Spice walk & tour of the Windermere Estate, Munnar


tea plantation munnar

tea plantation munnar

tea plantation munnar

Tea planations in Munnar


If you love nature, you would definitely love Munnar. Aside from tea plantations, I recommend doing a spice walk to learn about local spices and plants. After an inspiring guided walk at a spice garden before the conference, I was keen to do another one. At the Blackberry nature resort, the manager organised a guided spice walk for me in the morning to explore the surrounding area.

Unlike the previous walk, which took place within a spice garden, this walk focused on wild plants and spices. On this walk, I saw coffee plants and raw coffee beans for the first time, and tasted tree tomato (Tamarillo) picked from a tree. Often we forget that tomatoes are actually fruits, partly because they don’t taste as sweet as other fruits. Yet the tamarillo I tasted was quite sweet and juicy, hence I tasted more like fruit than vegetable.


spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar 

spice walk munnar

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar

tea   coffee bean

spice walk munnar

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar 

spice walk munnar  spice walk


Besides wild spices and plants, Munnar is also popular for bird-watching. There are many bird-watching and photography tours that attract bird lovers from around the world. There are about 142 species of birds are reported from Shola-Grassland and 162 species from Chinnar-Marayur plateau. I don’t know much about birds, but I do love hearing them chirp and sing every morning from my room at the resort.


bird watching munnar

munnar birdwatchers  spice walk munnar

flowers munnar  flower munnar

flowers munnar  flowers munnar

flowers munnar


After learning that the nearby Windemere Estate is set up in a 60-acre of tea, coffee and cardonmon plantation, I went and asked them if I could join their daily two-hour tour of the plantation. Even though the tour is for guests only, they kindly let me to join without charge.

Inspired by the Scottish Highlands and old plantation houses, the Windemere retreat is a boutique retreat with only 18 rooms. I particularly liked the cottage-style accommodations and garden full of colourful flowers.


windermere estate munnar


windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar  windermere estate munnar 

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar  windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar  windermere estate munnar
In the middle of the estate, there is a semi-open Chai Kada (tea shop) where guests can relax and enjoy chai or coffee. I was kindly offered some coffee brewed from the beans grown at the estate before the tour – the first Keralan coffee of my trip.


windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar

windermere estate munnar


Sadly the coffee harvest season had ended and there were barely any coffee fruits to see. However, the guided tour around the estate was really interesting and I felt like I have gain a lot of new knowledge in just two days.

My extended stay in Munnar finally came to an end, and it was time for me to move on and head down to the sea. Munnar is truly a paradise for nature lovers, so I would love to return here again one day.


spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar 

spice walk munnar  spice walk munnar




The Mills (Part 2): Art, design & retail

the mill tseun wan


One of The Mill’s main attractions is CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) – a space dedicated to the past, current, and future of Hong Kong and Asia’s textile industry.

Welcome to the Spinning Factory! is the inaugural exhibition designed by Turner Prize winning U.K. architect collective Assemble and UK/HK design firm HATO. Set within the former cotton spinning mills of Nan Fung Textiles in Tsuen Wan, the exhibition tells the story of the cotton industry and the role it played in shaping Hong Kong’s past, present and future. The interactive exhibition features old machinery, vintage cotton products and archival documents and objects. Visitors can also experience the manual cotton-spinning process using traditional spinning instruments, and design and create cotton labels at the workshop stations.


the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

The mill

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

‘Welcome to the Spinning Factory!’ exhibition at the The D. H. Chen Foundation Gallery


An interesting piece of artwork caught my eye outside of the gallery and it was a long piece of knitted textile on a table titied Fabric of CHAT. It was the work by Hong Kong-based artist/designer Movana Chen. Movana is known for her KNITerature, which combines stories by knitting books from people she encounters during her travels. When she first visited the construction site of The Mills, she discovered stacks of old discarded documents, so she shredded and knitted them into a new art form that contains the history and memories of the factory.


Fabric of Chat

  Fabric of ChatFabric of Chat

Fabric of CHAT by Movana Chen


CHAT’s inaugural exhibition, Unfolding : Fabric of Our Life, curated by Takahashi Mizuki showcases the works and performances by 17 contemporary Asian artists and collectives who use textile as a testimony to articulate forgotten histories and repressed lives through textile production. The thought-provoking exhibition reveals the region’s colonial capitalist exploitation through the use of fabrics and garments. One work that I found quite powerful is called ‘Day Off Mo?by Filipino artist Alma Quinto, who invited Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic workers to speak out about their experiences through a video and their DIY craft book.


Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh’s ‘Time measures’, 2016


Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan’s ‘Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods’, 1999 – 2018


Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr’s Fast fashion, 2015/19


Reza Afisina, Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention, 2018–19

Reza Afisina’s ‘Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention’, 2018–19


Alma Quinto's 'Day Off Mo?', 2018–19

Alma Quinto, Day Off Mo?, 2018–19

Alma Quinto’s ‘Day Off Mo?’, 2018–19


the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan


I was also intrigued by Vietnamese artist Vo Tran Chau‘s ‘Leaf picking in the ancient forest’, 2018-2019. The name of the artwork is inspired by the title of a monk’s manuscript. Buddha, taking a few leaves in his hand, said to the monks: “All that I have seen and encountered are numerous, just like leaves among the grove, yet my teachings which I have revealed to you are but little, just like this handful of leaves in my palm…”.

The artist collected abandoned clothing from second-hand clothing stores to create her abstract mosaic chamber. Each quilted mosaic references historical photographs of Vietnamese textile factories and reflects the distinct cultural and political climates of North, Central and South Vietnam at different periods of time. The quilts reflect only blurred images as if a metaphor for the fate of the textile factories. Inside the chamber, one sees another side/story in these historical images.


Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau’s Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019


One encouraging aspect of The Mills is that the retail outlets here differ vastly from other shopping malls in Hong Kong. Instead of international chained companies, the shops here are mostly independent and with a strong focus on sustainability.

I was glad to see that Book B (which we have worked with previously) has found a new home here. The space is inviting and it also has a nice cafe inside. I think this is one of the best independent book shops in Hong Kong, and I hope it will continue to thrive.


KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters


book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

Book B


Another surprise was to see a garment upcycling shop called Alt:, which is a partnership between HKRITA (The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) and Novetex (a leading textile firm), together with funding from HKSAR government, H&M foundation and The Mills.

A garment-to-Garment (G2G) Recycle System is placed in the shop for the public to learn how old clothes can be upcycled and made into a new ready-made garment in 4 hours, with the aid of the innovation of upcycling technology. The on-site mill can upcycle up to 3 tons of textile waste per day, which hopfully will help to tackle the city’s fashion waste issue.





Alt: – the upcycling garment shop that can turn your unwanted clothing into something new


 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

the mill


Overall, I enjoyed my visit to The Mills; I think it offer an alternative retail experience (which is much needed in Hong Kong), and the new textile centre is an exciting cultural space that showcases Hong Kong’s textile heritage while looking forward to the future.



Eat, drink & shop in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai

Kala Ghoda

Kala Ghoda


Since I stayed not for from the Kala Ghoda district in Fort, I spent much of my time exploring this area, where many cool shops and interesting eateries are located.

One of the coolest shops in the area is Kultre Shop with a focus on contemporary Indian graphic design. The shop serves as a platform for leading and upcoming artists, graphic designers and illustrators from India and around the world; enabling their work to be more accessible through the sales of affordable prints, stationery, homeware, t-shirts and books. When you walk into the shop, you are likely to be attracted by the colourful, modern and graphical prints on the walls and items on the shelves. The shop has two branches in Mumbai, and also sells online via their website (they ship worldwide).

Address: 9 Examiner Press, 115 Nagindas Master Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


kulture shop mumbai  kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai  kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai  kulture shop mumbai

Kulture Shop in Kala Ghoda


Not far from Kulture Shop is Filter, another curated design shop that sells a range of products from stationery to prints, t-shirts, books and homeware etc.

Address: 43, VB Gandhi Marg, behind Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


filter mumbai

filter mumbai



For more traditional and handcrafted items, the Artisans’ Art Gallery and Shop is the best place to go to. The shop and gallery was founded in 2011 by Radhi Parekh, a designer and art promoter who comes from a family that has a long-standing association with local textiles.

The shop sells a range of high-quality handmade textile items and jewellery. Although the prices are not cheap, the quality is much better than what you would find at the markets.

At the time of my visit, there was an Urushi Japanese lacquerware exhibition by Japanese artist Yukiko Yagi and Meguri Ichida showing at the gallery, which was a pleasant surprise.

Address: 52-56 V B Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


Kala Ghoda

artisans gallery mumbai

artisans gallery, mumbai

artisans gallery mumbai  artisans gallery, mumbai

artisans gallery, mumbai

artisans gallery mumbai


artisans gallery mumbai

Urushi Japanese lacquerware exhibition and Indian textiles at the Artisans’ art galley and shop


Nicobar is the younger and more affordable sub-brand of the city’s iconic sustainable apparel and homeware brand Good Earth (see below). Their minimal and organic clothing is comfortable, versatile, contemporary, and particularly suitable for travelling.

The shop is divided into the cloithing section and home section. The home section sells a range of home furnishings, homeware and ceramics that would not look out of place in most modern homes.

Address: #IO Ropewalk Lane, above Kala Ghoda Cafe








Obataimu is a cool conceptual clothing and design shop that is inspired by Japan and India. Influenced by both cultures, the founder Noorie Sadarangani likes to experiment and treats her retail business like an art project. When you step into the shop, you would notice that wood is the predominate material here, and at the back, there is a glass partition that enable visitors to see the workshop where the tailors/ artisans work (all dressed in white). All the clothing on display is not for sale, instead every piece is made to order to reduce wastage. The clothes here focus on innovative materials, traditional craftsmanship and sustainability, so what more can you ask for?

Address: B. Bharucha Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.



