Barbra Austin

Correspondent

  • Hong Kong, China, Asia

Barbra Austin is a Forbes Travel Guide Correspondent who is based in Hong Kong and covers the city for Forbes Travel Guide. A former pastry chef, she lived in New York City for many years before decamping for Paris, where she began writing about food. Now in Hong Kong, she is filling up on char siu and cheong fun but hasn’t tried snake soup just yet. She has written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Frommer’s and Zagat, among others.

  • On July 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best places to hear live music in Hong Kong?

    For classical performances, the headline venue is the Hong Kong Cultural Center, on the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui. Home to the HK Philharmonic, it also plays host to major international talent. Directly across the harbor, City Hall is another preferred site for classical music.

    Major pop acts (your Gagas and Biebers) sometimes stop at the AsiaWorld exposition center, near the airport.

    Indie and alternative rock fans should check out Hidden Agenda, a bare bones space in east Kowloon -- the "Hidden" part is no joke -- where local and touring acts play to a (mostly) young crowd of scenesters.

    Hong Kong does have one major alternative music festival: the third edition of Clockenflap, a two-day, outdoor event with several stages, happens toward the end of the year. Primal Scream and De La Soul were some of the headliners last year.

    Local institution The Wanch, in Wan Chai, has live music every night, with an eclectic program of local acts, and no cover charge.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best bars in Central in Hong Kong?

    I almost always bring visitors to Sevva, the sleek rooftop bar in the Prince’s building, for well-crafted cocktails amidst some of HK’s most iconic landmarks.

    It will take some effort to find 001, a sort of speakeasy, but you’re rewarded with a cool crowd, serious drinks, in a room designed for actual conversation more than rowdy revelry. The entrance is on Graham Street; call +852 2810 6969 for reservations and directions.

    In true tiki bar tradition, rum is the spirit of choice at kitschy-chic Honi Honi, but there’s more to the menu here than Mai Tais. Consider booking ahead, and bring close friends to share one of the gargantuan fruity concoctions.

    Beer lovers should make a beeline to The Globe for an unmatched selection of craft brews from around the world. A good choice for something casual and convivial (though it can be loud, especially if there’s a big match on the screen).

    Above the fray of Lan Kwai Fong, Wyndham the 4th features drinks formulated by award-winning mixologist Tom Wood, in an elegant, intimate setting.
  • On July 28, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best coffee shops in Sheung Wan in Hong Kong?

    Coffee lovers in Sheung Wan are spoiled for choice.

    Visit Barista Jam for a perfect espresso drink, or any other coffee-related needs: They sell whole beans and a full range of brewing equipment, too. Hungry? Order the soft scrambled eggs or a bowl of carbonara.

    On a leafy terrace by the steps of Pound Lane, Café Loisl offers a little slice of old Europe, with an exquisite marble topped counter, art deco light fixtures, a newspaper rack, and some of the best sachertorte and strüdel (house made, natürlich!) this side of Vienna, a fine accompaniment to the carefully made coffee drinks and teas.

    The Cupping Room has just opened in Sheung Wan, which means you no longer have to trek to Stanley for their assiduously sourced beans and expert brewing (this is the only place in Asia to serve Counter Culture Coffee). Two big communal tables offer lots of seating.

    More of a tea person? Visit the (almost painfully) charming Teakha for interesting brews and excellent cakes, including the best scones I've had in Hong Kong.
  • On July 25, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What festivals are going on in Hong Kong?

    Here’s what’s happening in Hong Kong:

    Hong Kong Restaurant Week August 5-11) gives eager eaters the chance to dine at some of the city's best and most popular tables, for a song.

    The Summer Spectacular (through August) exists mainly to promote tourism during the hottest months, but there are some intriguing offerings, including discounts at popular attractions, live music, and sporting events. See the Hong Kong Tourism Board website for details.

    Programmed for children, the International Arts Carnival (July 5 - August 11) features theater, music, and dance troupes from around the world.

    During the Hungry Ghost Festival (August), the dearly departed are believed to come back to visit; families leave offerings of food and fake money to appease the wandering spirits, and elaborate bamboo stages are constructed around the city for traditional opera performances.

    Rooted in ancient agricultural traditions, the Mid-Autumn Festival (September) celebrates the harvest with glowing lanterns, dragon dances, and mooncakes. Victoria Park is where much of the action happens.

