, 68 degrees onsen egg, and sesame soy dressing. Yukiro marvels: “I didn’t expect sushi to taste this good outside Japan. Its probably the finest fish I ever had the pleasure of consuming, and the way they served it was subtle and yet artistic.”
And then: kampachi and salmon sashimi. Simple and ocean-fresh. We’re all still salivating over this photo.
John felt this was the perfect first introduction. “The fresh sashimi melted in our mouths as their simplicity prepared us for the fireworks of flavor in the sushi rolls that came later, including the dragon fire maki.”
We sipped on a number of cocktails; the old fashioned and pineapple-infused one were winners. John adds, “Be sure to try the “sake-tini,” a refreshing summer cocktail to round out an amazing meal.”
My friends show their enthusiasm for the burdock pickle and wasabi konbu beef roll. “The panko crusted Hiroshima oyster with black truffle miso sauce was devilishly good too,” adds John.
The non-sushi selections were just as delectable. This is Hokkaido scallop, crab meat clams, shrimp, rice and soup in a stone hot pot. Dessert was so enticing — white sesame tiramisu — that we ate it before we could take a photo.
Let’s leave the last word to Yukiro. “The way they personalized their menu just for us really showed how much they care about their customers. They should change their name to “Sushi To die for!”
For dinner, we went to the newly opened Mama San in Central. Chef Will Meyrick’s restaurant made waves in Bali, and now has a branch in Hong Kong’s hottest food district, Lan Kwai Fong.
The interior sets the mood: Indonesian tradition meets young nightlife.
The PR team gave us this picture-perfect seat, overlooking the partygoers of Lan Kwai Fong. (Address: 1/F, 46 Wyndham Street, Central). As you can see, I had a special date with me… Miffy!
Mr Skeleton describes Mama San’s menu as “an eclectic mix of items from countries ranging from China and India to Malaysia and Vietnam. Beef tartar and cassava chips helped us whet our palettes before shifting to heavier dishes like the “Dhania ghost” slow-cooked lamb shank.”
Miffy seems to be a fan of the appetizers…
… and the cocktail menu, consisting of classics with a twist. My go-to is the “Dark & Stormy”, and Mama San put a nice spin on it: rum, house ginger beer, orange bitters and lime in a paper bag.
After walking in the humid weather, we were relived to have salmon sashimi with pickled radish, edamame, organic flowers and yuzu dressing.
The southeast Asian spices stirred our senses: coconut, Thai basil, chilis, kaffir lime. Miffy dove head first into the salt-crusted barramundi fish, stuffed with lemongrass pandan and lemon basil, served with nahm jihm (Thai dipping sauce).
John says, “After all of the amazing foods we tried in Hong Kong, I would have to put Naked Gurume Gyarari (グルメ画廊) at the top. Chef Justin Chan took us on a gourmet tour of Japanese tapas-style fusion cuisine.” (28 Elgin Street, 1/F Central District, Hong Kong)
Yukiro jokes, “It was so hot outside that we wanted to go in there completely Naked. At least our stomachs were naked on the inside, but when we went out, they were more than completely dressed in the finest materials from the world of Japanese-inspired food.”
I agree with the praise! Justin and his team blew us away with dishes that look like art, and surprise the senses – yet, let the flavors do the talking. As John puts it, “The name of the establishment refers to stripping down ingredients to their bare essentials, but the creations that pleasantly assaulted our tastebuds were anything but minimalist.”
The scallops with crystalline ice leaves are a great example. I’ve never tried these glistening Okinawan leaves before, and they paired wonderfully with the seafood and sauces.
Many dishes are inspired by Chef Justin Chan’s childhood memories. He houses fried oysters in a traditional dim sum basket. Naked calls itself a “gourmet gallery” that mixes art and food; Yukiro describes the interior as “hip, with subtle inspirations from Japanese art.”
This Sexy Naked Roll left us speechless. John says: “The perfectly grilled “nigirizushi”, or seared tuna on butter-toasted rice, had us begging for more.” You must order this, when you visit.
He kept serving home runs, like a rich and satisfying lobster risotto bisque, and this succulent hamachi collar.
Yukiro says, “Again I was astonished by the taste of the sushi and we had to order some dishes twice even though we were more than filled.” John adds, “For jaded foodies who are looking for flavor combinations you’ve never tried before, Naked might just be an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) experience.”
Now we’re back in the hands of Harlan, this time at Penthouse. (Same location as Sushi To, but one floor higher.) “Entering the bright and spacious restaurant, you would be forgiven for imagining that you had stepped into a hip Manhattan studio, but the ceiling window view of Hong Kong would soon convince you otherwise,” describes John.
Harlan Goldstein opened Penthouse not long ago, and despite being a celeb chef, he’s as hands-on as it gets: we saw him working right in the kitchen, alongside his staff. Harlan took a break to sit with us, and we chatted over bourbon cocktails called “Wall St After 5pm.”
Originally from New York, Harlan’s a strong and passionate personality. He’s been in Hong Kong since the 1970s, and locals can’t get enough of his restaurants. John says, “Harlan described his vision for his restaurant as a cosmopolitan East meets West establishment.” Looking around, Penthouse was packed with “loyal local customers, in love with the no-fuss contemporary cuisine.”
We couldn’t wait to try the rustic dishes that draw upon Italian slow-cooking and handcrafted pastas. The meal begins with salad selections from the buffet. Someone couldn’t resist taking a bite…
On the right: Yukiro died over this heirloom tomato tartare with burrata cheese, and balsamic jelly. On the left: I scraped the bowl clean of black ink bomba rice, with scallops and crisp baby squid.
