Hong Kong is so exciting to visit. Such a throbbing place! Everything comes at you from all directions, all at once. It’s sensory overload 24/7. You stumble around in a semi-dazed state from trying to block it all out and take it all in at the same time. It keeps you on your toes, literally, because walking is essential to get around. Everything is so densely packed that it doesn’t even take that long to get from one neighbourhood to another.
I hadn’t been there in a while, and had never stayed on the Kowloon side, so when I heard about the new Cordis Hotel in Kowloon, I was curious to see what life across the harbour was like. Located in Kowloon’s frenetic Mongkok neighbourhood – the busiest, highest density area of Hong Kong, The Cordis Hong Kong is the only luxury hotel in this shall we say, not-so- ritzy area of the city.
My Hong Kong friends looked blank when I mentioned the Cordis, because they know the hotel by its former name, the familiar old Langham Place Hotel. It’s actually the same hotel, and was recently rebranded The Cordis, which is a new, contemporary brand within the Langham Hotels group.
I don’t know my way around Hong Kong, but I didn’t have to be nervous about how to get to Mongkok thanks to the hotel limousine that ensconced us in its sleek black comfort, gliding through the city and delivering us to the hotel door. We arrived as evening fell, and were swept straight up to the 36th floor club lounge for our personal check-in, overlooking a glittering view below – just the kind of glowing cityscape you expect to see when you imagine arriving in Hong Kong.
Next morning I woke up to a different scene of the city’s softer mood – a panorama of misty clouds in graduating shades of greyish blue hovering over the distant harbor. My Studio Room was a bright, airy corner room with light pouring in from windows on two sides, a small pantry and a sitting and work area.
The Studio Room is one of the biggest size rooms in the hotel, and at first impression I thought it was small, compared to hotels in other cities I’ve stayed in. But after seeing a regular size room I realized that in Hong Kong square footage, my Studio Room was actually huge, including its spacious white marble bathroom with both bathtub and separate shower, both of which I used.
High on my hotel To Do list was the blowout signature Chuan Ritual spa session at the Cordis’ award-winning Chuan Spa, which incidentally won yet another regional spa award during my stay. Tucked away on the hotel’s quiet top floor below the rooftop pool, the Chuan Spa offered calm respite from the jostling crowds on the streets below.
The Chuan Ritual was 2.5 hours long though the whole spa experience lasted about three hours, since I was advised to arrive 45 minutes in advance to enjoy a relaxing steam / sauna before the treatment began. At the Chuan Spa all the treatments are based on the concept of the Chinese Five Elements that balance the body. Upon arrival, I was given a questionnaire to determine my body’s element. Mine was wood, so the corresponding essential oil was selected for my massage.
The steam session was a welcome extra treat to help unwind from travelling. This was followed by a moisturizing body wrap, a skillful oil massage, and ending with a facial. Don’t ask me about the details, since I’d just eaten a big lunch and I fell asleep through most of it. Afterwards, I was led to the relaxation room, where I reclined in a fluffy robe with a tray of tea and Chinese snacks in front of a sweeping harbour view. Even better, afterwards I could head up to the Club Lounge and sip on some complimentary champagne before heading out to dinner.
Next day we were curious to try the newly launched Five Elements Spa Tea, served in the Alibi Bar’s cozy lounge area, where a Roy Lichtenstein pop art painting livened up the clusters of sofas overlooking Langham Place next door.
The tea set came in an elegant wooden tea chest whose tiny drawers revealed bite-size delicacies created along the concept of (guess what) the Chinese five elements. The waiter poured out glass cups of what looked like dark brown tea but turned out to be a delicious mushroom broth that warmed my insides with its full-bodied richness.
The actual tea was another surprise, with its deep sapphire hue that came from butterfly pea flowers, a traditional Asian herbal health infusion. Discovering each item in its little drawer and finding its Chinese element description in the accompanying menu was a fun way to try a contemporary Chinese afternoon tea.
