Our Sales Director James Mead spent four happy years living and working in Hong Kong, getting to grips with both the international wine trade and the unique appeal of this amazing place. In this article, James reminisces about his time there, muses on the many qualities that make Hong Kong so special and offers a few insider hints and tips for wine lovers planning their next trip east.

I am convinced that I was destined to fall in love with Hong Kong from the moment I was born into this world.  My grandparents moved there just after their wedding in the early 1930s, and so my formative years were spent listening to evocative stories of their time in the then-British Territory.  It is no understatement to say that they adored life in Hong Kong, had some wonderful experiences and left after two years having made some incredible enduring memories.

When Hong Kong took the groundbreaking decision to entirely scrap duty and tax on still wine imports in early 2007, an already buoyant international wine hub exploded overnight. At that stage I was a relatively junior private client specialist with a North London merchant, tasked with looking after new enquiries; the vast majority of these were coming out of Hong Kong and provided the direction of travel that my career was set to take.  Around 18 months later I moved companies to take on an export-specific role and very quickly it became obvious that Hong Kong was the place to be.

The New York of the East

After a rather nervous conversation with my then-fiancée in the summer of 2011, we made the decision to relocate.  What could be easier than organising a wedding from halfway around the world, hey!?  The big move happened in October 2011, and we had initially planned for a two-year period. However, what we both encountered when we moved there was like nothing we had envisaged.  We only knew a handful of people when we arrived, there but everyone we met made us feel incredibly welcome and endeavoured to introduce us to anyone who they might know who might be able to help us, either on a friendship basis or in relation to our respective industries …

Networking comes incredibly naturally to those in the ‘New York of the East’.  Everyone knows almost everyone, and if they can’t get you a direct introduction, they know someone who can.  Doors to some of the most influential wine lovers in this amazing place were opened with relative ease; and whilst it seemed that the vast majority of folk with something to sell were avoided, wine specialists were welcomed with open arms.  Inevitably, after just a few short months, we had the Hong Kong bug. We had completely fallen in love with the place, and it became inconceivable that we might only spend two short years there.

From a vinous perspective, we had to be on our toes.  Exploration was everything. Not an evening went by when there weren’t all kinds of bottles being cracked by both amateur enthusiasts and knowledgeable trade colleagues. We witnessed a strong cultural preference for old Bordelaise stalwarts, which had for so long been the bread and butter of the British wine trade in the Far East, develop into a taste for wines from a myriad of up-and-coming places and names. Formerly unfashionable regions (relatively speaking) such as Burgundy, the Rhône, Piedmont and Tuscany were gathering new followers in Hong Kong at every turn and it wasn’t just the big names – there was enormous excitement about unearthing the next great producer, and every new vintage release from wine regions across the globe came with a huge sense of anticipation.  Who were the most relevant wine critics?  Whose palate most closely matched one’s own?  Who was gaining influence?  All questions that were endlessly debated whilst tasting great wines and breaking bread with like-minded enthusiasts.

A Foodie’s Paradise 

As with many great wine hubs of the world, the food scene in Hong Kong is taken very seriously indeed.  Rising culinary stars are sought out and those who achieve the heady heights of Michelin star awards are treated with the greatest reverence.  New establishments championing cuisines from all over the world open on an almost daily basis, although the vast majority of great eateries do still cater first and foremost to the local Hong Kong communities. Sky-high demand for the very best sees planeloads of the highest quality fresh ingredients jetted in from all parts of the globe (and often traded in shady corners) with huge premiums being paid.  Seasonality is embraced, with delicacies like white truffles, hairy crabs, British asparagus, Japanese strawberries, Malaysian durian, and Chinese caviar (to name but a few) brought into the city when they are at their peak.  You can eat like a king with great ease in Hong Kong and the link between food and great wine is indelible.

