A New Concept For Dan Ryan’s In Hong Kong’s City Plaza!

For me, the 90s marked the era of the American diner, grill and steakhouse. I remember the excitement when Dan Ryan’s first opened in Singapore next to the Regent Hotel.

Famous for its free kid’s balloons held down by a free collectible logo key chain, paper table clothes where you could doodle endlessly on and innovative kid’s menus – no one would have guessed that this restaurant chain was actually born and bred in Hong Kong with its first outlet opened at Pacific Place in 1989.

Dan Ryan, it seems, was a Chicago politician who lived in the 1940’s.  He was renowned for his ability to get things done through his close contacts in Washington D.C, mainly local political and social leaders. Why this particular American diner chain was actually named after him remains a mystery to me – but his name has undoubtedly lent authenticity to the Chicago grill concept that has since stood the test of time.

Today, there are solo outlets in Singapore and Taiwan with three restaurants in Hong Kong at Harbour City, Festival Walk and a new outlet at City Plaza in Tai Koo Shing which opened in May this year. We popped in to check out the new concept at the latter and to try the newly minted signatures off their menu which has been tweaked with healthier ingredient and superfood options.

How different was it from its parent concept that featured a good vibe, upbeat background jazz music, a drinks bar with a choo choo train track, paraphernalia up on the walls and huge portions of American style fare – to be truthful, all of that was still there – the only change being a longer track train and the more colourful paintings on the wall by American artists Leroy Neiman and Steve Penley. Instead of having a closed entrance where you walk into the bar, the new concept feels more ‘open’ where you can easily check your reservation at the entrance and walk into the thick of the action.

The kitchen also has gone from a back of the house feel to a lighter more open show-kitchen feel.  We popped by just before the recent Fathers’ Day weekend and what greeted us was a restaurant packed to the brim – a convivial atmosphere with families, balloons at each table, crayon canisters amidst a blurr of efficient waiters moving platters of steak and generous mountains of American salads, sides and sandwiches efficiently around the room whilst the queue outside kept growing longer. The place was buzzing!

The biggest change is noticeably its menu. No longer a grill room style listing that steak houses normally favour but a menu that features photos of its signatures which have also notably changed – keeping the hearty but introducing the healthy.

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My favourite item – the Dan Ryan’s muffin arrived before the rest of the meal. If I could sneak one or two into my bag, I would – as in my humble opinion, Dan Ryan’s makes the best muffins I have ever eaten. The taste is made complete when complemented by one slice of slightly melted salted butter or whipped butter.

 

 

We picked a few items to share starting with the Super Green Salad (HK$188) which is a very large salad that you can order to share between 3 to 4 people. It  has a base of fresh baby spinach, quinoa and rocket leaves, complete with avocado, broccoli, pears, fresh blueberries and toasted pine-nuts for added crunch and sweetness.  I really liked this and made a mental note that I would pop into their Harbour City outlet again soon to grab this one for a quick and satisfying takeaway.  The salad comes with a homemade wild blueberry dressing is drizzled on top for maximum flavour.

This was followed by the Chi Town Combo (HK$298), a signature big sized combo platter of Baked Potato Skins, hand breaded Onion Rings and Buffalo Chicken Wings. Great with a glass of wine except for the Onion Rings which I prefer to be crisp rather than soft and mushy like these tended to be.

The choices on the Hand Cut Steaks and Chops were outstanding. I was tempted to order the US Tomahawk 32 oz Steak to share (HK$998 – pictured above) but it was sold out for the day.  So instead, we ordered the US Prime Flatiron Steak (HK$328) which turned out to be an excellent choice and featured a melt-in-your mouth ‘butchers cut’ of hormone free beef, char-grilled to perfection served with Tomato Vinaigrette salad and mashed Chipotle Lime Buttered Corn and Sweet Potato Fries.

We ended the meal sharing a Salted Caramel Double Fudge Brownie (HK$78) which maxed out my calorie count but made a perfect ending.

Things I would have ordered if my stomach had the capacity : the Deluxe Chili Burger,  the Seared Hokkaido Scallops and the Dan’s Dessert Sampler (pictured above). Definitely reason to return!

Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill at Cityplaza is at:
Shop 311, 3F, Phase 1, Cityplaza, 18 Taiko o Shing Road, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2845 4600

Click HERE for a list of the other Dan Ryan outlets in Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore.

 

Tapas, Sangria and Beer Adventures in TST

Tapas is everything but a light meal especially when downed with a jug of good Sangria. Despite how often I convince myself that this meal is or could be a light affair, I often succumb to the temptation of ordering more than I should. And that’s exactly what happened at this new go-to that I recently discovered in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong or as the locals call it ‘TST.’

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Playa De Papagayo is my latest find, in terms of Tapas outlets. Located at Observatory Road just down from the Mira Hotel, next to the Empire Hotel and across from the Audi Showroom, you can’t miss this cute place with its patio setting, bright blue exterior and distinct beach hut hangout feel.

The enterprising owners apparently also own another smaller tapas restaurant of the same name, at Hanoi Road nearby and they also own the fantastic Japanese yakitori restaurant right next door.

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Papagayos, as it is called short-form beckons with a fun vibe. It’s not your typical Spanish joint but has a nice laid back feel and if the weather is nice, you can sit outside on the patio where there is casual seating.

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Wandering inside, the surprisingly spacious interior has a mix of sofa seats, lounge chairs, high tables with stools and bench seating, amidst the usual tables and chairs.

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A neon sign or two, a large open bar and the quirky menu with its beach theme feel add to the chill-out vibe.

The drinks are creative, portions good and not the nasty watered down version you get at most places. In terms of food, the menu is extensive from Spanish Tapas to Soups and Salads, Pastas and Mains, things from their Fire Grill oven and a small selection of dessert. The tapas portions are over-all ‘smallish’. I was not overly impressed with the usual tapas favourites like the Garlic Shrimp and the Octopus. Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely tasty but you would need two portions if you are more than 3 people sharing.

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However, with a menu this extensive, normal should not be what you order at a restaurant like this. We decided to be adventurous and that spirit landed us some amazing eats like this list of top things to order that we are recommending. We are quite sure that you won’t get tapas like these anywhere else.

1.  Foie Gras Terrine, Fig and Rice Crispy Treat – HK$88

This bite-sized gourmet looking morsel looks like its ready to be served at a high end cocktail party. It is the perfect size to daintily pick up with your fingers and pop into your mouth. You get more than a generous bite and an explosion of tastes out of this very decent bite-sized piece of medium-rare foie gras, topped with delicious fig jam, a slice of fig with a delicious popcorn morsel perched on the top. Wash this down with a glass of fruity red and you are immediately ready for another piece.  I would definitely order two portions of these as one of these beauties as one plate is simply not enough.

2. Crab Meat and Avocado Roll with Salmon Caviar – HK$88

I am clueless as to how they make the gold coloured gel-like skin that looks like a wonton wrap and envelopes the tasty crab meat and avocado filling inside this almost beautiful h’or oeuvre.  Garnished with a dash of mayonnaise and Japanese caviar, this is delicious to the boot.

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3. Iberico Ham in Raw Tuna Roll with Half Boiled Egg – HK$78 

Not quite a main course, but this is a good sharing portion that you want to order a side of garlic bread for, just to mop up the runny egg. The tuna is just lightly seared, the way you would see it at a Japanese restaurant and really goes well with the egg.

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4. Kurabata Pork Chop with Apple Paste – HK$298

This pork dish makes an excellent main course if you are dining alone or slice it up and you have a decent main course to share along with the other tapas treats that you have picked.

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5.  Spanish Style Beef Ribs – HK$368

The beef on the bone that was served was literally huge. More than adequate for sharing and way too much for one person to finish alone. Beautifully coated and grilled in black sesame seeds, this gave the meat a juicy and tender texture. Definitely, a new favourite meat dish for those with carnivorous leanings, like me.

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6. Must-Order Paella – HK$288

We saw many people order this dish which comes served in an impressive Moroccan style tagine instead of the usual paella pan. I was intrigued and ordered the Squid Ink version (not shown in picture – as squid ink does not photograph well) which truly turned out to be one of the best paellas I have ever eaten. Moist, full of exquisite flavour – each bite leaves you abandoning all courtesy so that you can dig your spoon in for another bite.  At the end, all I could see was the satisfied smacking of everyone’s slightly-stained black lips.