The shop front of Obataimu


Before my trip to India, I was unaware of the contemporary apparel scene in India, therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see some wonderful shops in Mumbai that sell handmade, sustainable, classic and affordable clothing and accessories. One of them is Cord Studio. The focus here is craftsmanship and nostalgia; you can find well-made leather bags and accessories, and clothing that is practical and contemporary.

Address: 21 Ropewalk street, Kala Ghoda, Fort. (Opp. Nicobar and Kala Ghoda cafe)


Cord studio

Cord studio

Cord studio


Even though I am not a tea person, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to lovely San-cha tea boutique. The two girls/staff were very friendly and knowledgable and made me two different cups of tea to try. The brand was founded by tea master, Sanjay Kapur in 1981, and they sell over 75 varieties of tea from green to white, black, oolong, and blended ones like masala chai. I bought some masala chai for myself and several friends, and I like it very much. Although I have not been converted to a regular tea drinker, it is nice to enjoy something different occasionally .


San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique


Kala Ghoda art Rampart Gallery

Kala Ghoda art Rampart Gallery

Art on the street: Rampart Gallery


Yazdani bakery and cafe

Yazdani bakery and cafe is well-known for its brun maska



Ice cream at Bombay Street Treat


I don’t usually visit a cafe/restaurant twice on a single trip, but I did return to Kala Ghoda Cafe a few days after my first visit. This relaxing venue is a cafe, bakery, wine bar and gallery. The cosy cafe part is housed inside an early 20th century barn with plenty of skylight coming through from the roof. I had a simple lunch here one afternoon, and I really liked the laidback vibe and atmosphere.

I came back to try the wine bar at the back one night because I didn’t want proper dinner. I ordered a fish tikka and a green salad (although I was told not to eat anything raw in India, I took the risk here, and I was totally fine afterwards), and I reckon the fish tikka here was the best I have EVER tasted! I even tried the local Indian rose, which was surprisingly refreshing and very drinkable. I really recommend a visit to this cafe and wine bar if you are in the neighbourhood.

Address: Bharthania Building, A Block, 10, Ropewalk Lane, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


Kala Ghoda Cafe  Kala Ghoda Cafe

Kala Ghoda Cafe

Kala Ghoda Cafe

Kala Ghoda Cafe


I decided to try the popular vegetarian Burmese restaurant Burma Burma after reading many positive reviews online. I visited Burma two years ago, but I have not had the cuisine since.

The interior of the restaurant is sleek and modern, with a bar that serves very interesting mocktails. I had a set menu that included several classic dishes which were all very tasty, and together with the mocktail, the bill came to less than £10 – I (as a Londoner) would consider that a bargain.

Address: Kothari House, Allana Centre Lane Opposite Mumbai University Fort, Kala Ghoda


burma burma

burma burma

Burma Burma


Arguably Mumbai’s most famous seafood restaurant, Trishna’s restaurant front looks quite intimidating with a seated guard by the door. I decided to brave it and walk in with one aim: to eat their famous crabs!

To my surprise, the decor inside is simple and unassuming. The waiter was eager to get me to try their famous butter garlic crab and so I did. It did not disappoint – the crab was rich and delicious (and I probably gained 2 lbs after eating it). The meal was the most expensive one I had in Mumbai, but it was worth it as that was the only Indian crab I got to try throughout my month-long trip!

Address: 7, Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


Trishna mumbai

Butter garlic crab at Trishna


Not far from Kala Ghoda, there is a charming and nostalgic restaurant that stands out for its ambience and history, and it is a MUST if you want to experience ‘old Bombay’.

Britannia & Co. is a third generation Irani restaurant and one of the last remaining Parsi cafes in south Mumbai. The popular Dishoom chain in London was modelled after these once magnificent cafes.

Opened in 1923, Britannia’s Zoroastrian/Iranian proprietor, Boman Kohinoor, is now 96 years old, and yet he still visits the cafe regularly. It was lovely to see him greeting his regular customers and being photographed by them. The cafe was originally set up by his father, and he has been working here since he was 16. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the painting of Queen Elizabeth II next to a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, both hanging beneath a gilt-framed picture of Zarathustra, the Zoroastrian prophet worshipped by the Parsis.






The most iconic dish is the Berry Pulav, a recipe that the owner’s late wife brought back with her from Iran. The barberries used in the pulav that give it its distinct flavour are imported from Iran. I ordered a paneer berry pulav, and when the plate arrived, the paneer was nowhere to be seen. Then as I started to mix the rice, I realised that the paneer and sauce was at the bottom of the plate – it would have been embarassing if I had called the waiter over to ask him about the paneer! I have never tried this dish before, and I found it very tasty and comforting; I guess it is probably regarded as a Parsi comfort food.

It is sad to see that only a few of these Parsi cafes are left in the city, and I sincerely hope that this cafe will still be around when I visit Mumbai again. There may be numerous modern and fancy restaurants in the city, but none can match the personal, historic and nostalgic cafe like this.

Address: Britannia and Co., Wakefield House, 11, Sprott Rd, Ballard Estate, Fort. (this restaurant only opens for lunch except Sats and closes on Suns)




Britannia and Co.


Elsewhere in Cobala, I visited Good Earth, a luxurious apparel and home furnishing shop founded by Anita Lal 24 years ago. The brand bridged the gap between craft and luxury, emphasising on craftsmanship and sustainability. The apparel and craft items here are more old school, traditional and pricey, which differs considerably from its sub-brand Nicobar.

Address: 2 Reay House, Apollo Bandar, Colaba


good earth

Good Earth


Not far from Good Earth, I stumbled upon Clove The Store, which is a new luxury fashion and homeware brand. Its founder is Samyukta Nair, who resides in both Mumbai and London, also runs a sleepwear brand called Dandelion, and the Jamavar Women’s Club in London. The clothing and home furnishings on sale here are unique, well-made, and contemporary. The female staff was also very friendly and helpful, which made me feel very welcoming.

Address: 2, Churchill Chambers, Allana Road, Colaba.


Clove The Store

Clove The Store


I returned to Mumbai for one night before leaving India, and I chose to stay in Khar West, which was closer to the airport. It is a relaxing residential neighbourhood, and apparently home to many Bollywood celebrities and business industrialists. Tucked away in the Chuim Village is a small DIY paper craft shop called Sky Goodies. I had to ring the door bell to be let in, but once inside, you would be surrounded by many colourful and delightful paper objects. Founded by two designers Misha and Amit Gudibanda, they drew inspiration from paper and hand-painted art, and started to create DIY paper kits. There are various themes to choose from, and you can make stationery, home decorations, calendars and paper animals etc. I think their designs are unique, fun, and affordable, so I bought a few as souvenir to give to friends, and they were all very impressed (and surprised) when they received the kits. You can also order online via their website or from their shop on Etsy.

Address: Ground Floor, Bungalow no 29, Chuim Village Rd, Khar West


sky goodies  sky goodies

sky goodies

sky goodies

Sky goodies shop


After visiting Sky goodies, I came across KCRoasters (Koinonia Coffee Roasters), which specialises in artisanal Indian coffee. The cafe is compact but stylish, with a laidback vibe, which kinda makes you forget that you are in Mumbai. I had a cold brew (as it was a very hot day), which was balanced and strong as I like it.

Address: 6, Chuim Village Rd, Khar, Chuim Village


KC Roasters

KC Roasters

KC Roasters


On the last day of my trip, I got to catch with my busy local actress friend (who never seems to get a day off work). She asked me what I wanted to have for lunch, and I told her that I was craving for salads (after having Indian food daily for 3 weeks)! She suggested the Bombay Salad Co. in Bandra, and it was exactly what my body needed. I broke the raw food rule again, but luckily, I was perfectly fine afterwards. There are many salads, juices and sandwiches to choose from, and everything we had was fresh and tasty. Looking around, I noticed that the cafe was full of health-conscious looking ladies, so I guess this is a popular spot for ladies who lunch.

Address: Shop No, 1, 16th Rd, near Mini Punjab Hotel, Bandra West.


Bombay Salad Co.

Bombay Salad Co.

Bombay Salad Co.




Tomigaya: All you need is a dog in Tokyo!


Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Dogs in strollers


When you think of dog-loving cities, most likely you are going to think of Paris, but on the other side of the world, Tokyo is now the ‘Paris of the East’ (in terms of their obessions with their pets or dogs).

Tomigaya is an area in Shibuya, located on the southwest of Yoyogi park, that has become a ‘hip’ place for locals and foreigners alike. Perhaps it is due to its low-key neighbourhood feel, and its interesting mix of independent shops and eateries, but it certainly feels less commerical and touristy than Harajuku, which is on the southeast side of the park. And you know the area must be cool when there is a Monocle shop here!

Walking around the area on a Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that dogs have literally become the new LV bags in Tokyo (there was a time when the LV monogram bag was carried by 90% of the women here)! Some of them were even being pushed around in strollers like babies, which I thought was quite bizarre to say the least.


Tomigaya cheese stand  Tomigaya dogs

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog


According to Nikkei, the market for pet products and services is growing robustly in Japan even as the number of pets falls. Over the eight years through March 2016, the market for pet products and services in Japan grew nearly 10% to 1.47 trillion yen ($13.2 billion), according to Yano Research Institute in Tokyo.

In a country where the population is aging rapidly, and birth rate falling to a record low, perhaps it is not surprising to see people here turning their focus onto pets or animals. After all, dog is man’s best friend, and you can affirm this belief in Tokyo.





dorian gray Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


monocle tokyo

Tomigaya Norwegian Icons  Tomigaya Norwegian Icons

The eclectic mix of independent shops here include Monocle and Norwegian Icons (bottom row)


Aside from dog-spotting and the Monocle shop, you can find a variety of shops here including Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (which I have written about previously) and Norwegian Icons that is dedicated to mid-century (1940 to 1975) Norwegian designs and furniture. I often think that Scandinavian and Japanese furniture designs share a great deal in common, hence I believe that Norwegian designs would not look out of place in a Tokyo home.


camelback tokyo

camelback coffee  camelback sandwich

fuglen tokyo

shibuya cheese stand



This area is also full of cool cafes and eateries, and Camelback sandwich & expresso is probably the most popular takeout counter here. There are only a few benches outside, and usually there is a long queue here (mostly foreigners), so be prepared to wait for some artisanal sandwich and coffee. Hayato Naruse is a trained sushi chef, and his signature sushi-style tamagoyaki omelet sandwichi is the bestseller here. Was it worth the 20-minute wait? Yes, it was delicious and so was the coffee.

