DIM SUM AND THEN SOME Few meals are more sacred in Hong Kong than a breakfast of dumplings and fragrant tea.
Excellent dim sum abounds: at luxe hotels, Titanic-sized dining halls, intimate teahouses, and utterly unlikely places such as Boris (Upper Ground Floor, Queens Place, 74 Queens Rd.; 852/2525-8803; lunch for two $20). Imagine falling into a glossy Absolut vodka ad, with Cyrillic lettering laminated on shiny walls; Russian tea glasses; and cushion-strewn banquettes. Only instead of borscht there are fat, crusty pork pot stickers, Shanghainese crab dumplings squirting hot broth, and kumquat-honey tea.
For something more classic, consider Maxim's Chinese Restaurant (2-3/F, Hennessy Centre, 500 Hennessy Rd., Causeway Bay; 852/2895-2200; dim sum for two $16), a sprawling place beloved by old-timers who congregate here after practicing tai chi in Victoria Park. Breakfast is grabbed from steam tables and carts piled with crisp taro cakes that defy gravity, shrimp har gaw wrapped in translucent rice-flour wrappers, and velvet-smooth fish balls.
WORTH THE DETOUR Travelers nostalgic for Hong Kong's colonial glamour of yore inevitably end up at Repulse Bay hotel, at the Verandah (109 Repulse Bay Rd., First Floor; 852/2812-2722; brunch for two $85). Here, whirling fans, palm trees, and a jazz trio add up to a setting so Hollywood, you expect to see William Holden appear. The Verandah's Sunday brunch is legendary for the extravagant buffet and the roving champagne-cocktail trolley (after several Kirs, some do see William Holden).
Crab legs are good at the Verandah, but serious pilgrims of the seafood faith take a one-hour ride to folksy Sai Kung village for a meal at a raucous waterside promenade lined with restaurants that look out onto a dense tangle of yachts and sampans. The best is Chuen Kee (87-89 Main Nin St.; 852/2792-9294, dinner for two $55), where striped soft-shell prawns and giant crabs are stir-fried in a delicious mix of ginger and scallions, and flying saucer-sized scallops are topped with cellophane noodles moistened with the chef's secret sauce.
Four Essential Snacks
1. CONGEE All of Hong Kong wakes up with a bowl of congee (juk), a reassuringly bland, long-simmered rice gruel. At Sang Kee Congee (7-9 Burd St., Sheung Wan; 852/2541-1099; breakfast for two $4), hard-core fans order it with pig's lungs or fish intestines. Squeamish?Try beef slices.
2. EGG TARTS These dainty warm tarts—crusts framing a silken egg-yolk custard—are as much an emblem of Hong Kong as the Star Ferry. Tai Chong Bakery (32 Lyndhurst Terrace; 852/2544-3475; tarts for two $1) also sells sugar-dusted choux pastry crullers. Worth every calorie.
3. WONTON Forget the leaden stuff from Chinese takeouts: at Chung Kee Noodle Restaurant (37 Wing Kut St., Sheung Wan; 852/2541-6388; lunch for two $4) the dumpling's delicate dough is shaped around shrimp and floats in clear broth loaded with eggy vermicelli.
4. BEEF BRISKET Braised with sweet spices and tangerine peel until it falls apart at the touch of a chopstick, the brisket from Kau Kee (21 Gough St., Sheung Wan; 852/2850-5967; dinner for two $6) draws office workers and those who pull up in Rolls-Royces.
When it comes to sipping, grazing, and posing, Hong Kong doesn't miss a beat. Witness the action at Dragon-I (Centrium, 60 Wyndham St., Upper Ground Floor, Central; 852/3110-1222; dinner for two $116), a club-restaurant with a menu of nouvelle Japanese nibbles and an impossibly sexy terrace lounge outfitted with birdcages. The showbiz regulars order the "Bruce Lee" combo (foie gras, lobster, caviar, gold leaf). • At WasabiSabi (Times Square; Matheson St., 13th Floor; Causeway Bay; 852/2506-0009; dinner for two $84), sip passion-fruit "saketinis" and snack on grilled spicy fish roe, gazing out on a catwalk flanked by a shimmering wall of silvery beads. • With blown-up stills from Fellini films, artisanal grappas, and Euro-looking Cantonese model-actress types puffing on cigars under a red ceiling, Cinecittà (9 Star St., Wanchai; 852/2529-0199; dinner for two $52) trades in retro Italianate glamour. • Next door, Kokage (9 Star St., Wanchai; 852/2529-6138; dinner for two $52) attracts swells with its Nobu-esque interiors, well-edited sake list, and braised tuna cheeks with yuzu vanilla sauce. Everyone needs a break from pig's innards and fish eyes sometimes.
Artisanal tea is the sip of the moment, and at Moon Garden Teahouse (5 Hoi Ping Rd.; 852/2882-6878), it's twirled, sniffed, and savored with the reverence normally reserved for dusty bottles of old Margaux. Vincent Chu, the boyish owner and a man in love with his leaves, explains the difference between Pu Erh (earthy and smooth) and oolong (fruity, semi-fermented) and steers customers toward white tea from the Fujian province ("it's air-dried on a sunny day"). The West Lake Dragon Well green tea has the fragrance of damp autumn leaves; at $50 a pot, Chu's red-label tea makes Margaux seem like a bargain.