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7.  Excellent Sangria, Beer and Creative Cocktails 

This restaurant gets my vote for good Sangria. The bartender serves an excellent mix – not too sweet, just the right amount of fruit and definitely enough vino to give it a good ‘kick’ start to a fun evening.  My 12 year old swears by the Mango non-alcoholic cocktail.

By the end of the meal and a few more jugs of sangria later, we were too full to try dessert which definitely gives us a reason to return.

Where: 

Playa De Papagayo is at

Shop N3, G/F, Podium Plaza, 5 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 – 2739 1808

and

Shop 2 , 5 Observatory Rd Tsim Sha Tsui                                                                                                     Tel: +852 – 2323 1379

 

Visiting The Three Gorges Dam

If you have a thing for world’s first and engineering marvels then this is one trip that you would want to make this Summer, and have it ticked off the bucket list.

Architectural Model – Photo taken at the Three Gorges Dam Museum showing the 5 ship locks bringing a boat downstream into the main river

The Three Gorges Dam or the Sanxia Da Ba (三峡大坝) is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam created to both produce electricity and increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity as well as reduce downstream floods. A project that started construction in 1994, it was fully functioning from 2012 complete with five ship locks and fully completed with a ship lift in December 2015. See TEN interesting facts that you may want to note about the Dam project here before you book those tickets.

As for us, we were curious to see what a project that saw China relocating 1.24 million people in 2008 to achieve, costing them US$27.6 billion or RMB180 billion to construct-looked like in reality.

Getting there was easier than expected, there is a 3 hour train ride option from Shenzhen but we decided to fly domestic. So we took the train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen via Lo Wu. From there, boarded a 2 hour flight from Shenzhen’s Airport into Yichang.

A map of the tribal villages living along the Dam – at least 360 million people live here in the stretch from Yichang to Chongqing

Seeing the entire Dam and the expanse of land that is home to almost 360 million people is no mean feat and the most common way to fully appreciate it is to take a 4 to 6 day cruise and there are many cruise companies that arrange tours with English-speaking agents and guides.

With limited off days from school and work, we opted for the shortest way to see the Dam – via a Day Tour and got it arranged via the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Yichang (where we were staying). They recommended an English speaking tour guide, Christine who turned out to be a real gem. With a good command of English, knowledgeable, friendly and passionate about her job, she arranged a 2 day itinerary which included a day out on a tour boat down the Yangtze river and a second day out to see explore the Ba tribal village, one of the many small ancient villages that snake around the Yangtze.

Day 1

Saw us getting on to a tour boat that would take us on a leisurely cruise down part of the Yangtze to cross the ship lock of the Gezhouba Dam, go inside the Dam area, view the museum, have lunch, and then take a bus back to Yichang.

The Boat Tour – TIP: For better all around views – pay the extra 40RMB per person and sit on the top deck which is shaded with a canopy
Scenic views along the way

Entering a SHIP LOCK – think of it as an elevator of sorts but this SHIP LOCK allows the vessel to sail in and brings you 22 metres down stream in 20 mins (about the rate of 1 metre per minute). The ship is literally “locked” into the contained area that you see ahead to prevent the water from rushing in and then carried down stream.

CLOSE sesame! We are inside and the doors lock shut once the vessel is in. Water tight – our 20 minute journey via the ship lock brings us another 22m further downstream the Dam

You can’t fly over the Dam because of security issues and you need special military permission to do that – so a bird’s eye view of how the Dam operates and comes together is pretty much out of the question. Thus, a visit to the Dam museum to look at the model of it and how it all works and comes together is mandatory.

Day 2

We headed by bus to the catch another boat that would bring us to see the Ba Village, a  tribe of people who have lived in the region for centuries and in a village built by the banks of the Yangtze River. After which we would catch a bus to eat at the famous cliff side Weng Restaurant, one of the only 8 cliff restaurants in the world.