If you prefer to sit down while you eat and drink, you can visit the nearby Fuglen, a coffee shop and bar with vintage decor that is originally from Oslo, and now a huge hit in Tokyo.

Shibuya Cheese Stand is another popular eatery here where you can taste freshly made cheese like mozzarella and ricotta made in Hokkaido, the northmost island famous for its diary produce.


so books  so books

So books


The best thing about Tokyo is that often you would stumble upon some unique/wonderful shops while rambling in different neighbourhoods. And this was how I came across So books, located on a quiet street not far from Yoyogi Hachiman station. It is a small bookshop that specialises in rare photography books (new and secondhand), with also some art, design and craft books. The friendly owner Ikuo Ogasawara speaks very good English, and he was surprised to learn that I had simply stumbled upon the shop. I bought a few books that were easy to carry – I would have bought more if I didn’t have to travel further on. Luckily, the owner told me that they have an online shop and ship internationally (not many Japanese shops like to ship overseas), so it is great news for photgraphy book fans out there.


hinine note  hinine note

hinine note

hinine note

Hinine note


Hinine note was the shop that I was seeking in the area after reading about it before my trip. It took a bit of effort to find it (with the help of google map), but it paid off. This is a stationery shop where you can customise and create your own notebooks. You can choose the size you want, the paper style, cover designs and binding methods. There is a wide selection of designs/colours to choose from, and everything is made on the spot. Not only you can enjoy using your one-of-a-kind notebook, it would help to reduce waste too. Love it.






I think this is an interesting neighbourhood that is not just full of trendy and established shops (which I tend to avoid), and I definitely would want to return and explore further.


The London Coffee Festival 2016

London coffee festival 2016  London coffee festival 2016

The London coffee festival 2016


I have never been to The London Coffee festival at the Old Truman Brewery before, but I was curious to see what was on offer this year. As a coffee enthusiast, I can’t seem to resist coffee-related activities, and one of my favourite is coffee cupping.

Since I wanted to avoid crowds in the weekend, I intentionally visited the festival on one of the trade days, which to my surprise, turned out to be extremely packed too (don’t people need to go to work?).


London coffee festival 2016  London coffee festival 2016

London coffee festival 2016

The London coffee festival 2016  London coffee festival 2016


At the festival, I was genuinely stunned by the number of coffee-related brands available in the market today. Judging from the event, the coffee craze is definitely here to stay. According to a report from The International Business Times, the UK coffee market is worth more than £1bn, whilst the tea market has been shrinking over the last few years.

Aside from famous international brands like DeLonghi, Illy, Lavazza, Baileys and UCC (from Japan) etc, there were also many new independent start-ups at the festival, which was encouraging.


London coffee festival 2016  London coffee festival 2016  London coffee festival 2016

coffee chart  London coffee festival 2016

Union coffee‘s stand


Many of the well-known London-based coffee roasteries took part at the event, including Caravan, Ozone, Clifton Coffee, Climpson & Sons, Workshop and Union. I was particularly impressed by Union’s stand, not only because they had a tasting area, but they also had coffee cupping sessions with detailed explanations of the origins of their beans and farms.  


The London coffee festival 2016  The London coffee festival 2016

London coffee festival 2016  karma cola

Top row: Teaforia’s matcha, Bottom left: leaves for chai at Prana Chai; Bottom right: Karma Cola


Coffee aside, there were also many tea, food and other beverage companies at the festival. After tasting various coffee – and was feeling slightly lightheaded – I decided to go for beverage with lower caffeine levels. I tried Karma Cola, a fairtrade and organic beverage company that produces fizzy drinks. The graphics of this company is cool, and even though I am not a fizzy drinks fan, I liked the taste of their drinks, especially Gingerella.

Another interesting brand is the new green tea company called Teaforia. I would rarely buy green tea or matcha from non-Japanese beverage companies, but I was impressed by the tea I tasted at their stand, hence I bought some to try at home.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to the festival, and it was fascinating to see how much this predominantly tea-drinking nation has changed over the years. I think the Brits will always have a soft-spot for tea, but at least they are taking their coffee more seriously now, and that can’t be a bad sign.

Tokyo’s coffee culture

Trend is an intriguing topic. Why is it that some trends remain local (within a town/city/country) while others spread and become global? There are of course numerous factors behind the spread of a particular trend, but the one that excites me most in recent years is the booming coffee or cafe culture, or the so-called “Third wave coffee” movement.

Forget about Starbucks and the traditional European style cafes, this trend is more about independent artisanal coffee shops, where many would also roast the coffee beans on site. Usually a few single origin and blended options are available, and then they are drip brewed by hand or by Aeropress.


Tokyo coffee

Japanese magazine on Tokyo’s cafe culture


Unlike its neighbour South Korea (where coffee is ubiquitous), Japan has predominantly been a tea-drinking country. Although Tokyo has never been short of specialist coffee shops, this trend did not take off until recent years.

Interestingly, I was informed by my Japanese friend that since 7-Eleven started installing freshly grounded automatic coffee dispensers at its convenience stores across Japan, it has sold almost half a billion cups of coffee. And according to the All Japan Coffee Association, coffee has now replaced green tea as the biggest-selling hot drink in Japan.

One of the ‘hippest’ coffee shops of the moment is Blue Bottle Coffee from California. Their new 7,000-square-foot roastery in Kiyosumi took the city by storm when it opened in February. People queued for up to four hours outside of the new shop to taste a cup of coffee!

Due to time constraint, I didn’t travel specifically to these hip artisanal coffee shops, but I did manage to discover some delightful ones either by chance or through local guides/ magazines.


About Life coffee brewers About Life coffee brewers

About Life coffee brewers, Shibuya


About Life coffee brewers (1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku) – I love this small corner coffee shop in Shibuya, which is easy to miss in this busy area. There are bikes hanging on the wall outside next a narrow bench. It is not a place to linger, but if all you want is an excellent cup of carefully brewed coffee, then this is the place to stop by as there is nothing nearby that matches the quality of this shop.


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Gorilla coffee in Shibuya


Gorilla coffee (1-20-17, Jinnan, Shibuya-ku) – Another new US import is Brooklyn’s Gorilla Coffee opened in Shibuya at the beginning of the year. I went there on a rainy morning, and although I found the americano a little weak for my liking, I liked the shop’s interior and spaciousness. Aside from coffee and bakery, the shop also sells its own branded goods, coffee and all essential coffee brewing equipments.


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Top, 2nd right and bottom rows: Riverside cafe Cielo y Rio; 2nd row left: Gallery Ef


Located inside the Mirror Arts building next to the river in Kuramae, Riverside cafe Cielo y Rio (2 Chome 15-5 Kuramae)occupies two floors (1F & 3F) and offers a wonderful view of the Sumida River and Tokyo Skytree tower. The cafe/restaurant offers Western style dishes and drinks in a casual setting, with fairly reasonable prices. Nearby in Asakusa (away from the touristy bit), there is an interesting cafe/art gallery space called Gallery Ef (2-19-18 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku) converted from an Edo period (1868) warehouse. There are regular art exhibitions that take place on the 1st floor, while the ground floor operates as a cafe during the day and a sake bar in the evenings.


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Turret coffee


Although I have visited Tsukiji market many times before for my sushi craving, I have never had coffee in this area. Located a few blocks away from Tsukiji market is Turret coffee (2-12-6 Tsukiji), a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop with few seating. There is nothing more satisfying than a good cup of coffee after a delicious meal, and Turret coffee offers this in a cosy and friendly setting.


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Kabaya Coffee in Yanaka


Yanaka is one of my favourite areas in Tokyo because it makes you forget that you are in one of the most densely populated metropolis in the world. Right opposite the restored Old Yoshidaya sake store is Kabaya Coffee (6-1-29 Yanaka, Taito-ku) opened since 1938. The cafe looks like a kissaten (traditional coffee shop) from the outside, so it is quite surprising to see the retro & modernist interior when you step inside. This is friendly and relaxing cafe where you can enjoy coffee and cakes before setting off and getting lost in this maze-like area.


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Top left and middle: Yanaka coffee; bottom row: Cafe Skipa


Yanaka coffee is a home-grown coffee brand. It has been supplying and roasting coffee for the citizens of Tokyo since 2001, and has opened stores over twenty-four different locations across the city. Although it is a chain coffee shop, it differs from other soulless chains, and the best thing is that you can order raw beans on site and have them roasted by the baristas in just 15 minutes.

My friend and I visited Cafe Skipa (6-16, Shinjuku) in Kagurazaka on our previous trip, and I would like to recommend it because it is cute and cosy. From the outside, it looks rather like a wooden shed, but the eclectic interior and laid back ambience make it a good place to hang out or linger on a lazy afternoon.


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Ginza – Top left: Cafe Rin; Top middle, right, 2nd & 3rd rows: Café de l’Ambre; Bottom: Ginza Tsubakiya


Ginza is the home of traditional kissaten in Tokyo. Since my friend and I have stayed in the area a few times in the previous years, we have also tried out many cafes around here. Coffee prices in Ginza are higher than most other areas in Tokyo; while we have tried fancy cafes like Shiseido Parlour, Ladurée, The Royal Café and Qu’il Fait Bon (famous for its freshly baked fruit tarts) etc, personally I prefer the smaller and more traditional coffee shops.

