British Hong Kong: The Colonials Are Staying

By: Natalie Robinson

September 9, 2014

In 1997, the sun finally set on the British Empire out in the East with the handover of Hong Kong back to China. After 150 years of British occupancy, the Queen ceded power and it was time to pack away the high tea sets and finish off the last drop of gin to the dying strains of the Land of Hope and Glory. At the time, it was commonly expected that the lowering of the Union Jack would trigger a mass exodus of Britons and a widespread purging of everything colonial. But, while the red post boxes were painted emerald green, and the new Hong Kong flag was hoisted, it was clear that a century and a half of colonialism had left a Britain shaped stamp on this rocky little island. For the Brits who called the city home, British Hong Kong might have come to an end but that didn’t mean it was time to sail off in the wake of the Royal Yacht Britannia”¦
Hong Kong | Victoria Harbour Sunset
Victoria Harbour at sunset ©  Pasu Au Yeung/Flickr 

Seventeen years later, and Hong Kong still proudly bears the red, white and blue smudges of its British history. A stroll down the Mid-Levels Escalators takes you past a Marks & Spencer Food where you can stock up on cheese and pickle sandwiches and rich tea biscuits before popping to G&T, the aptly named gin bar opposite, for a post-shopping tipple. As the Noon Day Gun is fired, you can escape the heat of the day at British Chef, Jamie Oliver’s, first Hong Kong outpost – Jamie’s Italian. Afterwards, walk off your lunch in nearby Victoria Park, where a curtsey before the statue of Queen Victoria is practically mandatory. The British well and truly have their feet under the Hong Kong carpet, and it seems, they’re moving in their extended family.

Hong Kong | Victoria Park
Long Live The Queen: Victoria Park’s Resident Monarch © Martin Ng/Flickr

In 2014, that well-worn acronym, FILTH – failed in London, try Hong Kong – has been flipped on its head. In fact, entrepreneurs seem to be employing the business strategy – booming in London, expand to Hong Kong. As well as being fast, easy and affordable to set up a business in Hong Kong, the tax rate is low, the legal system is familiar and English is widely spoken. Last year, the World Bank’s “˜Ease of Doing Business’ economic survey ranked Hong Kong second only to Singapore out of 189 countries. Further, for many businesses looking to expand into Asia, Hong Kong is the perfect stepping-stone to China – somewhere to trial a concept in a relatively safe test bed before the great Asian push. With Chinese consumers’ disposable cash fortuitously increasing as fast as their appetite for luxury goods, there’s never been a better time to be trading in the East.

So who are today’s Tai-pans and what are they doing right now in Hong Kong?

The Feeders

Hong Kong | Jamie's Italian
Jamie’s Italian hits Hong Kong © Jamie’s Italian

The Brit boys have jumped out of the frying pan and into the wok and are currently dominating Hong Kong’s restaurant scene. Essex export, Jamie Oliver, opened the doors of his first Hong Kong restaurant, Jamie’s Italian, in Causeway Bay in July and the round the block queues for tables show no signs of abating any time soon. In May, Michelin-starred British chef, Jason Atherton, cut the ribbon at his third opening in the city in two years – the quintessentially British Aberdeen Street Social. While the downstairs bar area does a roaring trade in a twist on the Bloody Mary – the Bloody English, and the highly patriotic, miniature union jack festooned Pea-lini – the upstairs restaurant dishes up an elegant menu of contemporary British cuisine.

Hong Kong | Aberdeen Street Social
An anglo-twist on the Bloody Mary, Aberdeen Street Social’s Bloody English and King of the Kong Michelin-starred British chef, Jason Atherton © Aberdeen Street Social

Continuing in the Michelin-starred vein, Hong Kong’s hungry wait with rumbling stomachs for the multi-starred Gordon Ramsey and Tom Aikens to start cooking up a typhoon in the city later this year. Ramsey is due to open Bread Street Social in Lan Kwai Fong this autumn, while Tom Aikens is behind the culinary revamp of Hong Kong gastropub, The Pawn.