The boat moors at the Ba Village dock. We have travelled up stream to  visit the BA tribe to see how they live, explore local customs and experience the geography in the area.
The BA Tribe – a breathtaking ancient Kingdom built alongside the banks of the Yangtze
A river runs through the village ending in a stream and a waterfall at the heart of the village
The Coffin Caves were where the Ba Tribe buried their dead – Do you see two coffins in this shot?
Inside the village

Leaving the serenity of the Yangtze behind, we hopped on a tour bus back into Yichang city but not before stopping for dinner at the world-famous hanging Fang Weng Restaurant.

This restaurant is built into the side of a cliff – one of only 8 cliff restaurants in the world
The inside is a cavern that has been converted into a spacious dining room

The most famous dish there is a fish dish in milky soup where the fish has a distinct gelatinous texture. Look out for our detailed review later.

Total cost for the 2 day itinerary – 500 RMB per person (inclusive the boat and bus transport and minus a tip for the guide, the meals, an Uber or what China calls a “didi” back to the hotel). Definitely a great way to spend a long weekend.

(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for, simply that we want to share the great finds.)

Spa That In-City Getaway

Somehow when I think ‘Spa’ – my mind wanders to Thailand and Bali. The concept of relaxation does somewhat equal resort getaway but what if being in the city is the only option … for now.

Just last night, I popped into the opening of the new Chuan Body + Soul, an in-city Spa on the 15th floor of the chi chi Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

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Blame the twinkly fairy lights, the skinny cocktails (nothing over 250 calories) that I was plied with or maybe one of those uber healthy Acai berry bowls or the on-trend novelty multivitamin jellies that I was served, but my evening there, did somehow leave me lightheaded and open to the possibilities of a stealing a sneaky getaway right here, yes, during office hours under the bosses nose, right at the convenience of my Kowloon doorstep.

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Opening its doors to membership for the first time, Chuan Body + Soul (previously just for Hotel guests) is offering a Health Club membership (with access to the pool and fitness facilities) at HK$1,800 per person, per month with a HK$250 per month fee for a locker.

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The newly renovated premises offer stylish treatment rooms for massages and various treatments using private label essential oils saunas and showers, a rooftop swimming pool and a split-level fitness on demand health club.

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IMG_8678What I actually thought was particularly ‘buzzy’ and exciting was their new retail element – the sale and launch of Deborah Mitchell’s, Heaven product line and her award-winning bee venom therapies. An award winning aesthetician, she created and patented the Bee Venom product line ABEETOXIN®, used as the natural alternative to Botox by harvesting bee venom. Her Bee Sting Facial Therapy (HK$1,380 for 1 hr 15 mins) is said to give that instant natural face lift without the injections.

Another notable – Chuan also launches her Bee Peel Facial (HK$780 for 30 mins), the first of its kind to launch in Asia, designed with organic coconut, apple, raw sugar cane and 18% glycolic peel to deliver Medi-spa results by minimising visible fine lines, scars, pigmentation, sallow skin, blemishes and enlarged pores. A definite must-try if you are into what I term a ‘prevention is better than cure’ mantra.

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Members get the use of the gym, access to Personal trainer and can join the range of classes such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Meditation and Singing Bowl Sound Therapy or simply use the pool to swim or jacuzzi-away after a hard day at work.  Members’ Friends and Family  enjoy a HK$200 per person Monday to Friday rate / HK$300 per person Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays.  Not a bad deal if you want a fun girls’ day out!

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And if you are afraid that you will undo all the good from your soak, work out and massage then meals at the Spa offer a nutritious menu with healthy Sandwiches and Wraps alongside dishes like Açai bowls, homemade cereal bars, artificial-free fruit popsicles and energy boosting smoothies packed with antioxidants for long-lasting fuel.

If its a getaway to mark a special occasion, book a retreat – their Chuan Retreat Package at HK $5,000 offers a night’s stay in a One Bedroom Suite, a Signature Balancing or Chuan Harmony body massage for Two and access to The Langham Club lounge. Reservations at +852 2378 9988

Membership details see HERE or call: call +852 2378 9988

Meet Mr S.Y Punti – A Small Cafe With Big Personality

The next time you are find yourself in the increasingly trendy Sai Ying Pun enclave, drop by and say hello to a new resident there, the honourable Mr. S.Y. Punti!