The oldest and most famous in the area is Café De L’Ambre (8-10-15 Ginza) tucked away in a back alley, where it feels like it is stuck in a time warp. Opened in 1948 by Ichiro Sekiguchi, and amazingly, the 101-year old owner is still running the shop today.

The wooden-furnished and dimly lit cafe does not sell comfort nor spaciousness, and it is full of chain smokers. However, this place is quaint, authentic, and best of all, it is known for serving the best coffee in town. And honestly, I think the coffee I tasted here was by far the best on this trip. Prices are not cheap here, but it is worth every penny.

Ginza Tsubakiya (6-6-14 Ginza) is a local chain kissaten that occupies two floors of a building in a traditional European-style dark wood setting. The coffee prices here are steep, but if you want to find a comfortable and ‘retro’ coffee shop to hang out in the area, then this is an option.

Coffee Rin (1F, 4-11-3 Ginza) is a more contemporary artisanal coffee shop where baristas would take their time to prepare and hand drip the coffee slowly (in one direction) in front of you at the counter seats. The shop’s speciality is its charcoal roasted coffee and it is roasted on site to ensure its freshness.


Revisiting Hong Kong’s Western district


The Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences 


Last year I wrote about Hong Kong’s mid-levels and Sheung Wan districts, and within a year, the streetscape has changed immensely in this rapidly-changing city, so I have returned to see what is new and how things have changed.

My journey began from Mid-Level’s Caine Road, the once quiet residential street is now more bustling than ever thanks to the opening of new cafes and eateries. One of the new addition is IPC foodlab (38A), an organic cafe that advocates locally grown produce. The cafe provides eat-in or takeaway options and sells a range of healthy food products from around the world. Right next to it is Maison Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger Café, the French boulanger’s third outlet in Hong Kong. Aside from the bakery, there is also a small bar area for quick lunched/coffees, although the sandwiches are pricey, the quality is high. Another good lunch option is il bel paese (85), a long-standing Italian deli/grocery shop that has a few tables in the quiet back room where one can have a simple meal or coffee.


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Top left: IPC foodlab; top right: Rosie Jean’s cafe; bottom left: salad at il bel paese; Bottom right: Freshness coffee


It is hard to miss the global coffee craze in recent years, and as a coffee lover, I would be more than happy try a new independent coffee shop than the regular chains. And this craze is evident on the west side on Caine street as there are three new cafes here including the kids-friendly Rosie Jean’s Cafe (119), which provides a playground on the terrace for kids to play while parents can chill inside; one for the grown up and coffee connaisseur, Filters lane (111); and a cosy and friendly Freshness coffee (138). Having tasted Filter Lane‘s americano and drip filter, I would say that latter tastes better as I find their americano too acidic for my liking. Like Filter Lane, Freshness coffee is opened by a coffee enthusiast, I enjoyed their coffee but I found the service a bit too attentive, which made me feel slightly uneasy as I was the only customer there at the time.


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Flats or trainers are preferable here as there are steps and slopes everywhere…


The central and the western district of Hong Kong is full of steps and slopes, so high-heels are not recommended if you intend to walk a lot around this area. Ladder Street is one of the famous street (or rather steps) that starts from Queen’s Road Central and ends on Caine Road. And the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences is just off Ladder Street and 5 mins walk from Caine Road.


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Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences


Shamefully when I lived in Hong Kong (quite a while ago), I rarely visited local museums and I only found out about this ‘hidden’ museum in recent years. Established in 1996, this unique institution charts the historical development of medical sciences in Hong Kong. The institute occupies the original site of The Old Bacteriological institute, established in 1906 as the first purpose-built medical laboratory in Hong Kong and later the Pathological Institute. The listed Edwardian style architecture is a hidden gem in Hong Kong and it even has a small but pleasant herbal garden. The entrance fee to the museum is $20, and visitors can wander around the 11 galleries including a temporary exhibition on the ground floor. The museum is not very big but there are many interesting displays including x-rays of bounded feet, old medical tools and equipments, and information on historical events such as plagues to recent epidemic outbreaks in Hong Kong. I am glad that many original architectural details have been preserved inside the building, and it is one of the few places left in Hong Kong where visitors can imagine what it used to be like back in the colonial days.


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 Po Hing Fong – 2nd & bottom row left: Po’s Atelier; bottom right: Blake garden


The back of the entrance of the museum are steps that lead me to Po Hing Fong and Blake garden, an area where the bubonic plague broke out in Hong Kong back in 1894. Now the area is becoming trendier where new shops and cafes can be found, and one of them is Po’s Atelier (62 Po Hing Fong), a artisinal bakery/cafe opened by Japanese baker and chef, Masami Asano. I bought a small but pricey Oolong tea-flavoured loaf to try and I found it ok rather than outstanding. Right next to it is Cafe Deadend that serves food all day in a relaxing setting. Nearby on Tai Ping Shan Street, there is also a new tea house, Teakha, which is popular with tea lovers.


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Square Street – 2nd row left & middle: Droog; 2nd row right: Square Street; Bottom left: Saffron bakery cafe; Bottom right: Lof 10, a new cafe on Lam Terrace


Walking towards the east, I was pleasantly surprised by Dutch design collective, Droog‘s new store in Hong Kong on Square Street (47). Aside from the store, it also offers a gallery, dining room, outdoor kitchen, rooftop terrace and a bedroom. I love the calories-calculating stairs, it’s humourous, quirky and very ‘droog’.

Further down, there is a lifestyle/fashion accessoires shop Square Street (15) founded by Swedish designers, David Ericsson and Alexis Holm. All products here are designed and developed by the founders themselves, David is the designer of VOID Watches while Alexis is the designer of gram Footwear.


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Top left & right: Man Mo cafe; Main: Bibo and Upper Lascar Row; 3rd & bottom row left: Cupping room; Bottom right: Catfe


Upper Lascar Row or Cat street has been a popular tourist attraction for years because of the row of antique shops and stalls here. Bargains and authentic items are hard to find these days, but with two new eateries, the street is no longer confined to tourists or bargain seekers.

Bibo is a new art-centric French restaurant that showcases installations and works from established names from Basquiat, Kusama, Hirst, Koons, and Murakami to Banksy, Kaws and Invader. Further down is Man Mo cafe, a new fusion dim sum cafe opened by a Swiss chef. I had lunch with my friend here and we really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. However, the dim sum was slightly hit and miss, some dishes were excellent while some were average. Yet it is a courageous move for this expat to reinvent dim sum in a city that is well known for it.

On Queens Road Central, the Assie-style Cupping Room is popular choice for coffee lovers. The cafe is bright and modern, accompanied by friendly and attentive service. The owner of the cafe is a 2-time Hong Kong Barista Champion, and the cafe is renowned for their single origin filter coffees (brewed to order). I was recommended Boa Vista and it arrived with some information on its origin and taste. The coffee does not come with milk, which shows how ‘serious’ they are about the coffee… for around $60 per cup, it is not something that I would order daily, so this was a treat for me. On Jervois street nearby, there are also two cafes where serious coffee is being served including the tiny Catfe (85) and Barista Jam (126-128).


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King George V memorial park


Over the past decade, new restaurants, shops and galleries have all moved upwards and westwards from Central, and this gentrification has caused business owners to look beyond Sheung Wan towards the more residential Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town.

The word Sai means “west” and Ying Pun means “camp”, especially military camp because this was where the early British military stayed. One of the landmark in the area is the King George V memorial park built in 1936, the year that King George V died. Built on a slope, the masonry walls of the park were found to be the remnant of an important medical complex in early Hong Kong. There are many old trees growing on the walls here and it is quite relaxing to walk under the shades. At the moment, part of the park is closed due to a new MTR station being built here, things will no doubt change a lot when the station finally opens later in the year.


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Top left: La Rotisserie on Third Street; the rest: Glow on Second Street


Apart from the MTR station, the completion of the city’s second outdoor escalator on Centre Street (right by the Centre Street market) has also brought about changes to the area. On both High street and Second Street, new Western style restaurants are opening up constantly. I stumbled upon a small oyster bar and seafood grill, Glow on Second Street and decided to try it out. The lunch set included a ceasar salad, garlic bread and half a grilled lobster with a side purple potato mash. And together with coffee, the bill came to HK$168, which is fairly reasonable for the quality and environment.


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Top left and middle: Centre Street and the new escalator; top right: Centre Street market; 2nd row left: a noodle shop; 2nd row middle, right & 3rd row left: Tsi Lai Heung Egg Roll Shop


Like the original escalator in Soho, this new escalator has brought convenience to the local residents and injected a new vibe to the area, but the downside is that property and rental prices are now soaring. This also means local businesses have been squeezed out and the once vibrant local community will soon disappear.

I love the small traditional family-run shops in Hong Kong, but sadly they are disappearing quicker than the opening of Starbucks. Years ago, my friend took me to Tsi Lai Heung Egg Roll Shop on Third Street (66) where egg rolls and other traditional Chinese sweets are freshly made by hand on the premise. I don’t come here often but when I do, I can never resist buying a few packets of egg rolls, ‘Phoenix roll’ (a flat egg roll filled with shredded coconut) and other traditional snacks because the quality is so much better than the prepacked ones from other more well-known brands.

Further down on Centre Street, there is a long-standing dessert shop, Yuen Kee (32), which is famous for their traditional Chinese dessert soups like sweet almond, black sesame or walnut. This family business has been around for a hundred years, and the current owner is the third-generation of their family. The place has barely changed over the years, yet it remains popular with the locals, people don’t just come for the desserts but also for nostalgic reasons. It would be a real shame to see these shops disappear due to gentrification in the area.


