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Dec 29, 2011 09:48 PM

Hong Kong - Antony Bourdain's "The Layover"

Anthony Bourdain does a new USAmerican TV series called "The Layover" where he spends a limited amount of time in various cities around the world, styled as a layover between flights, typically on the order of 1 1/2 to 2 days. I saw earlier tonight the episode where he spent 48 hours in Hong Kong.

What a curious and disappointing episode food-wise, to me anyway.

After arriving in HK and declaring that a prime attraction of HK was the immense food scene to be found in the place, he proceeds to gallivant around essentially as on a travel program - which, admittedly it is - yet largely ignoring excellent restaurants or the glories of Chinese cuisine except for snippets here and there and with attention paid to colonial/American-influenced stuff like elbow macaroni and spam in tomato sauce he and his "guides" ate and discussed at length at Sing Heung Yuen in the Central district. I grabbed a notepad and kept track of places he visited with or without "friends". In sequence (some were mentioned in passing only):
Joy Hing (Wanchai) - BBQ meats & etc
Kin's Kitchen (Harbour area)
Hotel - Mandarin Oriental
Sing Heung Yuen (Central) - mentioned above
Mido Cafe (Yau Ma Tei)
Simpson Sin Tailor (Kowloon) - for his Sharkskin cloth gangster suit
Hui Lau Shan (Kowloon) - fruit juices, desserts, etc
Chan Chi Kee (Kowloon) - knife store - where he spent some time looking at the BIG knives but finally bought a peking duck knife
Tim Ho Wan (Kowloon) - dim sum [finally!!! some real food]
Mak An Kee (Central) - noodles [mentioned]
Aberdeen Fish Market
New Discovery (Central) - Bar [mentioned, I think]
Star Ferry to Kowloon
Fuk Loi Koi [sic] (Prince Edward, Kowloon) - squid, seafood; they dwelt on the squid there...? [I suspect they misspelt the name of the place][should be Fok Loi Kui?]
Tsui Wah (Central) - noodles, etc [mentioned only]
Racks Bar (Central) - drinks, pool tables, Tony getting wasted, shooting pool, throwing ping pong balls into plastic cups of beer, playing darts... :::rolleyes::: (from me)
Ozone Bar (Kowloon) - high end cocktails, that sort of thing [mentioned]
Trip to Lamma Island
Lancombe Seafood (Lamma Island) - brief shots of just some dishes sown: S&P shrimp, scallps, clams... the concentration was on "discussions" of why these yong folks TB was hanging out with, including a few American expats, were there in HK, blah blah...
Tung Po Seafood (North Point) [mentioned]
...and off he goes, napping on the way.

Not a single high-end or fancy Chinese meal was had by him nor even seen in any brief glimpse.

Note that all the names as written on the left were as given on the screen shown during the episode...


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  1. Have not seen the episode but thought this is a good list if one DOESN"T want to dine at high-end places. There are some good stuff here like Joy Hing and Mak An Kee. There are some that are either good for their specialty such as Tim Ho Wan, Sing Heung Yuen. There are some that are places to experience a certain type of eatery such as Tung Po, Tsui Wah. If this is for the average tourist, why would they want meal after meal of high-end stuff?

    2 Replies
    1. re: HKTraveler

      I agree, as it is a layover the best way to experience any city is to sample a little at a lot. One or two big grand meals would be limiting rather than enlightening. Suspect that with all of these types of shows there is a lot of editorial guidannce to make it appeal to theaudience demographic hence the getting wasted in bars and expat interviews.

      1. re: PhilD

        True, all good points from you and HKT (bove) & Luther (below) - yet I would have thought that Bourdain would have gone to at least ONE really good meal, *in addition to* or *besides* the other stuff which would be expected on a show like this.

        As for the places HKT pointed out in his post as good examples of their genre, three of them were only "mentioned" - meaning *very* brief scenes were shown of the places with a voice-over mentioning what they did; Bourdain was not shown eating at them.

        Thanks for the comments, much appreciated. The comments on the list of places is also enlightening to me.

        p.s. Dang those typos I made towards the end!
        p.p.s. They mentioned Ozone bar. Why not Tin Lung Heen, then, in the same hotel? :-)

    2. We don't all have the budget for meals that cost $400 or $500 a person. High-end dining is for a certain demographic, and it's one that this show doesn't consider its target.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Luther

        Do you mean US$ or HK$? If US$ then yes, I certainly agree not everyone would be able to do it (and the point about the demographic of the show is well taken but possibly debatable). If HK$ it comes out to US$51 or 64 pp, which is certainly doable for the majority of tourists from the US, at least. (...and at HK$500, which seems low to me for a really "up-there" meal, I might expect one gets a good but not mind-blowing meal?)

        If you saw the show, what would that meal with the squid dish at Fok Loi Kui have cost, d'you think?

