12 Aug 2016
West Side Story
Situated just beyond Sheung Wan in Hong Kong Island’s Western District, Sai Ying Pun is attracting an increasing number of visitors since the opening of a new MTR line there last year. As more businesses move into one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods, locals and tourists alike are flocking to this up-and-coming district to soak up the traditional architecture, enjoy a drink or meal, and browse its boutiques.
The historic area has welcomed many newcomers recently, including hip restaurants and bars, such as Bali export Potatohead and Rhoda, whose menu regularly changes to showcase the best local ingredients. Specialist retailers include cycle workshop Bikeaholic, homeware shop Thorn and Burrow, and Spicebox Organics, the city’s only USDA-approved organic store. The area is also home to several art galleries, including Above Second and 3812 Gallery.
In April, walking tour company Walk In Hong Kong held a tour around Sai Ying Pun with real estate company New World Development that took in some of the area’s best-known attractions, from a former mental hospital built in the 1890s that’s said to be haunted, to Hong Kong’s oldest salted fish store, Hop Lei.
“It’s a rather novel idea as we were selling the vibe of the place, an area where old and new co-exist,” says Olivia Tang, Director of Business Development & Strategy. A mix of local and international journalists and members of the public signed up for the walks and sampled foods unique to the area, such as Yu Kwen Yick’s chili sauce. Sai Ying Pun, Ms Tang says, is an attractive walking destination, without the congestion of Central, Causeway Bay or Mong Kok. “You can turn into alleys and find an old shop or a new café,” she says.
As some of its tours feature a food element, Walk In Hong Kong collaborates with local businesses, some of whom are only too happy to accommodate the tours. “Some businesses, like [Russian restaurant] Czarina 1964 have opened earlier for us, while Mr Lam, at the Tuck Chong Sum Kee Bamboo Steamer Company, will give a demonstration if he’s not too busy.”
Nutritionist and health coach Punam Chopra, founder of SpiceBox Organics Ltd, opened her first store in Sai Ying Pun in 2012 when it was still an up-and-coming neighbourhood.
“When I opened here four years ago, there weren’t so many organic stores around then. It’s very eclectic as it has the traditional side and the hip side, plus it’s an educational neighbourhood as Hong Kong University is next door.”
For Ms Chopra, Sai Ying Pun isn’t just a place for her business; it’s also where she enjoys hanging out. “There’s a little arts café near Third Street – it’s so easy to sit and have your meetings there.” She’s also a fan of more mainstream offerings like High Street Grill and Metropolitain.
Ms Chopra says she initially struggled to get people through the door, so she began hosting wellness workshops and cooking classes to drum up interest. Her stores continue to hold informative sessions such as “Proteins from Plant-Based Sources” to target new customers. But the arrival of the MTR has increased the number of visitors to her store, particularly from the New Territories. She has since opened another outlet in Central, with a third due to launch by the end of the year.
Taking Art Outside
Set over three floors with a garden and private salon in addition to an exhibition space, 3812 Gallery moved to Sai Ying Pun a year ago. The gallery, set up by Mark Peaker and Calvin Hui, focuses on Chinese contemporary art and ink art in particular.
With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the gallery enjoys a vibrant street presence while the garden delivers an extra dimension to the space. “I’ve seen people photographing the gallery from the bus, which is great.” On the third floor, there’s a terrace where people can relax and enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee and look down over Queen’s Road West.
In tune with the community spirit in Sai Ying Pun, the gallery has an open-door policy. “There’s everyone from school kids to old aunties walking in to see the art, and we want to make everyone feel welcome. There’s a school right behind us, so some parents come in with their children. With so many galleries, people are scared to go in, and we want to avoid that,” he says.
The gallery has twice hosted a community outreach project, Sketch Hong Kong, with NGO Arts in Heritage Research that encouraged people to capture typical scenes across the city, including the traditional streets of Sai Ying Pun. “It was hugely popular, and we held a show at Pacific Place, with all proceeds going to charity.”
One of the artists the gallery has worked with, Chloe Ho, recently exhibited at the Forbes Gallery in New York. “Hong Kong is promoting art on the global stage now. There’s an art industry being built in this area, with curators and so on located here,” says Mr Peaker.
Restaurateur Christopher Przemyski collaborated with local artist Malcolm Golding to come up with the design concept for his bistro Flying Pig, which serves European comfort food such as pork knuckle and Sunday roast, against a backdrop of graffiti and metallic design details. Mr Przemyski, who has previously worked in Michelin-starred restaurants Richard Corrigan and Lecrivain in the United Kingdom and Ireland respectively, is a fan of Sai Ying Pun’s artistic flavour and sees further potential in the area.
“I specifically love that Sai Ying Pun is the new SoHo and is becoming a more exciting place to dine out. It’s a peaceful, residential area that is easy-going and funky, which matches very well with my restaurant’s concept,” he says.
As a Sai Ying Pun resident, Mr Przemyski says the community atmosphere is a refreshing alternative to more established areas like Central. “The neighbourhood is filled with young people; this generation is very open-minded and easy-going and loves to explore new and different settings in terms of food and lifestyle.”