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Top left: Kau Yan Tsung Tsin Church; the rest: the old Tsan Yuk Maternity Hospital & The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage


My last stop in the area ends at The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe), a non-profit conservation group on 36A Western Street. At first, I did not realise that the entrance to the centre is actually on Third Street, but I was happy to wander around the old Tsan Yuk Maternity Hospital (now the Western District Community Centre). The three-storey Georgian style building is a listed building built in 1922. The maternity hospital was opened by the English missionary group London Missionary Society, but it eventually moved to a new premise on Hospital Road (opposite the King George V memorial park) in 1955 due to bed shortages and limited places for patients.

It took me a while to find the entrance as it was covered by scaffolding, but once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to see many original architectural features like the windows, fireplaces and high ceiling. In the main room, there was an exhibition Hong Kong in the Storm – Hong Kong Typhoon Historical Photo Exhibition showcasing many historical photos and invaluable collectibles that documents the history of Typhoons in Kong Kong. The centre also organises workshops, talks and walks related to Hong Kong’s heritage, so it is worth checking the website out for future events.


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Walking in the area, I noticed some old ‘tong laus’ (tenement buildings built in late 19th century to the 1960s) and it would be sad to see these buildings being demolished. Gentrification is not the issue, but the government or urban planning team needs to get more involved to maintain a balance between the old and the new. I hope that even when the new MTR station opens, the area will not completely lose its authentic feel, but then again, this may only be my wishful thinking.



Eat, drink & shop in Shanghai French Concession

The former French Concession in Shanghai is a large and historical where you will find beautiful colonial architecture, Western-style eateries, cafes and bars as well as glossy shopping malls and independent shops selling fashion, gifts, furniture, design and home accessories.

This is not a comprehensive guide, it is only a rough guide to some of the shops in the area:


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2nd row: Retro Revo; 3nd row left: Casa Casa; 3rd row middle & right: Brut Cake; Bottom: Piling Palang


Anfui Lu:

Piling Palang (no.183) – Founded in 2009 by Chinese designer, Deng Bingbing, the colourful objects here are inspired by ancient Chinese symbolic motifs, patterns and shapes. Most of products are skillfully crafted by local craftsmen using ceramic, cloisonné or lacquer, and are infused with contemporary elements to create decorative or functional pieces.

Casa Casa (no. 201) – A furniture store featuring a selection of modern and classic furniture and home accessories from top international designer brands.

Brut Cake (no.232) Founded by Taiwanese designer, Nicole Teng, most of the home accessories here are handmade from recycled materials. There are also reclaimed/re-upholstered furniture and ceramics with a rustic feel. The products and even the shop’s interior feel very Japanese as I could imagine walking into a shop like this in Tokyo’s Yanaka district… hence, to find a shop like this in the middle of Shanghai was a pleasant surprise!

Retro Revo (no.248) is a British company specialises in handmade industrial European and American vintage designs including furniture, lighting, carpets and accessories. Inspired from the Industrial Revolution era, all their products are newly produced by craftsmen outside of China, hence, most of them come with hefty price tags.


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Top: Baker & Spice cafe; 2nd row left: Sunflour bakery & cafe; 2nd row right: La Mer cafe; Bottom row left: Vinyl Ganesh; Bottom row middle: Wagas


There are also several bakeries/ cafe on this road including Baker & Spice (no.195) and Sunflour Bakery & cafe (no.322). Located not far away is Wagas (7 Dong Hu Rd), a popular cafe chain which also owns Baker & Spice. To be honest, I find these Western bakeries and cafes in Shanghai pretty pricey while the food is just mediocre. I couldn’t help thinking that in the nearby cities like Hong Kong or Taipei, I could get better quality food at much cheaper prices.

Vinyl Ganesh (No 5, 438 Shanxi Nan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu) is another relaxing and comfortable cafe that has a Taiwanese vibe and lots of books available for browsing and reading. The service was pleasant and the coffee was not bad but priced between 40-60 RMB, the coffees are pricier than similar cafes in London, Hong Kong and even Tokyo! I am not sure how much locals earn in Shanghai, but hanging out in cafes seem like an extravagant activities here!


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Top left, middle & 2nd row left: Shanghai Lan-Lan Chinese handprinted blue nankeen; Bottom left: Song Fang Maison de the; bottom middle: Madame Mao’s Dowry


On Fumin Lu, there is a retro gift shop, Madame Mao’s Dowry (no.207) that sells propaganda posters, memorabilia and homeware from the Mao period, along with contemporary fashion and jewellery from local and international designers.

In the evening, my friend took me to Dr Wine (no.177), a 2-storey chic French wine bar for drinks and snacks one evening. The place was packed with expats, and although the wine and cheese was good, I found the noise level and smoke (smoking is not banned in Shanghai) quite unbearable, hence we did not stay long there.

Along Julu Lu, there are many independent fashion shops, including a few interesting menswear shops. There is an interesting Russian/literature-theme cafe on this road called La Mer (no.677), own and run by a friendly Chinese lady who spent 20 years living in Moscow. Although the ambience is spacious and relaxing, I found the service slow and patchy. But thanks to the hospitable owner, I was able to explore the beautiful colonial building (now home of the Literature club, which I will write about on the next blog entry) behind the cafe.

Other interesting shops in the area include:

Shanghai Lan-Lan Chinese handprinted blue nankeen (no.24 Lane, 637 Chang Le Road) is well hidden in a small lane off the quiet Changle Road. There is a pleasant garden outside of the 2-storey old villa, and once inside, you will find a big showroom full of handprinted blue nankeen products. The traditional dying technique uses a starch-resist method, indigo dye and cotton fabrics to produce primitive but artistic textiles that can be turned into clothing, fashion accessories, soft home furnishings as well as wall hangings. The sales woman was not very friendly initially, it was only when I showed interest in purchasing and asked her for the prices (most of the prices are not displayed for some reason) that she became friendlier! The products here are not cheap but they are unique and of high quality, hence, I ended up buying a few items for myself and as gifts. Next to the shop’s showroom is Shanghai’s Hand-printed Blue Batik Museum founded by an old Japanese woman, Kubo Masa, and it records the revival of this traditional Chinese craftsmanship.


Spin (360 Kangding Rd, near Shaanxi Bei Lu) Founded in 2004 by art director Gary Wang, Spin is an art gallery featuring beautiful, minimalist and reasonably-priced pottery, designed and made in-house.


Triple Major (25 Shaoxing Lu) is a 4-storey conceptual fashion/lifestyle store that sells quirky fashion and accessories by independent designers/labels such as  Daniel Palillo, Lazy Oaf, Henrik Vibskov, and emerging local talents. The shop also sell Japanese ceramics, magazines and books published by independent publishers. The founder, Ritchie Chan, is a Hong Kong native who used to study in L.A. and this shop in Shanghai is his second outlet after his first in Beijing and an online outlet.


Song Fang Maison de Thé (227 Yongjia Lu) is a 2-storey tea house set up by a Parisian Florence Samson 10 years ago. It is hard to miss the bold blue graphic banner from the exterior, and once inside, you will find this cool graphics being used as tea containers and as gift packaging. As much as I like the graphics, I find the gifts sets quite pricey, but if you want to bring back souvenir to impress family and friends, then this place has some good options. The tea house is located on the first floor.


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Top left: Cold noodles at Noodle Bull; Top right: steamed fish head with chillies at Guyi; 2nd row left: steam bun; 2nd row middle: Xinjiang style hash brown at Xibo; 2nd row right, Main & bottom right: a noodle bar; Bottom left: the famous Shanghainese xiaolongbao


While walking around the French Concession, I was hoping to find some authentic and ‘hygienic-looking’ street stalls selling local fares, but this proved to be a very difficult task. It seems easier to find croissants than dumplings in this area! Finally one morning, I stumbled upon a few food shops near the corner of Xiangyang Lu & Changle Lu (with many locals queuing outside) selling a variety of steamed buns, dumplings, scallion/sesame pancakes and sheng jian bao (fried buns/dumplings with pork and broth inside) etc. I had a sesame pancake and a vegetable bun, both were tasty and a lot cheaper than the bakeries/cafes down the road.

At lunch time, I found a small noodle bar (not sure of its English name) on Yanqing Road, the place has a rustic/industrial feel to it and it serves handmade noodles (served with kimchi) at reasonable prices.

The Art deco Ferguson Lane (376 Wukang Lu, near Tai’an Lu) is the home to several coffee shops, wine bars, beauty shops, fashion boutiques, art gallery, patisserie and restaurants.. I met my friends at the spacious Azul Tapas Lounge, a restaurant owned by the popular Peruvian restaurateur/chef, Eduardo Vargas. The dishes on the menu has Spanish, South American, and Mediterranean influences, but I did not detect the Spanish influences in the dishes we ordered nor did I think they were in tapas sizes either! However, the quality of food and wine was very good, and the service was fairly efficient, so overall we had an enjoyable meal there.

Guyi (87 Fumin Lu) is an institution in Shanghai serving Hunan dishes (often spicy) and it is very popular among locals and expats. We had to queue for 10 minutes even though it was almost 9pm when we arrived. However, the food was worth the wait, and the steamed fish head with chilies (see above) is a must (even for the squeamish).

If you are looking for something unique, then Xibo (3F, 85 Changshu Lu) is a good choice as it serves Uyghur cuisine from the Xinjiang region of China. The contemporary setting and view attract many expats, and the food is interesting and tasty. The restaurant also donates 25% of its profits to support charitable organisations in western China.


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Shops in Tianzifang


Similar to Xintiandi (which I found very commercial during my last visit, hence I skipped it this time), Tianzifang (off Taikang Road) has been transformed into a popular tourist destination from the regeneration of a former residential district. The neighborhood was originally built in the 1930s as a Shikumen ( a traditional 2/3-storey Shanghainese building) residential district. It was saved from demolition in 2006 thanks to the help of local residents and business owners.

Now the maze-like area has more than 200 small businesses from shops to cafes, bars, restaurants and art galleries etc. Although this area is very touristy and busy, it is quite interesting to spend a few hours getting lost here. There are many interesting shops selling fashion, arts and crafts, stationery and vintage/retro objects.


