Hong Kong is full of more nooks and crannies that you can shake a stick at. Led usually by our appetites to some great dining experience we want to try, the happy by-product is often the discovery of not only great food but also of some wicked area we had no idea really existed. In this case, copious articles, blogs and reviews has led us to become aware of the existence of a dessert that sounded so awesome, so indulgent and so joy-making that we were powerless NOT to try it. Ironically, the first times we visited the particular restaurant in question, we gorged so much on the savoury courses we didn’t actually make it to the dessert. Oh, the shame. But oh, the excuse for a return visit, hehehe… Let’s introduce you to the street first – Stone Nullah Lane in Wanchai. The area of Wanchai was actually one of the first developed areas in Hong Kong and has a long, colourful history running the gamut from home to some of the first Chinese settlers, to a ‘fringe of society’ hotspot (read: coolies, red light district, pro-communist HQs), to a modern day mix of all of the above along with some shiny and extremely modern redevelopments. Stone Nullah Lane is an unassuming street winding its way up a hill at the back of Wanchai, containing myriad historical landmarks, as well as interesting shops, and some very good eateries. We’re not going to cover them all here but we’ll do a damn good job of some of the highlights on our way down to eat. Starting at the top of the street, there is a beautiful little garden at the intersection with Lung On Street. Just to the side of the garden lies Pak Tai Temple, a Grade 1 historic place meaning that the building has “outstanding merits of which every effort should be made to preserve if possible”. It’s certainly a beautiful spot, tucked inconspicuously just off the street but well worth a nosey. Made from grey-coloured brick and granite, it dates back to 1863, although the statue of Pak Tai (the Supreme Emperor of the North) inside the temple dates back to 1604! It’s the oldest temple in the district and apparently the largest on the island. (Thanks Wikipedia!) Next historic spot on the trek down is the St. James’ Settlement Headquarters. The charitable organisation was established here in 1949 with the goal of helping impoverished children living in squats around the neighbourhood, and now extends its services to needy people across the city. A ceramic workshop run onsite serves as a rehab programme and sells artworks created by members of the Settlement that have disabilities, having received full training in ceramics! The workshop has been around for 14 years and has a variety of classes with many of the pieces being featured in exhibitions. Money made goes back to the artiest and into the company to keep the place truckin along! Something we’ve read about subsequently is a shop connected to the settlement called Green Ladies. Established in 2008, this thrift shop aims to promote a green standpoint by trading secondhand clothing and consequently running its business on recycling. More interesting though, the shop employs middle-aged women who might otherwise struggle to find a position in the workplace due to age discrimination. It sells shoes, bags, jewellery and a range of vintage clothes and we imagine is worth a visit on a Stone Nullah Lane adventure. At this point, it’s probably about time for a break, right? So let us introduce you to a gorgeous little cafe, sitting opposite the settlement – Lokali. Priding itself on organic ingredients and 100% gluten free baking, in all honesty we were just there for a hit of caffiene and some breakfast to keep us going. You’ll also notice the sign beside Lokali, The Chinese Timekeeper – a boutique watch shop with exceptionally crafted pieces that blend modernity and traditional Chinese aesthetics. Each year a special edition timepiece is released which corresponds with the Chinese Zodiac for that year. What is also unique about Chinese Timekeeper is its use of jade and white jade to detail its watches, which is practically unheard of in the world of watchmaking. Could be the gift for the person that has everything, right?! But back to Lokali. The coffee was pretty good (remember, we have HIGH standards so that’s not bad praise from us) and the sandwiches delicious. The marinated beef sandwich snuck in some roasted peppers, mozarella, basil pesto, garlic mayo and rocket, which was toasted into a gooey, flavourful brekky. Yum. The wrap contained marniated tofu, bean sprouts, loads of salad and a creamy, peanuty dressing and was also quite awesome! Tummies happy again, it was onwards and downwards into the colourful buildings that lie side by side on the street. The most colourful of all the houses, however, is the appropriately named ‘Blue House’, a particularly fascinating stop on the street. Another Grade 1 Historic Place, this building was erected in 1922 and has housed a health centre, a kung fu school and a museum over the years. It is also a residential building and while it is currently under revitalisation by the government, the lovely woman inside the museum assured us that it was to remain residential in order to the let the building reflect the true nature of its history, rather than just be turned into a showpiece. This is old school Hong Kong living alive and well. The museum has a small selection