A Homecoming In Hong Kong

Back in April 2023, I returned to Hong Kong for the first time in several years, and have visited again several times since – I have been delighted every time to be welcomed back to the place which I now think of as my second home.  It’s undeniable that the Covid-19 years have caused some significant changes, and it is impossible to get away from the region’s ongoing political difficulties, but the old buzz that I so fondly remembered was still there.  Hong Kong is a city that gladly offers a tremendous amount to all its visitors, and one which I wholeheartedly recommend spending time in. Here are some of the places which for me make Hong Kong what it is, many of which were staples of my time in the city.

The Upper House, one of the city’s best hotels

The Upper House, Admiralty

The Upper House, a gorgeous design-led hotel in the heart of the city, is a brilliant place to base yourself; relax and enjoy some of the city’s most outstanding views alongside great food, wine and cocktails. It’s the epitome of contemporary chic and a real treat to either stay in one of their beautiful rooms or enjoy top-notch Upper House hospitality in Café Grey.

Lamma Rainbow, Lamma Island

If you fancy something both authentic and a little adventurous, take the ferry from Hong Kong Central Pier 4 to Lamma Island. There, you’ll find a wonderful selection of dining establishments of which Lamma Rainbow (formerly the Rainbow Seafood Restaurant) is my favourite.  Expect plastic seats, plastic tables, plastic cutlery, nonchalant service, poor glassware and even more plastic … but also the most unbelievable seafood of all shapes and sizes. Try the house special, Star Garoupa (rainbow fish).

The Chairman, Central

The Chairman is a wine trade institution not to be missed, serving Cantonese-style food with a Western influence crafted using only the freshest of ingredients.  Check in advance for BYO rates, but historically they have been incredibly wine-friendly and this is a perfect venue to share some of your treasured bottles with good company. Plus, the steamed flowery crab is one of my favourite dishes in the city!

8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA, Central

One of a generous handful of 3 Michelin-star establishments in Hong Kong (and the only 3-star Italian restaurant outside of Italy itself) this amazing restaurant from chef Umberto Bombana never fails to impress. White truffle season, of course, is a particularly good time to head here to sample some of the best Italian cookery anywhere in the world … including Italy! The wine list is also particularly strong, and you could even partake in a cold pre-dinner pint, served from a pewter tankard, in the nearby Captain’s Bar if you were so inclined.

Devender Sehgal and his famous Negroni

The Aubrey (and Devender Sehgal’s Negroni!), Soho

Devender Sehgal is something of a Hong Kong legend thanks to his bartending skills and fabulous hospitality (his Negronis in particular are the stuff of dreams). I’m not the only one who thinks so – his home, The Aubrey, can regularly be spotted at the top of ‘best bar’ lists in both Asia and the world. You will find both Devender and The Aubrey up on the 25th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, offering an irrepressibly fun, eccentric venue and a suitably luxurious spot to while away a few nights in the middle of vibrant Soho.

Whisk, Tsim Sha Tsui

Head down to Hong Kong Ferry Pier in Central and take a trip on the Star Ferry over to Tsim Sha Tsui, where you’ll encounter a very different vibe from the city proper.  With locals selling watches, suits, day trips and everything in between, this side of the Fragrant Harbour just does things differently, and it’s a great change of pace. Hidden away in the terrific Mira hotel is Whisk, which offers a wonderful combination of French-Japanese cookery whilst being extremely wine friendly. A real insider’s choice for those in the know!

Bâtard, Sai Ying Pun

An incredible haven for wine lovers started by our friends at The Fine Wine Experience.  If you are partial to a bit of bottle porn and have exceptionally deep pockets, this place has simply one of the greatest ranges of wines that I have ever seen in a retail space. Every famous label you’ve ever dreamed of is represented here! Browse the epic bottle selection and grab one (at retail price) to drink next door in the French-inspired dining room.

In honesty, I could go on and on with my recommendations for this spectacular city – but in the interests of brevity, I will conclude and simply say that you must feel free to reach out personally to me at jm@chelseavintners.com if you are heading over and need some pointers! I’m sure I could even make some introductions to the many other vinously-minded folk who would be delighted to show you around and make sure you fall hopelessly in love with Hong Kong in the same way that I did.


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