        It did surprise me they didn't do at least one such meal, or at least mention and show such a meal. It did not have to be a blowout meal on the order of HK$4K or 5K or more - they could mention *that* one in passing if they wanted to... :-)

        ETA: In contrast, "The Layover: Singapore" had a higher concentration on the food itself in Singapore, not as adjuncts to chit-chat, something I appreciated.

        1. re: huiray

          On a layover most people would not be looking for an expensive meal, they would be saving that for their principal destination. I always like the "if you only have 24-36 hours" travel pieces because when I travel on business I might only have one day to do stuff on my own and I can't justify expensing an expensive meal just for myself.

          1. re: huiray

            I watched this show to find some moderate new places for our visit in March. I was very disappointed and thought that the show was slanted toward only one type of restaurant when there is such a varied choice in Hong Kong.

            I would have wanted to see some of the high end restaurants for future reference. It would have also given a more rounded look at the Hong Kong eating scene for those who have never been there before.

            Is it worth the trip to Lamma Island for a seafood lunch?

            1. re: huiray

              I meant HK$. I *could* afford a US$50 dinner but I don't go for one more than a couple times a year because I try to save some money. Though I think the general reason for the restaurant selection is, as Charles mentions down below, Tony Bourdain doesn't go to fine dining restaurants on any of his shows. It's just not his style.

              I actually just watched the show and the only thing I didn't like was his attempt to pronounce all the place/restaurant names... kinda made me cringe. I feel like if he's gonna be a tour guide and do a post production voiceover he should at least ask someone roughly how these things are pronounced.

              Openrice says a meal at FLK is around HK$200...

          2. Based on all the Bourdain's ' No Reservation' and 'Layover' series I've seen. His emphasis were much more on 'hole-in-the-wall' food than fine dining. eg., Pho in Saigon, Chicken rice in S'pore's hawker stall, claypot rice in HK's Dai Pai Dong, Tapas in San Sebastian.....etc

            4 Replies
            1. re: Charles Yu

              Yes, true - but he doesn't need to *go* to such fine dining places.## They could at least *mention* them, as they did with other places on the show where he did not go to. Especially in a city like HK where there are so many fine dining options as well as so many other good places to eat at. Rather than spend so much time lingering over and discussing at length the elbow macaroni and spam in tomato sauce stuff they had, for example, insofar as I was concerned. :::Shrug::: I would have thought even the putative target audience of the show (USAmericans?) might find it "interesting" to find it in HK but would not go looking for it when in HK, they can make that readily at home. ;-) [...annnddd to stir the pot, here's one review on that place from a diner who appears to me to be likely to have an appreciation for a Westerner's perspective... :-) ]

              Anyway, it's all a storm in a teacup. Eh, not life threatening.

              ## Even though I found TB's Layover:Singapore episode more enjoyable because of the greater concentration on food, I personally have the same objection to the show not even mentioning fine dining options.

              1. re: huiray

                The phenomenon of him going to places that are really just "meh" on his shows is a whole other topic. To his credit in this new show he has stopped gushing over everything- you'll notice that on No Reservations he's always going on and on about how everything is the best thing ever (maybe partially to flatter his host) but you get the impression that he has meticulously curated a must-try list, which certainly isn't the case for the cities he's featured that I'm at all familiar with. In Layover he just kinda says, hey, this exists and it's worth eating at to some degree.

                As a Westerner who has acquired a taste for stuff like macaroni or instant noodles with a chicken wing floating in it, or extra thick toast with condensed milk... it would have been neat if he had given that whole thing a little better treatment. But I can appreciate that he was just being honest (and seriously fucking cranky) that whole episode.

                1. re: Luther

                  Luther - I agree. But to your earlier point if he was to really look gor the best then money starts to play a part, enen in places like HK. So whilst Tim Ho Wan maybe good for dimsum and the cheapest Michelin one star it is still quite a long way from the best dim sum in HK. If they put their prices up to match to the top tier I suspect they would have few fans. So if Tony was to really aim to eat the best he may alienate his core audience.

              2. re: Charles Yu

                BTW, his "No Reservations" episode on El Bulli just before it closed was pretty "up there". I suppose he assuaged his roughing-it side with that meal on the beach w/ Jose Andres, especially after that other stop at that nice MG place in Barcelona as well, as a prelude to El Bulli. :-)

              3. I watched the episode on the flight over to Hong Kong.. I'm going to hit Tim Ho Wan and Mak An Kee for sure!

                7 Replies
                1. re: Rhrnyc

                  Re: Tim Ho Wan - go early (30 minutes before its opening time at 10am) and be prepared to queue. And you *must* order the "Po Lo Char-siu Pao" (the little Mexican bun filled with Chinese bbq pork - first item at THW which Tony Bourdain was shown munching on) which Tim Ho Wan was justifiably famous for - but their version is also so cloyingly rich & buttery, you *must* consume it whilst it's served piping hot, within 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven.