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Main & bottom left: Taste shop space; 2nd row left: traditional Chinese dolls at Old Shanghai; 2nd row right: Alan Chan creations; Bottom middle: Sky music box


The highlights of the area are as follows:

Sky Music Box (35 Tianzifang, Lane 248 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu) is a small shop/museum (accessible via some steep & narrow staircase) that sells and exhibits a wide range of handcrafted (some slightly kitsch) music boxes. It is a very unique place!

Old Shanghai (I am not sure of the English name of this shop… but it’s at Room 112, no.3, 200 Taikang Lu) – I wanted to buy every item in this shop! I love the 94 year old Shanghainese illustrator/ comic artist, He Youzhi‘s illustrations of old Shanghai. Not only you will find his comic books, post card sets but there are different merchandise that feature his wonderful illustrations. On the first floor, there are also traditional Chinese dolls on display/ for sale.

Taste shop space (Room 105, Building: 3rd, Lane 210, Taikang Rd) – Founded by photographer Viko Wu and her Japanese fashion designer husband, Yutaka  last year. Taste shop is a lifestyle shop that sells homeware, furniture, antiques, lighting and fashion accessories. The shop also stock many handcrafted designs including Futagami and Eclectic by Tom Dixon.


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Top right, bottom left & middle: Cafe Dan; Bottom right: interesting Korean snack


Cafe Dan (no.41, Lane 248 Taikang Lu) – a well-known cafe in Tianzifang that is owned and run by a Japanese, Taka, who is quite obsessed with coffee. I love the quiet/rustic style and relaxing atmosphere, but again, there is a price to pay for this… around £10-12 for a cup of coffee and cafe, which I find extraordinary expensive for a rustic-looking cafe!


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The exterior and interior of Liuli China Museum; 3rd row left: cafe Xiao San Tang; 3rd row right: The shop also sells the Shuriken magnets from Taiwan; Bottom right: MoCA Shop at People’s park


Liuli China Museum (25 Taikang Road) is a huge 4-storey glass building located right opposite Tianzifang. Founded in 2006 by by renowned glass artist and sculptor Loretta Hui-shan Yang and her husband Zhang Yi, the building not only houses a museum dedicated to glassware from China (all eras) and the rest the world, but there is also a Xiao San Tang and a shop that sells glassware, design and craft objects and books etc.

Another museum shop that is worth checking out is the MoCa shop at the entrance of People’s Park, 231 Nanjing West Road. I tried to get into The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (MOCA) on Saturday (bad idea!) but gave up immediately when I saw a queue outside in the rain. However, I quite enjoyed browsing in their small shop by the park entrance where you can find design objects created by local designers and design/museum exhibition-related books.


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10 Corso Como at Wheelock Square; 3rd row middle, right and bottom right: Marcel Wanders’ exhibition at the gallery; Bottom left: the exterior of nearby shopping mall


Surrounding the famous Jian’an Temple on the West Nanjing Road are highrises and shopping malls (what contradictions!), and one of new design destinations in the area is 10 Corso Como (North Annex, Wheelock Square 1717 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu, Jing’an) which opened at the end of last year. I am sure most people who are interested in fashion/design would not have missed the institution, 10 Corso Como when visiting Milan. Opened in 1990 by former fashion editor Carla Sozzani, this gallery/lifestyle & fashion concept store was the forefront of its kind, years before Colette in Paris and Dover Street market in London. I have previously visited their former shop in Tokyo (in collaboration with Comme des Garçons) and their original branch in Seoul, but this new shop in Shanghai is bigger (2,500sqm) than I expected. The 4-storey mecca (notice that 4th floor on the map above has been renamed as ‘5th’ due to Chinese superstition!) designed by Kris Ruhs not only sells fashion, jewellery, beauty products, art and design objects, books but there are also patisserie, café, restaurant and gallery.

Honestly, I was quite disappointed with this store because it is too glossy and ‘perfect’, obviously it is targeting the wealthy and local hipsters/creatives with growing spending power, yet it is formulaic without surprises… This is not what I expect from a successful brand that has changed the way we shop today.


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Top left: Prada shop on Nan Jing Xi Lu; the rest: shops at the basement of Reel Mall


In the nearby Reel Mall (1601 Nanjing West Rd, Jing’an), it is home to many international luxury fashion brands, but the more interesting (in my opinion) shops are hidden in its basement near the popular food court. I would not have found this place if it wasn’t for the host of my apt because it is quite hidden. But there are many small independent shops selling fashion, jewellery and design objects made by local designers, and one of them is wtf* bikes, a local bicycle brand that sells very cool-looking bike frames and rims.


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Shanghai Propanganda poster art centre


Aside from shopping, dining and drinking in the former French Concession, there are also many galleries and museums and one of my favourite in the area is The Shanghai Propangda poster art center (Rm BOC, Basement, Block B, No.868 Huashan Road) hidden inside a residential block. (Tip: ask the security guard at the front entrance and he will give you a card with a small map that will direct you to the entrance). This gallery is really one of a kind and you will need at least an hour to go through the vast collection even though the gallery itself is not very big. These propaganda posters are very rare now because most of them were destroyed due to political changes over the years. The posters are important documentations that record the history of China in 20th century, and not surprisingly Mao is the key figure. Aside from posters and memorabilia, there are also school text books and magazines, but most surprisingly, some of the magazine covers (and some posters) reveal a very open-minded/ Westernised China where female nudity was acceptable… how fascinating! Next to the gallery is a small shop where you can find reproductions of the posters, books and souvenir.


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Shanghai museum of arts & crafts


Located inside a beautiful French Renaissance mansion, the Shanghai museum of arts & crafts (79 Fenyang Rd, near Taiyuan Rd) could be so much better… The museum showcases exquisite jade, wood, ivory, bamboo carvings, paper-cutting art work, lacquer ware, porcelain, embroidery, textiles and traditional clay dolls etc. There are also artists at work where visitors can see the production processes, yet when I was there, the artists/craftsmen were not doing much (one was even napping) and the display lacked information, the museum certainly needs a better curator… Even the display in the shop’s showroom lacks aesthetic appeal, it reminds me some touristy souvenir shops except for the high prices.


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Kunst. Licht Photo Art Gallery 


I stumbled upon Kunst. Licht Photo Art Gallery (210, North Ulumuqi Road, Jing’an) and I immediately felt very relaxed as I stepped into this 2-room and rather understated gallery dedicated to photography, which features established and emerging artists from China and abroad. The building itself is also quite interesting and has some art deco architectural features that compliment the colourful and bold photographs on the white walls.


Eat, drink and be merry in Andalusia


Dining out in Andalusia is a social activity with friends or with your local bartenders and neighbours


For some reason, Spanish cuisine is not as popular and as ‘recognised’ internationally as Italian cuisine. Perhaps it has something to do with its cooking varying a great deal from region to region, and that authentic Spanish restaurants outside of Spain were hard to come by until a few years ago. The rise of Michelin star restaurants like elBulli ( due to reopen as a creative centre in 2016) finally brought the spotlight back to Spanish cuisine again. And in cosmopolitan cities like London, New York and Hong Kong, a sudden surge of contemporary tapas bars and restaurants are also changing people’s perception of Spanish cuisine esp. on tapas. The ‘makeover’ seems to be working as tapas bars are now becoming more popular than ever outside of Spain.

I love the concept of tapas, humble food served in small portions shared among friends paired with wine ( or sherry in Spain) is my ideal night out. I did a cooking holiday in Italy 2 1/2 years ago, and although the food was fresh and delicious, after a week of cheese, pasta and multi-course meals, I felt rather bloated and it was reflected on my weighing scale back home!


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Main: Bar El Comercio; Bottom middle: Bar Manolo


This trip though, I tried out many dishes at each meal and yet I didn’t put on any weight afterwards. OK, it wasn’t a cooking holiday but overall I found the food less heavy and the portion sizes more acceptable. I was eager to try as many different dishes as possible, but by the end of the trip, I still had many that I wanted to try but didn’t quite manage…

I was equally impressed by the quality of wine (and the prices), the house wines are usually excellent ( which doesn’t always happen in other countries) and even for a red wine lover like myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the few occasions when I ordered white.

Food and wine aside, ambience is a key part of dining out in Andalusia and it is more of a social activity as you often see people hanging inside and outside of popular tapas bars with friends drinking and nibbling in late afternoons or evenings. I rarely saw fast-food or coffee shop chains, people there love their local restaurants and bars, which is a far cry from the chain-dominated London! When I travel, I try to look for authentic restaurants that the locals love, these places I believe reflect the local culture and they are the best for people-watching.


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Top left: deep-fried aubergine; top middle: artichokes; top right: cod ceviche with peppers with crispy artichokes (surprisingly yummy); bottom left: Pimientons de Padron (one of my favourite tapas dishes); bottom right: paella and grilled tuna with roasted vegetables (tapas portions!)


Here are some of the places that I tried during my trip, some are recommended by locals, some via the internet and the rest… simply by chance…



Casa Morales (Calle García de Vinuesa, 11) – Founded in 1850, this bodega located near the Cathedral is often recommended in guidebooks. Yet it was packed with only locals when I was there, could it be partly due to their Spanish-only menu ( which I often view as a positive sign)?

I love the old-style and rustic decorations here, the front room is bar area and the seated area is located in the back, which is filled with enormous tinajas (stoneware sherry/wine barrels). The prices here are reasonable and the food/wine quality is good, but it is the vibe/ambience makes this place charming and unique.

El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40) is the oldest tapas bar in Seville (since 1670), but due to its location ( away from the touristy Santa Cruz), it is more of a local than a tourist attraction! Like Casa Morales, this place feels authentic and even more rustic with service that is slightly abrupt ( but not rude). It was fun to eat standing and sharing a small table with a local, sometimes it is not the food that matters the most but the experience ( luckily, the food here is not too bad either)…


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Top, 2nd row left and middle: Casa morales; 2nd row right, third and last row: El Rinconcillo



After trying out the traditional places, it was time to try the contemporary restaurants to see how the cuisine has evolved, and one of the most highly rated place is La Azotea, which has several branches in the city.