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Who is he? He or rather IT is a small cafe with undeniable personality.  There are no short forms when it comes to formal introductions with this cafe. On contrary, this elusive little place is tucked behind a temporary public toilet at the end of David Lane – next to the Sai Ying Pun wet market. It took a little bit of investigative work to track Mr. Punti down but when we eventually did, my girlfriend and I were both pleased and pleasantly surprised by this little gem of an eatery which also serves coffee and alcohol.

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Cafe Manager, Bibiana greeted us warmly at the door when we arrived for lunch to try some of the traditional cha chaan teng fare that seems to have been given a nice twist in terms of preparation, presentation and the use of healthy and fresh produce instead of the usual canned fare that cha chaan tengs are so fond of using.

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The first thing we inquired with Bibiana was about was the inspiration behind the Cafe’s name. The “Mr” is just a fun formality and the Cafe’s initials. “S.Y.”, she explained, stood for Sai Ying Pun which turns out was one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods and one of the first formally settled places in Hong Kong as it was close to where the British first landed.  It’s surname “Punti” hails from the ‘pun’ in Sai Ying Pun and also the word “punti’ which is the slang word for local dialect – a word that it’s Barrister Founder and Owner picked up in court when asking clients that he was representing whether they wanted legal proceedings to be conducted in English or Cantonese.

That done, we got down to admiring the nitty gritty – from the very retro and interesting decor to the simple but tasty menu.

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I have to say, I really liked the use of space in the venue. The eatery is essentially tiny and is housed in a small narrow shop house. Outside there is an alfresco area with seats for 2 just before you enter the premises. Inside, is a small living space that has been converted into a dining area with booths that seat 8 and  a bar area with seats for 6, whilst the back of house area hosts a rest room, an open-air air-well and the Cafe’s main kitchen.

There is a distinct retro 1960s vibe which adds to the charm of the venue. A very eclectic and quirky Hong Kong sense of style prevails here. Different elements from East and West come together almost seamlessly and effortlessly and at Mr. S.Y. Punti, it is a case of 1960s style American Diner meets 1960s Chinese vintage.

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Just open the secret drawer built into one of the eatery’s standard American diner booth tables and help yourself to the eclectic mix of Chinese vintage style cutlery. Whilst you chat and eat, Faye Wong’s sultry tunes add to the relaxing ambience in the distant background. It is an unusual mix, but yet nothing feels odd or misplaced.

The menu and fare is simple with items that one would expect at a local Hong Kong eatery but decently priced, well-presented, hearty and minus that greasy after-taste that brings on the food coma you usually suffer from, after leaving a Hong Kong cha chaan teng.

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We started with what the locals call Cheong Fun, an order of Panfried Rice Rolls with Eggs and Bean Sprouts (HK$32).

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After that came the Panfried Lotus Root Cake made from mushrooms and minced pork served with Mini Greens (HK$36).

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This was followed by my favourite – Dumplings, a combination of three different types of dumplings – one with Minced Pork, one with Shitake and the last variety with Chicken and Celery (all for HK$38) served in a lovely homemade Chicken broth.

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All three items went well with the Cafe’s signature Yu Kwen Yick chilli sauce. It turns out that the Cafe was previously the actual ‘factory’ venue where this iconic made-in-Hong Kong chilli sauce was actually manufactured – fermented in wooden barrels.

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Dessert was a French Toast with Peanut Butter (HK$35) and Sesame Balls or Tong Yuen served in Iron Buddha Tea (HK$35). I really liked this unusual combination where the tea had a delicious roasted flavour and was gingerly poured over the sesame balls. Again an unusual combination that somehow, mysteriously worked.

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We ended our meal with two cups of Olympia Graeco-Egyptian coffee which barista-trained – Bibiana, personally prepared.

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Definitely, a cute spot to retreat to in the day, for a quiet girlfriend chat – over Almond Tea (HK$35) and a Cappuccino (HK$35), away from the hustle and bustle of busy Sai Ying Pun. Or this venue would also make a lovely spot to host a private party for about 20 people, after hours. Also, an ultra-nice nice venue to pop into for an evening, after work drink where Blue Girl Beer is on tap and a glass of wine starts at only HK$48.

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Nice to make your acquaintance S.Y, we hope you don’t mind us dropping the ‘Mister’ and now that we have been formally introduced, we would love to come back and say hello and get re-quainted. This time, perhaps on a first name basis!