of books which can be taken, preferably by bringing in another book to trade. It also houses exhibitions, with the current one being the old hand-drawn movies advertisements from Hong Kong. A rare selection of out of print Kung Fu books is available for reading on-site, reflecting the history of the building. There is a traditional osteopath still resident on the corner of this impressive building. And just so you can see the Blue-ness in its glory… As you get closer to the Queen’s Road end of Stone Nullah Lane, the street is dissected by two historic market areas. The first you come across is the Wan Chai Market which was rebuilt in 1937 with a ‘Streamline Moderne’ architectural style and curved facade. The second market area is the outdoor Cross Street/Tai Yuen Street Open Market. This is typical of markets across Hong Kong and also personifies the markets of the book/movie “The World of Suzie Wong” – which was in fact largely set in the Wanchai district. While you can find anything you could possibly need in this market, the Tai Yuen portion is particularly famous for its toy shops. So that’s lots of historic stuff, right – but what bought us here to this Lane in the first place, you might be struggling to remember? We’ll luckily this week we were able to ‘twist’ the arms of some friends of ours (okay, they might also be hardcore powerless-to-resist regulars) and return to Stone Nullah Tavern with the aim of conquering menu WITH dessert. Stone Nullah Tavern is an American comfort-food styled restaurant, loitering on a corner right by the markets. Don’t be fooled by the rather rustic sounding ‘tavern’ though; this place is slick, with food and service we could rave about continuously. The menu features all the trusty faves you’d expect – mac cheese, chicken fried steak, whole fried chicken…wait! Did we just say ‘whole’ fried chicken?! Why, yes, we did! Having never ordered it previously, we took the excuse of a group of 6 as the ultimate Sign from the Chicken Gods to do so this time round.
It arrived steaming hot, crunchy and delicious, served with the bacon aioli and luscious BBQ sauce. Here’s the scale shot, juxtaposed against Dan’s ravenous head. We had tried the macaroni cheese previously but it’s so darn good a couple of plates were ordered for the table. The staff, being super amazing, had remembered that H-J in her current ‘state’ couldn’t eat raw eggs so made a special separate serving just for her. Which is a good thing, it turns out, because as quick as the egg yolk had been mixed into the other two bowls (it adds the most amazing rich creaminess) it disappeared down the gullets of the remaining 5 diners, never to be photographed in all its eggy glory. Chicken fried steak is another winner on this menu. For those of us not from A-mur-i-ca, it’s neither chicken, nor steak – it’s more a schnitzel type cut of beef, battered ‘fried chicken style’, then smothered with southern gravy. This particular rendition is tender, moist and moreish…but deceptively filling so watch out if you intend to make it to pudding. For your voyeuristic viewing-our-eating pleasure, it will thrill you all to know that we also dined on beef brisket… greens (sorry!), which in this case were kale with lillies and lemon… fried artichoke hearts with aioli and lemon… and maple bacon chips, rounding out our savoury adventures. Most of these dishes were new to us this time around, and all superb, but we do feel there are a few dishes we’ve tried in the past that you need to know about, and order, should you be so lucky. First up, the baked beans – smokey, hearty and comforting, they provide the ultimate accompaniment. Second, the tater tots – fried, golden nuggets of potatoey goodness served with lardo aioli and sriracha ketchup…mmm. Last, but certainly not least, what we have dubbed the Best Nachos We Have Ever Eaten – pigs head nachos. Rich, meaty, crunchy in all the right places, these nachos will potentially have us snubbing lesser attempts for a lifetime.
Now, in spite of what may seem like a lot of savoury goodness, we had all been somewhat restrained in our portions with the end game firmly kept in our sights. Dessert. The menu arrived and in the spirit of the evening we decided to order four of the five desserts on offer. Thankfully, the host knew better than us and just bought us one of each – which turned out to be an amazing decision because the poor ignored fig tart (that H-J had wanted to order anyway) happened to be one of the top two desserts. There was also the Snickers Ice Cream Sundae. The Fried Apple Pie with cinnamon and dulche de leche ice cream – which, by the way, looked much prettier when it was first served but the vultures got to it. The Ovaltine ice-cream with bananas, caramel and peanut butter fudge. And then…there was…The Fat Kid Cake. The dessert that started this obsession with Stone Nullah Tavern but that had as yet eluded us, this innocent looking slice of cake is written about in more places that you can imagine. Layers of red velvet cake, cheesecake, creme brulee, chocolate mousse and toffee, all topped off with chocolate popping candy, it comes complete with a candle because “when you order Fat Kid Cake, everyday is your birthday”. Truer words could not be spoken. FINALLY, we had done what we had set out to do. And discovered a big chunk of Hong Kong history on the way!