  • On July 24, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What new museum exhibits are in Hong Kong?

    Here's where to get your cultural fix in Hong Kong right now:

    The Origin of Dao: New Dimensions in Contemporary Chinese Art (at the Hong Kong Art Museum until August 18, 2013) This carefully curated exhibit explores the current state of Chinese art, with an emphasis on ways that artists are incorporating traditional techniques into their work to create a contemporary Chinese vernacular.

    Intelligence Infinity: Inspiration Through Art (at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum until September 23, 2013) Designed for kids, this interactive, interdisciplinary exhibit puts the “art” in “smart” by using Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences as the basis of curation.

    Light Before Dawn: Unofficial Chinese Art 1975-1984 (at the Asia Society until September 1, 2013) By refusing to make art that served the political aims of the Cultural Revoluti and instead choosing to make art for art’s sake, the artists in this show risked their lives and unknowingly set the stage for China’s explosion in the art world.

    Maritime Porcelain Road: Relics from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao Museums (At the Hong Kong Art Museum until February 16, 2014) This exhibit showcases exquisite pieces from the collections of the three participating museums, and examines the ways in which Chinese techniques have influenced the global ceramics trade for centuries.

    Bruce Lee: Kung Fu - Art - Life (at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum through July 20, 2018) Martial arts fans and film buffs will enjoy this retrospective on the legendary life of one of cinema's most influential fighters.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is the best way to see Hong Kong in two days?

    Hong Kong is surprisingly easy to get around, which means you can get a great feel for the city in just a short time. Here are some ideas for a two-day trip:

    Day One
    Start the morning with a local’s breakfast of congee or HK-style French toast. Then take the tram up to Victoria Peak for spectacular views. Descend into Central and walk along Hollywood Road to visit some galleries, visit the Man Mo Temple, or shop for treasures on Cat Street.

    For lunch, do dim sum: In Central, visit Lin Heung tea house for an intense local experience, or try Maxim’s Palace City Hall, which looks out onto the harbor.

    Spend your afternoon on the Kowloon side. Explore the markets of Mongkok, stroll through Kowloon Park, marvel at the inordinate number of jewelry stores and malls in Tsim Sha Tsui. Need a break from the crowds? Go for high tea at the Peninsula.

    Plan on being on the Kowloon waterfront or, better yet, on the Star Ferry, at 8 p.m., to see the buildings on the HK side put on their nightly light show. Alternately, go for drinks at Ozone in the Ritz Carlton, on the 118th floor of the ICC building.

    For dinner, indulge in the elegant Cantonese fare at Lung King Heen, in the Four Seasons or, for a more local experience, book the award-winning Fu Sing in Wan Chai.

    If your evening is just getting started, find your way to nightlife district Lan Kwai Fong.

    Day Two
    After breakfast, head to Lantau Island. Take the Ngong Ping 360 gondola up to the Big Buddha. Lunch at the vegetarian canteen run by the Po Lin monastery, or wait to eat until you get to Tai O, a charming fishing village that feels worlds away from the Hong Kong where you woke up.

    Use the rest of the afternoon to relax. Go for a foot massage, go for tea or coffee, or grab an egg tart to tide you over until dinner.

    Dine on more superb Cantonese fare at the The Chairman, or the arty Duddell’s, both in Central. 

    End the night on the terrace of Sevva, perched amidst some of HK’s most iconic buildings.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best things to see and do in Hong Kong?

    Take in the views Victoria Peak is a must, but it’s far from the only view in town. High altitude drinking and dining options abound. Active travelers should check out HK’s abundant hiking trails. And every visitor should take at least one ride across the harbor on the Star Ferry.

    Visit the outlying islands On Lantau you’ll find a massive bronze Buddha, dramatic landscapes and charming villages. Head to Lamma for a laid back vibe and fresh seafood.

    Explore the street The markets of Mongkok are a great place to start.

    Eat, eat, eat Go for dim sum, feast on fresh fish, get a bowl of wonton noodles, sip a sweet milk tea, treat yourself to an egg tart or three, and be sure to have plenty of char siu (bbq pork).

    Shop Whether you’re looking for art or antiques, fine jewelry, cheap trinkets or designer duds, Hong Kong is a consumer’s paradise.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What restaurants have the best views in Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, hilly landscape, and vast harbor make for great views around every corner. Or up every elevator, more accurately. Take it all in from a table at one of these restaurants.

