How to Hong Kong in style with Sepia's Martin Benn and Vicki Wild

Martin Benn and Vicki Wild on tour.
Martin Benn and Vicki Wild on tour. Photo: Supplied

Sepia Restaurant's Martin Benn and Vicki Wild are big fans of Hong Kong. For Wilde's birthday last year, Benn treated his life and business partner to dinner at two-Michelin-starred restaurant Amber, a night at the ultra-swish Upper House hotel and day of shopping in the city's many (many) luxury stores.

"It was a fantastic time – the biggest treat ever," says Wild.

The couple met working at Tetsuya's back in the day – Benn in the kitchen, Wild front of house. They visit Hong Kong regularly and even lived there for a period in 2007 before returning to Australia to open the three-hatted Sepia.

Feast at Ho Lee Fook restaurant in hip SoHo on Hong Kong Island.
Feast at Ho Lee Fook restaurant in hip SoHo on Hong Kong Island.  Photo: Noah Fecks

On their most recent stopover, the decision to eat at Amber resulted in the couple returning to Asia's world city sooner that expected.

"[Amber culinary director] Richard Ekkebus recognised us and came over to say hello," says Wild. "He gave us a tour of the kitchen and then said 'look, we do these series of dinners where [elBulli chef] Ferran Adria and just about everyone else has come over and cooked, but never anyone from Australia. We would love for Sepia to do one.'"

Benn will collaborate with Ekkebus for two special dinners at Amber on March 20 and 21. It will be a seafood-only affair to showcase the best produce from Australian waters.

Dining at Ho Lee Fook, a Hong Kong restaurant in SoHo.
Dining at Ho Lee Fook, a Hong Kong restaurant in SoHo.  Photo: Noah Fecks

"We're hoping they're going to be really successful dinners that fly the flag for Australia and keep people from Hong Kong travelling to Sydney to eat," says Wild.

Likewise, the couple will be doing their own eating and drinking tourism while in Hong Kong and can suggest a host of excellent places to visit on your next trip to one of the world's greatest food destinations.

Eating

Honkers has no shortage of delicious, cheap, cheerful, fast and frantic noodle, dumpling and barbecue joints. However, it also has terrific high-end restaurants worth your time and HK dollars too.

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Amber (7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen's Road, Central), which is in 20th place on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list, is most definitely Benn and Wild's top recommendation. "It's a very European style of contemporary dining, rather than Chinese or Asian," says Benn.

If you're more interested in fortune chicken than foie gras, the couple recommend dim sum restaurant, Yan Toh Heen (Intercontinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon). "It's really great for yum cha and uses exquisite produce," says Wild. "High-end but not outrageously expensive. Just excellent quality Cantonese fare."

Another place to check out is the China Club (13/F, The Old Bank of China Building, Bank Street, Central) says Wild. "It's just awesome. An original Chinese gentlemen's club where all the barman are in their 60s and 70s and dressed up in suits and ties. It's retro Chinese, which you don't get that often." Wild adds that it can be difficult to score a reservation as "it's kind of like a private club" but the right concierge can usually swing a booking.

Preparing food in the open kitchen at 22 Ships.
Preparing food in the open kitchen at 22 Ships.  Photo: Leisa Tyler

Benn says Hutong (28/F, 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) is a must-visit for superb Chinese food and an amazing view of the harbour. "The setting is just stunning. You feel like you're in real China. It's dark and moody and very traditional."

There's more harbour views and world-class Cantonese to be had at Lung King Heen (Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance Street, Central) and for a casual lunch the couple recommend tapas at 22 Ships (22 Ship Street, Wan Chai), courtesy of British chef Jason Atherton.

"It's a hole in the wall where you can drop in for Spanish small plates and a quick drink," says Wild. "It's a great concept and very different to everything else on offer in Hong Kong."

Baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken at Lung King Heen restaurant, Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong.
Baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken at Lung King Heen restaurant, Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong. 

Benn and Wild say they are also excited to eat for the first time at Yardbird (33-35 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan), a yakitori bar helmed by Canadian Matt Abergel that's making noise around the world, and Ho Lee Fook (1-5 Elgin Street, Central) the popular modern Chinese kitchen from Jowett Yu, Dan Hong's former head chef at Sydney's Mr Wong.

Drinking

"Cafe Gray Bar [Level 49, The Upper House, 88 Queensway, Admiralty] has great drinks and a terrific perspective of Hong Kong," says Wild. "On the Kowloon side there's Butler [5/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui], a Japanese-style whisky bar we really like. Martin and I also love jazz and there's a jazz bar called Foxglove [Printing House, 6 Duddell Street, Central] that's really cool." (For very important reference, Foxglove is hidden behind an umbrella store.)

If you're in the old Sheung Wan neighbourhood, Benn and Wild suggest drinks at Quinary (56-58 Hollywood Road, Central), considered to be one of the world's best "multi-sensory" cocktail bars, listing ingredients such as marshmallow foam and "earl grey caviar".

Sleeping and shopping

"We could only afford to stay at the The Upper House [88 Queensway, Admiralty] for one night, but it is truly the most amazing hotel," says Wild. "And of course, there's the Landmark Mandarin Oriental [15 Queen's Road, Central] where Amber is located."

Benn also suggests boutique hotel The Putman (202 Queens Road, Central), conceived by French interior and product designer Andree Putman, and the super-sleek, grey-toned rooms of 99 Bonham (99 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan).

"We used to live in Sheung Wan and we love it," says Benn. "It has an old-world Chinese feel. It's like you're stepping out of West and into East when you visit"

"It's becoming a very design-focused pocket," says Wild. "A creative area with a lot of new architecture but a nice sense of old Hong Kong too. There's a lot of little galleries and antique stores, and a market on Cat Street with all these great retro Chinese toys and trinkets."