There are five words that will cause any Hong Kong office worker to break out in fear-induced cold sweats. “We’re relocating to Kwun Tong”.
I, like many a back-office banker, actuary and advertiser, heard those fateful words three years ago. What you, the worker, receives in return for your employer’s callous cost-cutting is an experience designed to inflict maximum human suffering. An MTR station only accessible via a single file escalator and sharp elbows. Narrow roads of triple-parked lorries abuzz with Beijing bikinis and stifling body odour. Dark alleys of lecherous cockroaches, poisonous water and a temperature that’s consistently five-degrees above the rest of Hong Kong. There is however, one aspect of life in Kwun Tong that is more intolerable than all other afflictions; the food.
Over my time in Kwun Tong my culinary integrity (and professional integrity, for that matter) has sunk to new depths. I’ve eaten spam sandwiches with gay abandon. I’ve spent a collective lifetime waiting in the shopping mall food hall. I’ve voluntarily eaten at Subway for fuck’s sake.
There are a few exceptions hidden in the upper reaches of industrial buildings, but on the whole Kwun Tong’s culinary scene consists of pack-‘em-in slop houses. The district is indeed a culinary wasteland – an uninviting, unhygienic, uninspiring wasteland.
On one now infamous occasion at Tsun Yip Cooked Food Market, colleagues were stopped in their tracks. Two rats were fighting tooth and nail over the scraps of meat still attached to a discarded chicken wing. For a good five minutes the poor buggars scrapped while colleagues watched on aghast. The fact that all the other worker bees batted an eyelash at this spectacle speaks volumes.
I’ve persevered with stoic belligerence. I just about convinced myself “it’s just sustenance; there’s no need to actually enjoy lunch”. But I need not kid myself any longer. I’m quitting. Leaving. Going to a better place (Quarry Bay, if you must know).
With my enforced exile coming to an end, I thought I’d give Kwun Tong once last chance to redeem itself and went in search of an adequate lunch. I landed upon Angels and Demons, the Western restaurant in Club East.
The menu consists of a series of lunch ‘sets’ between $140 and $270. As is customary with Hong King ‘sets’ we started with a watery orange soup. I think it was pumpkin. Could have been sweet potato. May even have been carrot. There was a subtle – and by subtle I mean virtually non-existent – hint of crab. The crab was detectable only by the slithers of white pubice that caught in your teeth. To complete the unpleasant image in your minds eye it looked like the chef had sprayed his DNA all over the soup’s surface. It didn’t taste all that bad though (said DNA would have been the only seasoning applied to any dish during our visit).
As is also the case with Hong Kong sets the order and cadence of food delivery defies all logic. With soup bowls still half full a plate of fries arrived. The waitress took some convincing that they should probably be served with the steaks.
The interior of the Angels and Devils is surprising and reminiscent of my old student union at Halloween. Cheap, garish decorations are set against bright red lights and a general aesthetic of licentiousness.
My main course of halibut was the biggest surprise. It was cooked absolutely beautifully. It was soft, sweet and perfectly moist. It was also surprising in that it was served along side potato dauphinoise and slices of orange. I’ll repeat that; dauphinoise and orange. It doesn’t take a palette and tongue as sharp as mine to realise what an absolute aberration that is. But with bit of shuffling ingredients around the plate and careful consideration as to the order with which I put things in my mouth, it remained palatable.
The menu is overall very confused. Hainan Chicken is with coconut wolfberries soup (nope, I’ve no idea either). Mash potato is served with truffle and caviar. And lobster is served with truffle egg white and chanterelles. If Carrie Lam were to procreate with Joshua Wong the child would indeed be less confused than this menu.
A dessert of green matcha sludge and a bill of $379pp arrived and with it we departed into the stifling street.
My feelings toward Kwun Tong have inevitably impacted my perceptions of Angels and Demons. And I have to admit, it is the best of a bad bunch. The trouble is, it’s a very bad bunch.
The lack of passable restaurants in Kwun Tong is a symptom rather than an illness. It belies a more fundamental problem with business-cum-industrial district. Kwun Tong is bereft of real human culture. With utter contempt, the working populous file in via the single file escalator and get out as quickly as the same escalator will carry them. People don’t live in Kwun Tong, they don’t socialize in Kwun Tong, hell, they don’t even want to be in Kwun Tong.
And without human culture you can’t expect to have a functioning, let alone burgeoning, food scene. Which is a problem as, more than shopping malls, parks and coffee shops, restaurants are the modern beating heart of a city. They’re where families, friends and colleagues meet, catch-up and enjoy life. With rapid development of the area, town planners should take a leaf out of Taikoo Place and put restaurants at the heart of work life.
How much? $1,516 for four
Where? 4/F, 58 Tsun Yip Street, Kwun Tong
Who goes? Office worker bees