Penthouse has a Josper oven/grill that heats up to 500 degrees, retaining juice while adding sumptuous flavor. The Spanish Duroc Pork Ribs were tender slow-cooked for hours, and fell right off the bone. John reminds diners “not to forget the hanger steak and the well-stocked, unlimited dessert buffet.”
Yukiro says, “I am hooked on Goldstein’s creative and subtle ways of mixing ingredients. I now want to eat my way through all his other restaurants.”
For the grand finale, we had dinner on the 49th floor of our hotel, the Upper House (we’ll do a huge post about our stay soon). John sets the mood: “From the simple and elegant interior featuring natural tones and Asian touches, to the spectacular view of Victoria Harbor, the ambiance of Cafe Gray Deluxe is perfect for celebrating a special occasion.”
You know the meal is off to a good start… when you photograph the table bread! Baked with sesame seeds and served warm, with a yogurt and olive oil dish… One of the best I’ve ever been served at dinner. Yukiro speaks the truth: “We stuffed our faces with it and had four refills.”
Once again, the staff made us a special menu with a wine pairing for each dish. Cafe Gray’s cuisine is homey yet gourmet, with carefully culled ingredients. We started with lobster carpaccio, prepared with Thai chili watermelon vinagrette, and pickled green papaya. John says, “One memorable pairing was the plancha seared kingfish chimichurri with fennel and peppers, served up with a glass of 2012 Dry Riesling from Lakewood Vineyards in Finger Lakes, New York.”
The staff impressed us with their knowledge of wines, and the wines were so delicious that Yukiro says “they helped us forget all the misery in the world for a little while.” Here’s a bokeh-ful image of the French Chateau Bordeaux, a sturdy red fit for a royal. We finished with Greek yogurt mascarpone cheesecake…
… while taking in this epic sunset view of the harbor and Tsim Sha Tsui. Tip: time your dinner so that you can catch the 8pm “Symphony of Lights” show, when skyscrapers like the ICC glow with moving images. That’s your first taste of our Upper House adventures, with more soon.
The best part of fine food reviewing? Sharing meals with your friends. We always have fun — isn’t that the point? — and hope you’ll try these restaurants for yourselves.
But don’t bring Miffy along… she drinks all the wine! (“Oh Miff-ehhhh!”)
Do you consider yourself an adventurous eater? Are you as fond of Japanese food as we are?
There’s no other way to put it: the next month will be cray-cray. Here’s the huge travel news… I’m off to five countries in two continents, including Africa for the first time!
My filmmakers and I are thrilled to be shooting a travel episode in Cape Town, South Africa. And as the ambassador of a trip-planning startup, Odigo, I’ll be going all over Asia: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul.
Want to know more, and meet me in Japan on June 25? Read on for the exciting details. (Above image by Jesse Winter Heading for our Vanity Magazine cover shoot.)
As you know, my filmmakers and I travel around the world, making shows for my series published in Business Insider. (Previous episodes are on my YouTube.) We’ve shot in the Maldives, Dubai, Budapest, Jordan and more.
This time, we’ve teamed up with Cape Town Tourism. They’re bringing us to South Africa to explore the local design, fashion, nightlife, restaurants…
… and animal safari, my very first one! Can’t wait to hang out with Basil Farrow’s lion cousins, in their natural environment. If you have any requests for Cape Town coverage, please let us know in the comments. (Pic by Meraj Chhaya)
But first, I’ll be in Tokyo, as the ambassador of Odigo! This new site introduces travelers to little-known local hotspots in Tokyo and other cities. In a nutshell, you can plan a Japan trip tailored to your interests (such as Goth culture, otaku, or temples), and Odigo will link everything up in the best possible schedule.
Exciting news: I’ll be speaking at Pecha Kucha Tokyo on the evening of Weds, June 25! I’m making a 7 min presentation (20 slides, for 20 seconds each) about my passion for Tokyo underground travel: how I got started, adventures in TV hosting, and funny stories involving mistresses and whips. It’s an honor and challenge to present at this worldwide speakers’ event. I hope you’ll stop by to watch me, it’s free.
And on Sun, June 22nd, I’ll be partying with the Harajuku kids at Heavy Pop. Join the party for visual fashion, alternative music, cake, and a drag queen performance by Yukiro’s dark persona, Die Schwarze Frau.
Then, I’ll be traveling around Asia with my photographers, capturing local spots and meeting with influencers. We’ll be in Seoul, Korea — I haven’t been here for over 10 years! Can’t wait to experience K-pop madness in the flesh.
And I’m excited to be in Taipei, Taiwan – home to some of the most bizarre theme restaurants, including cafes dedicated to Hello Kitty, Barbie and more. (Above two images via Wikicommons.)
I’ll also be hitting Hong Kong with Yukiro and John Skeleton. There are photoshoots in the works… and a lot of shopping and eating during our down-time!
(Image by Ken Yuen and Jacqueline Kwok, for Dark Beauty Magazine cover and spread).
I’m passionate about my Odigo partnership, and believe in their mission to encourage meaningful travel in Asia. I hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming adventures — to stay in the loop, you can sign up for updates on their site.
La Carmina is at your service! Do you have suggestions for places to visit in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Africa? Any must-see locations or topics to cover? Please leave a comment on my blog or Facebook letting me know, and I’ll do my best to fulfill your wishes.
I’ll do my best to update this blog during this crazy time, but for the most current coverage — including outfits and travel previews — please add my social networks below. Hugs and kisses!