    Above and Beyond Airy views from the 28th floor and superb Cantonese cuisine await at this restaurant in TST’s Icon hotel. What’s in a name? A lot, in the case.

    The restaurants at the Ritz Carlton Lodged on floors 102-118 of the ICC building, the Ritz Carlton has several options for dining with a view. Tosca does luxe Italian, Tin Lung Heen serves refined Cantonese. Not for acrophobes.

    Felix Though housed in one of HK’s oldest hotels, the food and Philippe Starck design are ultra modern at this contemporary European table on the 28th floor of the Peninsula.

    Lung King Heen One of the best Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong also comes with a commanding view over Victoria Harbor. Located in the Four Seasons.

    Hutong  Named for Beijing’s narrow, winding alleys, the cuisine at this trendy spot is northern Chinese. But the views will remind you that you are, in fact in Hong Kong.

    Pearl on the Peak Perhaps more of a tourist attraction than gourmand destination, the 270° view down over the HK skyline, from atop Victoria Peak itself, is sure to impress.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the five best food experiences in Hong Kong?

    Char Siu Barbecued pork is one of the crowning achievements of Cantonese cuisine. You’ll see it on many menus, where it’s served on its own or as filling for cheong fun (rice noodle rolls) and char siu bao (steamed bbq pork buns).

    Dim Sum refers to a collection of small dishes -- dumplings and buns, mostly -- meant to accompany tea, eaten mainly in the late morning or for lunch. It can be had in no frills shops, or some of Hong Kong’s finest restaurants.

    Egg Tarts These golden pastries are are one of HK’s emblematic sweets. Try one hot out of the oven at Tai Cheong bakery, in Central.

    Fresh seafood Fish are often bought and transported live to restaurants, where they live in tanks until you order your dinner. The seafood restaurants on Lamma Island draw big crowds, but the best steamed fish I’ve ever had has been at The Chairman.

    Cha Chaan Teng These cheap and cheerful cafés (cha chaan teng means “tea food hall”) offer a great dose of local flavor. I go for a pineapple bun or Hong Kong-style French toast (golden fried and drizzled with syrup or sweetened condensed milk), and a glass of silky smooth iced milk tea, a local specialty you shouldn’t leave town without trying.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the five best romantic restaurants in Hong Kong?

    Big date in Hong Kong? Dinner at one of these restaurants should put you in the mood for love:

    For old school, gilded glamour, try Gaddi’s, the French table in the Peninsula. If you squint, you can pretend it’s Paris.

    If your amour is more of a modernist, book a table Amber, in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

    The classic French cooking comes with stunning harbor views at Caprice, in the Four Seasons. If you prefer to embrace the local cuisine, consider Lung King Heen, also in the hotel.

    To really get away from it all, travel to One Thirty One for contemporary European food in a villa overlooking the water in Sai Kung. (The lawn can accommodate helicopter landings, if you really want to take your date to the next level.)

    Swanky northern Chinese haven Hutong is dimly lit, and full of nooks for canoodling. The view isn’t bad, either.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best restaurants in Hong Kong?

    Keeping up with the Hong Kong dining scene can feel like sport sometimes. Restaurants open and close constantly, trends are embraced with fervor and then forgotten. But there are some restaurants that manage to stand out from the crowd, that live up to the hype, or simply transcend it with consistently excellent cooking. Here are just a few:

    The Chairman Elegant and understated, this Cantonese table in Central carefully sources their ingredients and takes no short cuts in the kitchen. It shows.

    Amber At this gorgeous restaurant in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Chef Richard Ekkebus offers menus that are a declension of the season, showcasing the most pristine ingredients (like his signature sea urchin). It's hyper-modern, but firmly grounded in French tradition.

    Lung King Heen For deluxe dim sum and other fine Cantonese fare with a harbour view, visit this award- winning table in the Four Seasons.

    Yardbird HK has plenty of yakitori joints, but none quite like this packed, no-reservations Sheung Wan spot, where every part of the chicken is deliciously skewered. Don’t miss the Korean Fried Cauliflower -- the best thing to ever happen to this humble brassica. Service is all-pro, too.

    Yin Yang Sourcing everything from her very own New Territories farm, Chef Margaret Xu could be called the Alice Waters of Hong Kong. Her cooking is personal, and the setting -- in a protected Wan Chai low-rise -- is charming.