La Azotea (C/ Mateos Gago, 8) – although this branch is located on a street full of touristy restaurants right off the Cathedral, it is not that touristy and the standard is a cut above the rest. The dishes are creative and beautifully presented, yet the prices are surprisingly reasonable for what you get. The vibe is relaxing and not overly trendy, I certainly would have returned to try out more dishes if I had the time.

Los Palillos (Calle Huelva 22, esq. Plaza de la Pescaderia) – I stumbled upon this small sushi/ jamon bar while looking for food in the area, the minimal and contemporary decor is rather inviting. I was curious to try some Spanish/ Japanese fusion cuisine, and the waiter was friendly and eager to help me with their menu. After trying a few dishes, I felt that some worked better than others, and the fusion was not as obvious ( which may not be a bad thing). However, the ingredients are fresh and the dishes are well cooked and presented, so it was a pleasant discovery ( as I later discovered that the restaurant is very popular with the locals because it filled up within 1/2 hour after my arrival).


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 Top left, right and main: La Azotea; Bottom left and right: Los Palillos


Breakfast, dulces and helados

I am not a morning person and I don’t usually eat a lot for breakfast either, but coffee is essential to me, so café con leche (coffee with milk) became my staple in Andalusia.

When I travel, I tend to get up earlier and would have breakfasts before setting off. The problem I discovered in Andalusia was that not many cafes would open before 10am, so I had to wander the streets to search for my morning staple. And by chance, I discovered a cafe in Seville’s Santa Cruz which offers buffet breakfast with coffee and fresh orange juice for only €2, what a bargain! But my favourite breakfast is some good coffee with a simple but delicious tostada con tomate ( toast with tomato), which I thought was the best way to start my day.

In general, I find Spanish pastries slightly too sweet, a friend recommended polvoron to me before my trip, so I bought some from the famous and historical Confiteria La Campana (since 1885) but was not fond of the strong cinnamon taste. Later though, I discovered that the most authentic and fun way to buy dulces ( pastries/ cookies/ sweets) is from local convents via a rotating tray/lazy Susan from some invisible nuns! The sweets are usually made by the convent’s nuns from traditional recipes, unfortunately, with fewer nuns and convents these days, the trade is slowly disappearing… I managed to buy a box of almond polvoron from Convento de Santa Ana in Cordoba with the help of someone working there. Although the experience was delightful, I would find it too daunting to do it without help due to my limited Spanish vocabulary!


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Top right and 2nd row left: A €2 buffet breakfast in central Seville; 2nd row middle: my favourite breakfast: tostada with tomato at Gaudi Juda Levi in Cordoba; 2nd right: buying dulce at Convento de Santa Ana in Cordoba; Main and bottom right: Confiteria La Campana in Seville; bottom left: Tejas Dulces de Sevilla


Tejas Dulces de Sevilla (Plaza de Jesús de la Pasión 13, Seville) – I walked past this small shop in the city centre and was offered to sample their homemade and natural almond biscuits. These crunchy biscuits are delicious and not too sweet, so I bought a small pack and asked the shop lady about the beautiful blue glassware on the shelves. Apparently, the hand-blown glassware were produced by Crystals La Trinidad, a traditional glass factory that started in 1900 but ceased production in 1999, and these were the remnants from their former factory ( see above).

Helados (ice cream) is popular in Seville, and there are several famous ice cream parlours here. However, being in January meant that many were closed, yet I managed to try a few scoops from Helados La Abuela (Calle Larana, 10) and 1929. The ice cream at 1929 was a bit too sweet for me, the latter was better though not particularly outstanding, I guess it had something to do with the season too.



Left: 1929; Right: Helados La Abuela



With many reputable restaurants closed during my stay in Cordoba, I was left with some overpriced and touristy choices, but thanks to the recommendation of my hotel’s concierge, I visited El Mercado Victoria ( Paseo de La Victoria), an indoor gourmet market housed inside a 19th century building just outside of the old town. There are about 30 stalls selling tapas, seafood, wine, olives, and other cuisines like Japanese and Italian. This is not fine dining, it’s more like an upmarket food court, but it is fun, relaxing, clean and it attracts mainly locals. If you want to get away from the touristy restaurants in the old town, this place is definitely worth visiting.

With the limited cafe choices for breakfast in old town, it was a relief when I found Gaudi Juda Levi ( Plaza Juda Levi s/n), a contemporary cafe that offers good coffee, breakfast, relaxing atmosphere and friendly service.

While I was walking around the town, I came across an artisan bakery ( since 1880), Horno de la Cruz ( Gongora, 2)with a short queue of locals outside, so I decided to join and try it out… Although their pies looked very tempting, I went for some bread and almond cake instead, the bread that I had was ok but the cake was moist and soft, and tasted even better than I imagined, so it was a pleasant surprise.

After eating Spanish/tapas for days, all I wanted was some salad and something slightly different… I noticed that salads in tapas bars seem to be pricier and ‘fancier’ ( with not much green), so I opted for the Moroccan tea house near my hotel, Salón de Té ( Buen Pastor, 13). The place is decorated in Moorish style with a lovely courtyard, and it was almost empty when I was there. I had a mixed salad with pita bread and mint tea, it was what I wanted, so I left the place fairly satisfied.


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Top left, right, 2nd row middle, 3rd row right: El Mercado Victoria; 2nd row left: Horno de la Cruz; 2nd row right: The bar at Círculo de la Amistad; Third row left: Gaudi Juda Levi; Bottom left and right: Salón de Té



Two of my favourite eateries during my trip happen to locate in Granada, and one of them is only a cafe hidden in Albayzin. Although I was staying in a hotel nearby, it still took me a while to find Café 4 Gatos ( Placeta Cruz Verde, 6), but it was definitely worth it! Since there aren’t many cafes for breakfasts in the area, this cafe already has its advantage, but it offers much more than that. I love the relaxing and friendly vibe here, the clientele is mainly local and seem to know the owner well. Their coffee is great and they offer a wide variety of tostadas, though the downside is that since it is rather small ( basically a L-shaped bar with some outdoor tables and seating), you can’t linger for too long as it gets busier after 11am. I was so charmed by it that I went back the next day before heading off to the airport, and the owner was able to recall what I had the day before, which was rather impressive. This is not a fancy or trendy cafe, it is friendly, down-to-earth, reasonably priced and utterly charming.

Tapas used to be served free with alcoholic drinks, like in Italy, drinking on an empty stomach is not encouraged ( I wish the Brits would understand this). But these days, not many places would offer this, I was served free tapas about 4/5 times during the entire trip, and this occurred mostly in Granada than in Seville. One of the bars that served free tapas is a wine bar hidden in an alley near the Cathedral, Taberna Más que vinos (Calle Tundidores, 10). The quality of food and wine here is good, but it’s probably best for a drink and nibble than a proper dinner.

With the strong Moorish influences and ties, I was eager to try some Moroccan food while I was in Granada. There are plenty of them in the city, but I picked a small, non-touristy family-run restaurant, Tagine Elvira (Calle Elvira). Not only did I almost missed it from the street, I hesitated slightly before walking in as it was completely empty on the night. The meal was cheap and tasty, but I did find it more on the salty side. Perhaps the chef was having a day ‘off’ as I was the only customer, meanwhile, I also felt like I was eating at someone’s front room because the TV in front of me was broadcasting some American soap with the chef/owner sitting on one side playing with her phone. The experience was definitely an ‘authentic’ one.


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Top left, right & 2nd row left: Cafe 4 Getos; 2nd row midde & last row left: Tagines Elvira; 2nd & last row right: Mas que Vinos.


I spent my last night in Granada/ Andalusia at the paella restaurant/ bar, La Parrala ( Tendollas de Sta. Paula, 6), which was one of my favourites of the trip. An elder English couple left as I entered the restaurant and so again, I was the only customer there (a theme throughout my trip)! This restaurant has 2 branches in the city, and I picked this over the one nearer to my hotel because it has live music in the evenings. While I was wondering if the live music would take place or not, the lovely waitress ( who I later learned is the wife of the chef and are both Argentinians) assured me that she would try her best to ‘persuade’ the guitarist to perform for me! And he did… although he spoke little English, he wanted to know if I liked a certain music style and while playing, he completely immersed himself even though I (and the waitress) was the only audience.

Finally, my paella with squid ink arrived and it was delicious, it also went very well with the wine recommended to me. I then spent much of my time chatting to the friendly and warm Argentinian lady about Spain, Argentina, tango etc, and eventually leaving the restaurant extremely ecstatic and satisfied. I believe that when it comes to dining out, no matter how excellent the food and wine is, it needs to be accompanied by the ambience and service to enhance the overall experience. Without the latter factors, the meal is slightly ‘soulless’, which is a bit like cooking, i.e. fresh ingredients do not necessary make the best meals, it is the passion of the chef that is the key to elevate a good meal to an outstanding one.


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 La Parrala


Like always, when I travel abroad, I would visit local food markets, delis and supermarkets to get an idea of what the locals eat. Throughout the trip, I was attracted by the greengrocers that sell fresh and colourful fruits and vegetables, the butchers and fishmongers that sell fresh meat and fish and the delis and jamon specialists that sell jamon, olives and anchovies etc. Here are some of the specialists I found on my trip:


Flores Gourmet (restaurant/ deli/ winery) – C/ San Pablo 24 (continuacion de Reyes Catolicos)


Jamones Calixto (Jamonerias)Alfonso XIII, 6

San Nicasio is an award-winning brand from Cordoba that makes handmade crisps with extra virgin olive oil and Himalayan salt. It costs just over €1 in Cordoba for 40 g, but in the U.K., you can get 190g for £3.99 at Waitrose! Honestly, €1 is almost justifiable for a small packet of crisps, but £4 is just ridiculous and not worth it in my opinion.


