From car-themed coffee bars to boutique vegetarian bistros, Dorothy So chills out at the city’s coolest new cafés. Photography by Calvin Sit
An ornate green door separates Il Caffè from the hustle and bustle of Sheung Wan. In fact, you almost feel like you’re leaving Hong Kong behind when you step into the Venetian-style coffee house. Inside, owners Peter Ho and Danny Choi (an architect by trade who also owns a suit tailoring service) have gone for a decidedly mature and masculine vibe with leather-padded seats, lacquered wooden furnishings and European posters interspersed with Italian automobile images. But the main attraction is the vintage-inspired Elektra Belle Epoque coffee machine fashioned from burnished copper and brass. The expert baristas brew delicious things with this contraption, from standard cappuccinos ($28-$38) to the house special montebianco citrus ($$30), which has a shot of espresso with milk foam and lemon zest. The store only uses the best beans from Italy’s famed Barbera coffee roasting company. Plenty of effort’s been put into the rest of the menu as well. The spaghetti carbonara ($70-$75) is deliciously eggy with al dente bite while pressed paninis ($32-$58) are generously crammed with meats and greens. Even if you don’t go for a full meal, you can still linger over an espresso and flip through The Rake. It’s a serious fix of Europe in a coffee cup. Unit 103, 1/F, Cheung Bldg, 1-3 Wing Lok St, Sheung Wan, 2545 6663; www.theilcaffe.com.
Healthy eating habits supposedly breed shiny, happy people and the folks behind this gorgeous, independent boutique café are putting that theory to the test. Chef-owner Peggy Chan has been a self-proclaimed ‘conscious eater’ for more than a decade and her cooking reflects this lifestyle. Everything on Grassroots Pantry’s plant-based menu is made from scratch and close to 80 percent of all ingredients is sourced from local organic farms. “It’s important to acknowledge that someone does grow your food. You have to think about that and be grateful about where it all comes from,” explains Chan. A Le Cordon Bleu graduate who’s worked at several hotels including the Four Seasons Hong Kong and The Peninsula Tokyo, Chan’s seasonal dishes are good-for-you without being short on flavour. Her summer risotto ($148), for example, is a delicious plate of short grain brown rice perked up with peas, fresh mint and creamy goats cheese. And then there’s the raw blueberry cheesecake ($68), which manages to be indulgent even without the addition of any refined sugars. Grassroots also offers private dinner menus starting from $550 per person, as well as educational workshops dedicated to sustainable, healthy living. It’s all about giving back to the community, explains Chan – and, according to her, the best way to do that is by sharing the knowledge. 2-6 Fuk Sau Lane, Sai Ying Pun, 2873 3353; www.grassrootspantry.com.
This cute Tai Ping Shan café is all about freshly brewed artisanal teas. Owner Nana Chan takes most pride in her milk teas, which include an Indian chai and Keemun black tea (served with red date or ginger with honey). Foodwise, Teakha offers a daily selection of scones, cakes and sandwiches. The space also doubles as a lifestyle concept store selling homemade jams, stationery and tableware. Shop B, 18 Tai Ping Shan Rd, Sheung Wan, 2858 9185; www.teakha.com.
Fiat is known for pumping out top-of-the-line autos but the car company also operates a string of well-groomed cafés around the world. The Hong Kong branch opened earlier this year, offering casual Italian cuisine brimming with clean flavours and fresh ingredients. We love the Callipo tuna with eggs, caper mayo and fronds of fresh dill. If you’re into figs, the chefs here plate them with ricotta cheese and white truffle honey to delicious effect. The café also serves Illy coffee. If you really want to splurge, shoot for ‘the world’s most expensive coffee’ – an espresso with a Fiat Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari for $799,888. Shop G5-6, G/F, Leighton Ctr, 77 Leighton Rd, Causeway Bay, 2960 9222.
The Cupping Room
The Cupping Room is not just a café; it’s a haven for java junkies. Owner Derek Chiu was awarded first runner-up in last year’s Hong Kong Barista Championship and his dedication to coffee shines through in each and every cup. The café sources specialty beans, which are all roasted to order. And because Chiu believes in using only the best, he’s invested in a Synesso machine that’s the first of its kind in Hong Kong. The Cupping Room also boasts an in-shop Chocolate Room that sells sweets from the UK. Shop 207, 2/F, Stanley Plaza, 23 Carmel Rd, Stanley, 9316 1980.
There should be more places like Chaiwanese. Really. Opened late last year by art advisor Jehan Chu, the converted warehouse space has become the unofficial hangout for creative types. One of the biggest draws here is the sprawling space and laid-back vibe. The food adds to the charm – casual, comforting and prepped with subtle twists. Try the Mumbai curry chicken on rye bread or go for the HK-style hotdog with Korean pickle mayo and caramelised onions. Chaiwanese also does killer bagels (served with cream cheese and house-cured salmon), as well as a selection of rustic, homebaked sweets. Unit 1307, 13/F, Phase 1 Chai Wan Industrial City, 60 Wing Tai Rd, Chai Wan, 3698 0935; www.chaiwanese.com.