An older but typical high rise building in Hong Kong
One of the biggest challenges for restaurants and cafés is worrying
foodies diners will fret about their waistlines more than the quality of the food. However, in Hong Kong – arguably the food capital of the world – they seem to have hit on a balance: Cafés located on the upper floors of short rise buildings (some of which do not have lifts). Diners will have to burn calories if they hope to suck on some treats.
I first learnt of these cafés from a Wall Street Journal blog posted in 2011, which means they have been around for at least two years. Given an opportunity to visit Hong Kong last week, I decided to sniff some of these cafes out and see just why they’re so popular. Unfortunately, time was short and there was only so many stairs I could climb before the bung knee came loose:
Cat Store Cafe
I spotted this cafe from across Muji located on the third floor of a department store in Causeway Bay (sorry, I forgot the name of the mall) and was piqued by the cute cartoon on the window.
Cat Store cafe on the fourth floor
Locating the entrance to the cafe itself was a puzzle, almost like the owners want you to gain a sense of achievement when you finally trudge up the flights of stairs to get to it. I had to circle around the entire building – even walk up a couple of flights of stairs at various possible entrances – before finally running into a private access door together with some very shocked residents. As the security guard packed the residents into a very cramped lift car that did not look out of place in a horror movie, I slunk past to a stairwell that looked like it came out of a CSI tv show.
Once you get past your initial fear of a hooded killer in the shadows, walk up to the fourth floor (or stop on any of the first few to explore the hidden cubicles of shops stocking fashion from Korea, Japan and whatever island spews cutesy dresses) and you will find this members-only cafe.
Since I’d just had lunch, I ordered a cup of coffee and watched the cats at play. The food selection seemed no different from the hundreds of char chan tengs I’ve seen or eaten in Singapore and did nothing to tempt my palates. Even the desserts in the chiller did not look appetising enough to make me want to push the limits of my stomach.
From what I’ve observed, diners seem more interested in playing with the kitties than the food available. A girl, obviously on a date, was more interested in playing with the cats than talking to her date. At every available chance, she’d pick up one of the many cat toys dangling from the corners of the cafe to play with the feline mascots. Her date, who did not seem particularly fond of cats, smiled politely and pointed out the odd cat kerfuffle or catrobatics. Meanwhile a little girl refused to leave the cafe because a cat finally walked up to her to be petted.
Cats are also welcome to join their owners for a spot o’ tea
Cat Store cafe is a members-only cafe but membership can be signed up on the spot for free. It is located at 3D, Po Ming Building, Foo Ming Street, Causeway Bay. Recommended for cat lovers but not quite for foodies.
Also located in Causeway Bay (the branch store was located on the first floor – different from the ground floor – of Po Ming Building where Cat Store cafe is located) is Small Potato cafe. This came recommended by friends I was visiting in Hong Kong, and was thought to be the place to go to chill. In fact the tagline for the cafe is that it is your second home.
Unfortunately, they were closed for inspection on the day I’d visited so I didn’t get to try any of the food or drinks but I got a glimpse of the cafe when I poked my head in. As described in its website, the cafe is a chill out venue for people to gather and play games or even read comics. You can chat, chill, play over some desserts, finger food or coffee.
Small Potato (main branch) is located on the fourth floor of 4 Sun Wui Road, Causeway Bay.
Full Cup Cafe
Another cafe that seems determined to not be found is the Goth-themed Full Cup Cafe. If, for you, the mantra “getting there is half the fun” doesn’t apply, this cafe is definitely not for you. Unless you really want to explore the off-street cafes in Hong Kong or want to have the achievement of saying you found this place, there are plenty of interesting, quirky cafes for you to rest your feet/have a snack/tea that are much easier to find.
That said, if you do make the trek, Full Cup is kitschy, quirky at its best.
A surreal mural found on the eerie stairwells leading to one of three floors of the cafe
The cafe is a mix of goth-death metal (think death note or Detroit Metal City) decor with eerie dolls and, on the floor I was at, there was a giant teddy bear dressed with a feather boa. The cafe spans three floors and from what I could gather, the first floor has an al fresco dining area and is the most popular. I was thus advised to go to the second floor, which was in want of service (I had to wait for quite a while to be served), and a kitschy decor. The third floor seemed more exclusive as wait staff stared in surprise when I poked my head in. I felt immediately unwelcomed and beat a hasty retreat.
I didn’t get to try the limited range of pastas, mains and finger food (I was saving myself for the famous claypot rice at Hing Kee) but the coconut coffee was a heavenly treat after trudging for nearly an hour, constantly checking Google Maps and Apple Maps to find this place.
Full Cup Cafe is found in this building, which also houses a KTV on the second floor
Found on what looked like a building earmarked for demolition, you can find where Full Cup Cafe is by asking the cute guide loitering at the entrance. There is also a KTV located on the second floor and a few other cafes, so Full Cup is definitely not the only player looking to be lost in the food paradise of Hong Kong.
Full Cup Cafe is located on floors four through six at 36 Dundas Street, Mongkok.
I had only two days to explore the food paradise that is Hong Kong, including street-level food stalls such as (1) Burgeroom; (2) Via Tokyo; (3) this pork restaurant (Chui Zhu Dian 炊猪店, which has damn awesome fried pork cutlet, two doors from Via Tokyo), famous local delicacies (Hing Kee, snake broth, Asutralian Dairy Co., etc) so I was not able to hit too many off-street cafes. But this Spanish/Latin restaurant (4) at Mong Kok sure looked inviting.
(1) Mini Classic Burger at Burgeroom (the only mini thing about this burger is its patty)
(2) Japanese dessert cafe, Via Tokyo
(2) Via Tokyo: Pork Katsu sandwiches are just katsu pork on a bed of cabbage sandwiched between two fluffy white bread
(3) Chui Zhu Dian
(3) Try the fried pork cutlet with curry. It was simply amazing
(4) Spanish restaurant at Mong Kok
Then again, Hong Kongers are used to finding quirky, exotic finds off the main street so perhaps off-street eateries aren’t as unusual to us, Singaporeans. Or perhaps, Hong Kong restaurateurs are just great believers that if you build it, they will come.
I love Rabbit: An rabbit-exclusive pet store found on the second floor of an obscure building in Hong Kong
Will you seek out an off-the-beaten-path cafe or plonk yourself down on the first available seat at Starbucks after a shopping spree/day out with friends? For me, I’d like a food adventure that is both within and without my mouth.