Jamones Casa Diego (Jamonerias) – C/ Santa Escolastica, 13.


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1st row right: Luxurious and ‘healthy’ crisps by San Nicasio; 2nd row: Jamones Calixto in Cordoba; Third row left: Jamones Casa Diego; Third row right: Bacallao in Cordoba; Fourth and fifth row: food market in Granada. Last row: Souvenir from my trip… food for myself, friends and family!


Hong Kong’s neighbourhood: Mid-Levels

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Main: Government House on Government Hill; bottom left: Hong Kong Botanical garden; bottom right: View from Government Hill


Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels has always been a prestigious residential area and only the English were allowed to live in the area back in the early colonial period! It was relatively quiet and ‘unspoilt’ until the world’s longest outdoor escalator was built in 1993, then the area started to change. Due to Hong Kong Island’s unique geography… hilly with steep slopes and narrow street, the escalator was proposed for residents from the area to commute to and from Central ( the business district) without the need of transport.


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Left: the Mid-Level escalator; middle: a view of the street from the escalator; one of the streets connecting mid-levels to Sai Ying Pun.


The escalator, which starts from Central and goes all the way up to Conduit Street has turned the entire area from a quiet residential area into a bustling and trendy district full of restaurants, bars and galleries ( as depicted in Wong Kar Wai‘s Chungking Express). Due to lack of regulations, many low-rise ‘tong lau’ have been demolished and are replaced by residential high rise. The area is now over-developed and over-priced, is this still the ideal residential area in Hong Kong? Perhaps not anymore. However, having said that, as we move away from the escalator, there are still interesting and historical sights that are not very touristy and can be explored on foot.


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Princes Terrace, a quiet street just off the escalator


Dr Sun Yat-Sen museum is located in a beautiful historical building called Kom Tong Hall on Castle Road ( No.7). The Hall was built in 1914 and was named after the former owner of the Mansion, Ho Kom-tong, the younger brother of the prominent philanthropist Sir Robert Ho Tung.

The museum has both permanent and temporary exhibitions where visitors can learn about Dr Sun Yat-Sen‘s life, his revolutionary activities and Chinese and Hong Kong history from the late 19th century. But the highlight is the building itself, it is hard to find charming buildings like this in Hong Kong now that have not been stripped away and turned into some kind of commercial-related premises.


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Hong Kong University is not only the oldest university but it is also considered to be the most prestigious in Hong Kong and one of the best within the region. The university’s main campus covers 160,000 square metres of land on Bonham Road and Pok Fu Lam Road, and the main building is one of the few best remaining examples of colonial architecture in Hong Kong. As you walk around the building or campus, you feel like you have been transported to another era or continent ( Europe) even and it feels so different from the Hong Kong we are normally used to.

The campus is open to the public and visitors can either book on free tours given by their Green Gown Guides ( who are student volunteers) or plan your own self-guided tours, iTour which can be found on the website.


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Main & bottom left: The main building at Hong Kong University; bottom right: Hung Hing Ying Building on the campus


Before reaching the main entrance of the university, there is the Fung Ping Shan building, which was original built in 1932 as a library for Chinese books. In 1953, it was converted into the University Museum and Art Gallery ( 94 Bonham Road), which is the oldest museum in Hong Kong and it is free to the public.

The museum and art gallery has both permanent and temporary exhibitions, and houses a thousand Chinese antiquities, ceramics, sculptures, calligraphy and paintings. Often there are interesting exhibitions and retrospectives on contemporary local and Chinese artists that are perhaps less established internationally. There is also a tea gallery where one can enjoy Chinese tea in a subdue environment. This is one of my favourite museums in Hong Kong because it is never too busy, and you can really slow down and enjoy the art in your own pace.


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Top left: map of the campus; Bottom right: The Fung Ping Shan building, entrance to the University Museum and Art Gallery


For those who are interested in the British colonial architecture, there are plenty to be found in this area partly because many historical schools are located in this area including two that have been declared as monuments in recent years: King’s College ( 63A Bonham Road) and St Stephen’s Girls College ( 2 Lyttelton Road).

There is also the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences ( 2 Caine Lane), an Edwardian-style building that was The Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, founded in 1887 by the London Missionary Society. Since 1996, it has been turned into a museum that is dedicated to the historical development of medical sciences in Hong Kong.


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Top left: the Neo-classical exterior of King’s college; top right & main: the back and side gates of St Stephen’s Girls College


Walking towards Sai Ying Pun, there is one building that really stood out and I later learned that it used to be an old mental hospital but now it is used as Sai Ying Pun Community Complex ( 2 High Street). Built in 1892, the original building was designed by Danby & Leigh (now Leigh & Orange), however, only the the granite facade and arched verandah were preserved because it was abandoned for 20 years from the 1970s and was badly ruined by two fires. Interestingly, the building is also known locally as the ‘High Street Haunted House’ before it was restored and rebuilt as a community complex in 2001. With or without ghosts, this historical building is fascinating and is definitely one of its kind in Hong Kong.


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Top left: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; top middle: a blue ‘tong lau’ on Bonham Road; top right, middle left & main: the old mental hospital; Middle right: an old ‘mansion’ on Robinson Road


Religious monuments

Hong Kong’s multiculturalism and multi-faith society is evident in this area because of the different religious monuments here. One of them is the Gothic revival style Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception ( 16 Caine Road) built in 1888 and serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. Nearby there is also another historical Catholic chapel, Sacred Heart Chapel ( 34 Caine Road) built in 1907.

Walking up towards Robinson Road, there is the rather ‘hidden’ and ‘mysterious’ Ohel Leah Synagogue ( 70 Robinson Road) was commissioned by a Jewish banker, by a banker, Sir Jacob E. Sassoon and designed by Leigh & Orange in 1902. (There are no photos because I was told by the security guard that I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the building’s exterior even though I was standing on the street!) I have been wanting to visit the synagogue for a long time but never got round to it, so will have to wait until my next visit. Tours at the synagogue can be arranged via their website, but visitors can also attend their Shabbat services and enjoy their Shabbat dinners.

By coincidence, I stumbled upon the other ‘mysterious’ monument, Jamia Mosque‘s ( 30 Shelley Street) open day while I was traveling up the Mid-Levels escalator one afternoon. I was thrilled especially knowing that it is normally only open to Muslims! The Mosque was built in 1849 while the extension of the building took place in 1915. The green Arabic style building looks so exotic next to the residential high rise in the area, it was a shame that I didn’t have my camera on me at the time. The mosque also offers shelters to poor disciples, and currently there is a small community of around 20 Pakistani households living in the vicinity.


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Apart from the botanical garden ( which had written about in the earlier post), there are some small local parks and gardens ( parks and gardens in Hong Kong are not the same as Western ones, there is usually no grass or lawn!) like the historical ( built in 1936) King George V Memorial Park ( EasternStreet and Hospital Road) and the rather hidden and quiet West End Park right next to St Stephen’s Girls College on Lyttelton Road.


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Top left: West End Park; top right: A small communal garden ‘hidden’ bewteen Kotewall and Conduit Road; Bottom left: King George V Park; Bottom right: Old staircases can still be seen in the area


Coffee, cafes & bakeries

There are many eateries in the area, but I will just list a few places for coffee, tea and bakeries around the Mid-Levels rather than the trendy SoHo:

Books & Co. ( 8-10 Park Road) was mentioned in my previous entries on secondhand books.

BO-LO’GNE café 41 Aberdeen St) – I discovered this tiny Japanese-style bakery and cafe a few years ago before it was featured in a TV food programme, then it suddenly became the ‘hottest’ bakery/ cafe in town with long queues outside daily. Soon afterwards franchises appeared in shopping malls and so the queues finally disappeared. This bakery originated from Kyoto and is famous for their Danish style buttery bread ( nice but rather pricey). Aside from bread, the cafe also serves Japanese style Western dishes like fish roe spaghetti and pork cutlet sandwich. The cafe is usually quiet in the weekdays after lunch hour, so it’s a great place to relax with a book without feeling rushed.

Il Bel Paese ( 95 Caine Road) is actually an Italian deli but in its back room there are a few tables for lunch and snacks. The deli is well-known for their tiramisu, I have never tried it, but I did enjoy their homemade salad and bread.

New Blue Pool Restaurant & Bakery ( 71 Caine Road) has been serving freshly-baked Hong Kong style bread and quick lunches in the area for over 40 years. It is especially popular with students, local residents and nearby office workers because of its no frills, substantial lunches at very reasonable prices. Traditional bakeries are disappearing fast in Hong Kong, so many still come here for nostalgic reasons and for their fresh traditional style bread, cookies and cakes.


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Top left, middle & bottom left: Another fine day tea saloon; Top right: Olympia Graeco Egyptian Coffee; Bottom right: BO-LO’GNE Café 


Tea Saloon by Another Fine Day ( 80-82 Peel Street) – My friends who opened One Fine Day ( which I have mentioned before) on Princes Terrace have opened a more spacious new tea saloon round the corner. Their new saloon serves lunch, afternoon tea and specialty tea. For those who enjoy British style afternoon tea sets and don’t feel comfortable inside the 5-star hotel settings, then this is a more relaxing and cozy option.

Olympia Graeco Egyptian Coffee ( 24 Old Bailey) – Although this is not a cafe and I have written about this before, but I still can’t resist recommending this coffee bean shop just off Caine Road. Since Mr Ho passed away about 2 years ago, his son and daughter have taken over and are continuing to serve customers like their father has done for decades. Now they even deliver to offices and residential addresses, so hopefully more people will enjoy their high quality and reasonably priced coffee.



Last but not least, the trees as in other parts of Hong Kong are rather interesting esp. the one on the top of Aberdeen Street that has a stall leaning against it!


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There are many other historical and fascinating districts in Hong Kong and I will write more on them in the future…