Hong Kong is brimful of places to eat, from street-food vendors and fast-food outlets to luxury dining experiences and world class hotel restaurants. The China Club doesn't fit any of these moulds. A mix of elements of Chinese culture, from 1930s tea houses to more revolutionary references, all with a quiet nod to irony, fill the restaurant and the members' floors above. While this is a members' club, you can still get a table in the restaurant and an opportunity to see the wonderful art collection, if you book through your concierge.
I was the guest of owner Sir David Tang (of The Dorchester's China Tang) who I'd met the day before: a brilliant ball of fiery Chinese energy, with a twinkle in his eye, a public school accent and probably the most successful man in Hong Kong. His humour and eccentric energy are reflected in the design of the club house. It is worth going to the club to see the art. Sir David has gathered a teasing collection of paintings and other artworks that cover the walls and floors of the whole club.
The menu ranges from Hong Kong classics, descended from Portuguese, Dutch and British influences over the centuries, through some standard Western fare, into regional specialities of mainland China. My Shanghainese guest insisted on an Eastern culinary education and I, student, prepared my stainless steel chopsticks for lesson one. I like duck, but had never considered eating their tongues. They held no flavour except the marinade (mainly soy sauce) and were chewy except for the little bits of tongue bone the chef hadn't quite got rid of. Great novelty, but not my kind of food.
The next eight-inch plate held another Shanghai classic: scrambled egg whites with crab meat and conpoy, topped with raw egg yolk. Conpoy, I now know, are little pellets of deep fried scallop. So, a light crab omlette that was sprinkled with things that looked like peanuts, but tasted like scallop: a simple combination of flavours that was truly moreish.The next two dishes came on the same plate: honey-barbecued pork and honey-roasted eel. The pork was a little tough and a fraction on the sweet side, but the eel had a meticulous balance of sweet, sour and umami: the meat savoury and soft and the skin sweet and crispy. Finally, I had been allowed to order one dish myself: squid slices topped with mashed shrimp, fried and sprinkled with chopped chilli and spring onions; a mesmerising spicy seafood menagerie, tender, rich and the most interesting and well-balanced combination of flavours of all the dishes I tried.
After dinner, as I looked out from the club's terrace, set in the middle of the smartest, most fashionable part of Hong Kong island, the buildings bunched up around us made me think of robotic fingers grasping for the sky, for progress and growth: something very unlike the mesmerising nostalgia captured by the China Club.
Interior Photos: Yu Chenjing / Skyline photos: Sean Moch