Our visit happened to be during festival season in Hong Kong, so the hotel was a hive of activity. The hotel restaurants are popular with local residents who came for the beautiful buffet lunch in The Place restaurant and dim sum at the Michelin-starred Ming Court Chinese restaurant.
On our final night we savoured the Ming Court wine pairing dinner, featuring a seven-course Chinese meal paired with international wines from the hotel’s famed wine cellar.
I have to mention I’ve been on an eternal quest for delicious Hong Kong roast squab for years. Years ago, a friend’s mother’s friend took us to eat roast squab in a mysterious, unidentified basement restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where angry waiters yelled and threw dishes on the table and served plates piled with fabulous roast pigeon that was to die for. None of us could ever find that place again and I’m always looking to replicate that amazing feast of roast pigeon whose crispy skin oozed with juice while the gamey, tender meat melted in the mouth.
The reality is that roast squab is somewhat hard to find, especially if you don’t live in Hong Kong (which makes finding it all the more delightful). I was thrilled to find that Ming Court served this elusive bird, and that it was included it in our dinner program, along with South African abalone, sautéed lobster, braised Wagyu beef cheek, roast crispy pork, various delectable broths and noodles, along with an elegantly delicious wine selection.
I was all agog to get a taste of some Michelin-starred Hong Kong roast squab, though a bit taken aback when the dish arrived. Spread on a pristine white plate was an entire baby bird, intact from beak to tail, glistening with juicy perfection and meticulously sliced in half lengthwise like a miniature Damien Hurst art installation. The bird’s other half lay on the plate of my companion, Mr. Barefoot. We stared at our bisected bird halves and then tucked in with gusto. Of course succulent and delicious, as anticipated.
All too soon the little bird was gone. Except for the head, which was still on the plate, beak agape. I wasn’t sure what to do with the head. Was it supposed to be eaten, or was it there for adornment, like a lobster’s head parked on a dish for theatrical effect?
“I’m going in,” I announced, after staring at it for a while.
Mr. Barefoot took a photo of me crunching down on the head, and I was startled by the mix of soft and crunchy textures, and the burst of savoury, salty, squabby juices spiked with the unexpected tang of fresh lemon juice. Did I mention that my favourite flavours are salty and sour, together? It was fantastically delicious. I even grabbed Mr. Barefoot’s plate and ate his squab head too.
Most people, like Mr. Barefoot, would shy away from chewing a bird’s head. Normally so would I, but in this case the deliciousness outweighed the creepiness. If I come across another baby pigeon head roasted to perfection with a dash of lime juice, I would gladly eat it again, and hope the next one comes with a Michelin star like this one did.
Contemporary art is exhibited all around the hotel, whose owner is an avid art collector. I recognized the works of famous painters all around the property. The hotel offers an art tour, as well as a walking tour of the local markets. Since the Cordis is located in the heart of Mongkok’s shopping and market district, we decided to join the market tour, led by the energetic concierge.
Just next door to the hotel we walked through the neighbourhood wet market selling groceries so fresh that some of them were still alive, like the bucket of enormous frogs and trays of live fish thrashing their tails. Hong Kong’s famous Ladies’ Market, selling all sorts of inexpensive clothes, accessories, and everyday items, was along the route too.
We sampled some famous Hong Kong egg waffles, shaped like ping pong balls, delicately crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Our walk involved a bit of weaving and dodging, as it was a Saturday afternoon the entire area was heaving with thousands of people out in full force doing their weekend shopping, eating, and strolling.
Our tour wended its way through the maze of Langham Place shopping mall, up various sky high escalators to the skywalk that connected back to the cool comfort of our hotel lobby, where our little group dispersed in different directions to continue exploring on our own.
The last time I’d experienced a crowd this thick was in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve, a long time ago. In Mongkok I found the intensity of the crowds exhausting and was glad I could retreat to the spacious calm of my Studio Room in the sky and a long soak in the tub after a day out on the hectic streets of Kowloon.
Have you been to Hong Kong recently or not so recently? What’s your favourite experience there?