    8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Truffle-loving Chef Umberto Bombana is Hong Kong's reigning king of high-end Italian.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is Hong Kong’s restaurant scene like?

    Cantonese cuisine is king in Hong Kong, from congee stalls to grand banquet halls. But all kinds of food can be found in Hong Kong: Regional Chinese, most Asian cuisines, and plenty of western food, too.

    Most of the city’s best fine dining establishments are housed in the luxury hotels. There’s Amber in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Lung King Heen and Caprice in the Four Seasons, to name but a few.

    French legends like Pierre Gagnaire, Joël Robuchon, and Alain Ducasse have ventures here. New York restaurant hounds may be surprised to see outposts of their beloved Motorino, Fatty Crab, and La Boqueria so far from the Hudson.   

    In the past year we’ve seen a taco boom, a spurt of Peruvian restaurants, and a growing roster of Spanish and Italian places, while a ramen craze seems to be quieting.

    It’s a fast-paced scene, with frequent openings and closings. Still, underneath the trends there remains a vibrant collection of local restaurants that makes up the fabric of the city. So, while it's possible to indulge in pasta blessed by Mario Batali and macarons from Pierre Hermé while in Hong Kong, you’ll get a truer taste of the town in a bowl of wonton noodles, perfect char siu, or a golden egg tart.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    Which five Hong Kong restaurants are best for brunch?

    When you’re ready to give dim sum a pass, here are some of the best and most popular places for western style brunch in Hong Kong (some of which offer a lot more than just a hair of the dog).

    Housed in a heritage building in Wan Chai, brunch at The Pawn has a definite British bent. If the full English breakfast or Sunday roast makes you thirsty, unlimited pours of Cava can be had for a supplement.

    Forget Japanese minimalism: The sushi brunch buffet at this slightly faded, but still trendy Zuma has to be seen to be believed. Free flowing Veuve Cliquot is part of the deal.

    Join the crowds at Oolaa, a bright and airy Soho spot that serves eggs how you want ‘em and strong espresso drinks. Book a table in the spacious dining room, or simply show up for a spot in the first-come-first-served café section.

    For a Champagne brunch that’s more about the Champagne, book a table in the Lobby at The Peninsula, where your perfect eggs benedict comes with unlimited refills of Ruinart blanc de blancs.

    Sitting above the Jumbo floating seafood restaurant in Aberdeen, Top Deck serves a something-for-everyone brunch buffet. What is lacks in finesse it makes up for in copiousness, and the al fresco setting is memorable.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Hong Kong?

    Peak Tram A must for visitors of any age, a ride on this steep funicular railway will thrill all but the most jaded teenager.

    Ocean Park Perched on peninsula overlooking the South China Sea, this theme park features rides as well as animal attractions and shows.

    The Beach Hit one of the south side beaches to beat the heat. Shek O and Big Wave Bay are good choices, with clean sand, lifeguards (March-November), and plenty of amenities.  

    HK Science Museum and HK Space Museum Most of the permanent exhibitions the Science museum are interactive, designed specifically for kids; and the Space Museum has an Omnimax theater and a massive planetarium. 

    Ngong Ping 360 This gondola ride goes from Tung Chung up to the famous Big Buddha, crossing open water and the hills of Lantau Island along the way. For the biggest thrill, get tickets for the Crystal Cabin, which has a transparent floor.

    When all else fails, there’s always Hong Kong Disneyland.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best places to stay in Hong Kong?

    The luxury hotel options run deep in Hong Kong:

    High colonial style and high tech amenities collide at the legendary Peninsula, which is celebrating its 85th anniversary. Arrive via helicopter or Rolls Royce, soak in the rooftop infinity pool, and take high tea among the palms in the lobby.

    For unrivaled views of the HK skyline, book at the Intercontinental, where all of the suites, and most of the rooms, overlook Victoria Harbor.

    Only open since 2005, The Four Seasons is already a classic, with unparalleled service, understated opulance, and a hard-to-beat waterfront location.

    The original Mandarin Oriental oozes retro glamour, while the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, its younger sibling is full of contemporary cool. Both offer some of the city’s best dining experiences.

    Though mere steps from everything, the Upper House feels like an oasis of calm (or it will when you’re having a soak in your massive marble tub).