“I’ve worked in Central, Wan Chai, Soho, and Admiralty. None had the same neighborly or communal feel that you get here,” says Alex Malouf, owner of Catch on Catchick Street. The popular seafood restaurant opened in 2014 as one of the neighborhood’s first contemporary eateries, and while Malouf admits it took a bit of time to lure locals away from their bustling food centers, Catch was soon drawing crowds; last year it expanded to a much larger dining space next door. He adds, “We moved here because of the relaxed setting and harbor views, and also knowing that the MTR would soon open up the area. Now, new restaurants and bars are popping up everywhere. Competition is fierce. That was a little intimidating at first, but then I realized, the more the merrier. More venues equals more people in the area. Everybody wins.”
Much of the neighborhood’s new vitality is found on or between Catchick and New Praya, two roads that run parallel to the harborfront. On the latter you’ll find always-packed Fish & Chick and the equally popular bistro-cum-bar Kinsale, where Irish-inspired interiors meet international comfort food and a pleasant waterfront setting. On North Street, there’s mod-Mexican restaurant Chino (L.A.-raised chef-owner Erik Idos was previously executive chef at Nobu Hong Kong) and gourmet coffee spot Waffling Beans. From there, it’s a short stroll to Catchick Street favorites Shoreditch, a modern British gastropub; Ice Monkey, a gourmet ice cream parlor; and Craft Brew & Co, a 15-tap bar with sister outlets in Central and Sai Ying Pun.
“Having been a Central and Sai Kung boy for many years, I’m loving the neighborhood vibe down here,” says Shoreditch owner Scott Wrayton. “Everyone is far more chilled out than they are in Central.” At the crossroads of Catchick and North streets, Shoreditch is arguably K-Town’s best spot for people-watching, with an open facade that returns a little British charm to the outlands of the historic City of Victoria, as Central and its adjacent districts were known in colonial times. Its izakaya-inspired sibling eatery Fugazi, which opened in June just across the street, offers innovative, modern Asian tapas, from satay and yakitori to share plates of Xinjiang lamb and Korean-fried chicken, matched with its own beer imported from Scotland’s West Brewery and a house sake the owners developed a taste for during ski trips to Hokkaido.
“Kennedy Town is becoming a little mini destination and the more quality outlets we have, the better,” Wrayton says. “What I also like is that there are still many local businesses around, and I really hope that these are not going to be driven out by greedy landlords.”
Little holes-in-the-wall like this have proven the biggest draw card for foodies visiting Kennedy Town, with former shophouses quickly being redeveloped by restaurateurs and entrepreneurs into fascinating craft-spirit boutiques, ribs joints, and wine stores. During warm summer evenings, Catchick Street is packed with curious Hong Kongers and tourists from around the world, dodging trams and reading menus.
But the action is not restricted to the waterfront. On Forbes Street, where the roots of century-plus-old banyan trees trail 15 meters down some of the oldest stone retaining walls in Hong Kong, change is also afoot. This area, once home to the local swimming pool, is now a transport hub above the new Kennedy Town MTR station, and the crowds that ascend from far below often come with an appetite. There to serve them is Picnic on Forbes, the first foray west of Sheung Wan by acclaimed Réunion-born chef Philippe Orrico, as well as the cavernous former mechanic’s shop that is K-Town Bar & Grill and Missy Ho’s, a playful fusion Asian restaurant that turns into a late-night haven for the precinct’s chic new residents. Nearby on unassuming Hau Wo Street, there are Vietnamese noodle spots, Japanese teppanyaki joints, and a Belgian beer bar that’s doubled in size since it opened, ale fans packing its street-side tables.
Yet the old rhythms persist. Interspersed among Kennedy Town’s smart newcomers are the traditional stores that have served residents for generations. At the noodle kitchens I would pass each morning on the way to work, old women continue to mold pork and prawn dumplings by hand, and the many Chinese pharmacies, with their glass cabinets of dried roots and herbs, still do a roaring trade with the neighborhood’s octogenarians. Nestled into a mountain slope overlooking the bustle of central Kennedy Town is Lo Pan Temple, a smoke-stained shrine to the god of construction workers; and in the many auto repair shops and rice warehouses that still line the waterfront, where gaggles of old men play mah-jongg into the early hours, resigned to the rise of modernity around them. It’s also comforting to see that when students from the nearby University of Hong Kong aren’t searching for texts on local history and politics at Run Run Shaw Heritage House, a beautifully renovated granite mansion that’s home to the university’s press and bookstore, they continue to fill every seat at Sun Hing, an old-timey yum cha spot on Smithfield. It’s open daily from 3 a.m. until 4 p.m.—alternative hours to the glitzy new restaurants.