The Fashionistas

Hong Kong | Charlotte Olympia Portrait
Charlotte Dellal, the designer behind luxury shoe label – Charlotte Olympia © Charlotte Olympia

Flying the flag for British fashion are a slew of Brit brands, from high end Burberry and Rupert Sanderson to high street favourites, Jack Wills and Topshop. Last year Phillip Green gave Hong Kong its first taste of the UK’s favourite fast fashion store with the opening of the city’s first Topshop. This summer Green opened not one but two further stores and has brought the boys in on the action by adding Topman to the line-up. Meanwhile, Harvey Nichols brings a touch of Knightsbridge to the city and stocks its two stores with a veritable feast of British labels including Matthew Williamson, Christopher Kane and Philip Treacy.

Making sure that the city’s Brit-chic from head to toe, the luxury shoe and accessories brand, Charlotte Olympia, opened up its first Asian store in Hong Kong earlier this year. Hong Kong’s glitz and glamour is taken care of by British designer, Solange Azagury-Partridge, whose quirky, rainbow-hued fine jewellery provides a modern spin on the crown jewels.

The Homemakers

Hong Kong’s high-rise homes can now get a dash of the English country cottage thanks to Cath Kidston‘s polka dots and ditsy florals. The flagship store in Causeway Bay is British to the very core, showcasing Kidston’s rose-sprigged wallpapers and all the essentials for a very English high tea in space devised and executed by a team of all-British designers. Anglophiles with Cath in the Kitchen can deck out the rest of their homes with a gentleman’s club edge courtesy of British heritage home brand, Timothy Oulton. The two recently opened Hong Kong stores are packed to the rafters with union jack sofas, chandeliers and leather trunks, meaning that every Hong Konger can make their home a castle.

The Beauty Bunch

Hong Kong | Penhaligons
Perfumer to the Queen – Penhaligon’s now has an outpost in Hong Kong © Victor Wong

At the tail end of 2012, there was one word on every Hong Kong beauty maven’s lips – Boots. Britain’s most trusted health and beauty retailer burst onto the city’s beauty scene with a bang bringing No7, Soltan, and a range of other English Rose essentials to selected Mannings stores. On the luxe-end, Heritage British perfumer, Penhaligon’s, opened its flagship Hong Kong boutique in the IFC late last year. The Victorian-style store stacks its dark-wood, panelled shelves with fine fragrances handcrafted in England, ranging from the brand’s signature Bluebell to the very British Juniper Sling.

The Party Animals

Hong Kong | Boujis
Party Like Prince Harry in the 852 © Boujis

In the nineteenth century, colonists warded off Malaria-carrying mosquitoes with quinine-heavy tonic water. The only issue? The tonic’s bitter edge. Thankfully, it was soon discovered that a generous glug of gin could counter this unpleasant taste and bam – the G&T was born. A century or two later and the mosquitoes are much less bothersome, but the Gin & Tonic still reigns supreme in Hong Kong with gin bars springing up across the city. These days even niche British craft gins have reached Hong Kong’s shores with bars like Ori-gin and G&T serving up a myriad of gins including Dodd’s, Sipsmith and Hendrick’s.

If partying like Prince Harry is more your scene, then Hong Kong outpost of Chelsea nightclub Boujis (a royal favourite), is the place to go. Opening in a flash of paparazzi bulbs and explosion of Champagne corks back at the tail end of 2012, the club is the perfect place to raise a toast to the best of British Hong Kong.

Header image Junkboat in Hong Kong © Anson Ki/iStock/Thinkstock

Virgin Atlantic operate daily, direct flights to Hong Kong from London Heathrow.

Where do you go in the city for a taste of British Hong Kong? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Natalie Robinson


Natalie Robinson

Born in London but now living amongst Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, Natalie’s a lawyer with a serious case of wanderlust. When she’s not negotiating contracts or filling up her passport with new stamps, she can be found writing or incessantly snapping away on her camera. Natalie contributes to several Hong Kong publications and also co-writes her own fashion and lifestyle blog, 3 Bad Mice [], with her two London-based sisters.

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