Mr. S.Y Punti is at G/F No. 4 David Lane, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong – Tel: +852 29158885 

 

A Happy Ever After in San Junipero

If you could choose your own version of an afterlife, what would that be?

Of all the fascinating episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix, the one that left the deepest impression on me was Season 3, Episode 4’s San Junipero, a fictional place that is completely computer-created – an afterlife that elderly people can upload their consciousness to for five hours a week while they’re still alive, and permanently after death.

The story centres around two people who fall unexpectedly in love; one who has a second chance to re-live her eternity to the fullest in a fictional recreation of the 80s, given the fact that this was the era in real-life, where she actually became a paraplegic at the age of 20 and lived the rest of her life in an unresponsive state; and another, whose husband in real-life did not believe in the concept of an afterlife hence did not buy into the after-life programme, leaving her alone in this man-made landscape and wondering if her promise to him should still hold true.

Whilst the story marvels at modern technology, ethics and uncomfortably questions your core belief base of whether an after-life exists, the idea is still, intriguing.

If you had a chance to be uploaded to a utopian landscape and to an era of your choosing, a time and place where you were your happiest self, where you thought time could stay still forever, what would that be, and who would you hope to find within it?

Blue Sails In The Sunset – On Board The NEW Aqua Luna II

The Chinese junk with the large red sails that you often see plying the waters of the Victoria harbour is a sight to behold and one that almost every tourist visiting Hong Kong, is familiar with.

Last night, along with a handful of privileged media, we boarded its new sibling – the Mighty Ming Dragon christened the Aqua Luna II, as it unfurled its blue and white dragon (a motif often seen on Chinese Ming dynasty porcelain) that now trademarks its sails. In Chinese culture the dragon is a legendary creature; a symbol of power and good luck for all it touches, favoured by Chinese royalty.

Plied with champagne and dim sum canapés from the Aqua Group’s newly opened Dim Sum Library, we boarded this beautiful vessel that is slightly larger than it’s predecessor (measuring 29 metres in length and able to hold up to 80 guests on its two decks) and took off with it on it’s maiden voyage at sunset, as it gleamed and glided across the Hong Kong evening skyline.

This truly enchanting and unforgettable experience is probably one of the most precious memories that I will always cherish, especially when it comes time to say farewell to Hong Kong’s charms and its fragrant harbour.

Behind the construction of this second vessel, which took two whole years to complete, is Sifu (master craftsman) Au, who is now 86 years old. Sifu is said to have built more wooden boats than any other person in Hong Kong.

The boat was built using traditional techniques and made exclusively from wood, using bamboo for waterproofing with no nails used at all in the structure.

For those unaware of the history, the Aqua Luna and Aqua Luna II (in Chinese) are named after Hong Kong pirate Cheung Po Tsai, who sailed Hong Kong waters over 100 years ago. It is rumoured that he used the caves of Cheung Chau to store his pirate treasure. The Aqua Luna I is Cheung Po Tsai and Aqua Luna II is Dai Cheung Po (big brother of Cheung Po) – reflecting its greater size.

With this second vessel, the Aqua Luna fleet offers the same 45 minute evening harbour cruises – where guests can relax on lounge beds, sipping cocktails, day cruises, with a hop-on/hop-off Harbour Discovery Tour and from 1st May, longer daytime cruises to Stanley and now, Cheung Chau island to see the famed caves where Cheung Po Tsai is said to have buried his treasure and also Lamma Island for its beautiful nature trail. There will also be a series of Dim Sum Cruises for guests to enjoy signature dishes, prepared by Dim Sum Library.

To celebrate the launch of Aqua Luna II, complimentary rides will be offered to all Hong Kong ID Card holders on May 13th and 14th (from 12 noon – 5.30pm). In addition, from now until May 31st, all the restaurants in Aqua Restaurant Group will be randomly serving dishes and cocktails in Ming Dynasty plates and cups. Anyone lucky enough to be served the Ming Dynasty ceramic will get complimentary tickets for the new Aqua Luna II.

For Aqua Luna reservations call +852 2116 8821 – for price lists and sailing options see: www.aqualuna.com.hk