                  Re: Mak An Kee - you (and Tony Bourdain) are so lucky, Mak An Kee's original Wellington St outlet has been seriously spruced up since it was mentioned by the Michelin folks. As recently back as the mid-90s, it was a grungy hole-in-the-wall - I once had to share a round table barely 2 feet in diameter with 4 other complete strangers, whilst dirty dishes were plonked into a tubful of water barely 6 inches from where my feet were. Still, it didn't stop folks from forming long queues outside the eatery even then. Try to avoid peak lunch hour here.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Well, TB never actually ate there - MAK was only "mentioned" in a voice-over on that episode as another place one could go to. So, Rhrnyc would be the lucky one. :-)

                    1. re: huiray

                      So Tony missed out on MAK! Coincidentally, the Travel Channel in Malaysia & Singapore actually showed the re-run of TB's Layover Hong Kong for the *sixth* time in 3 days this morning:

                      Somehow, I never seemed to be able to sit through the entire episode though I'd tried watching it 3 times. I guess, like you'd mentioned in your original post, the program seemed to concentrate less on food, but tried to get into a HK travelogue approach. I know too much about HK already to be interested in TB's sometimes quirky impressions. Macaroni soup with fried egg or spam floating in them - I had that for breakfast in HK since my first visit as a 6-year-old! When I lived in HK for 7 years as an investment banker there in the 90s, that was my breakfast at least a few times a month.

                      P.S. - I didn't even watch the Layover Singapore episode a single time. Somehow, I just *know* local Singaporean foodwriter-TV host, Makansutra's KF Seetoh, will be involved. I do respect him, but watching his sometimes over-the-top exaggerated "SIngaporean-ism" is rather painful, to say the least ;-)

                      1. re: klyeoh


                        Yes, TB went bopping around hither and yon with Seetoh on that scooter of his in that "Layover Singapore" episode. :-) KF Seetoh's reputation on these boards ("Abeng") was delineated well by you folks some time back: . I had not even been aware of him until around that time.

                        My greatest objection to TB's Hong Kong layover episode remains the complete disregard of the high-end stuff. If they can mention Ozone Bar (where TB did not go to) they could have at least mention *some* high-end options (where TB need not go to) for the benefit of viewers who are interested in such places. digc above in this thread was an example of one viewer who wished it had been so.

                        1. re: klyeoh

                          I think K F Seetoh's Food Surprise is much better, don't you? I mean he behaves better in the programme. He is a colourful character, which is what television demands of its personalities. And I think Anthony Bourdain's bad-boy persona is just a put-on for his small-screen image.

                        2. re: huiray

                          Uh, I think TB did Mak's YEARS ago. If you went to Mak's you would see clippings on the table about his visit, if i recall correctly.

                          1. re: Peech

                            Is that right? Ah, OK. In this episode of "The Layover - Hong Kong" he was not shown to do so, and one only got a voice-over saying that MAK was another place with such-and-such attributes that one could go to.

                    2. i dont know i mean the point of the show is that its supposed to be a layover, so you're there for some really short amount of time. i would normally agree with you that not showcasing HK's fine dining cantonese is a total shame b/c if anything i think that is something the rest of the world does not appreciate at all (personally i think it stacks up with the best of the world's fine dining and probably actually prefer it to most of the world's fine dining).

                      however there are a few problems with showcasing it in the context of the show:
                      1) # of people: you really can't do it properly without at least 3-4 people kind of thing b/c usually you want to get a spread of dishes and you can't do that if you're on some layover by yourself or with just another person (at least not properly in my opinion)
                      2) ordering: this is meant for people who probably know nothing or little about HK and its food and its not like you go to a high end cantonese place and there is just one dish you really want to order there, there are probably a bunch and in the context of this show, its probably not the right format to be like ok order all these dishes
                      3) price: i mean for me its fine to go to a high end dining place in HK, but you know it can get expensive and not everyone is really can afford it or wants to spend that type of money
                      4) time: i mean if you're on some layover and probably tired, do you really want to go sit down for some 2 hour dinner?
                      5) reservations: i mean generally you should have a res and im not sure alot of people are going to do that if they're on a layover kind of thing although i guess you could

                      i do agree that lamma is not something they should've shown, there is much better seafood in HK than Lamma and Lamma is a bit of a time sink anyhow

                      so while its certainly not perfect, i thought it was fine. I mean GF has to go there for business sometimes and she's kind of there on a layover type of schedule and she asks me where to go, i give her simple places like Mak's where its easy and she just doesnt really have to make too many decisions b/c they specialize in one thing. she's usually tired and doesn't want to go to some really high end long dinner

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Lau

                        To no body like us, seafood prepared and offered by places like Rainbow, could be mediocre.
                        However, in Bourdain's case, he's being taken there by foodies whom the chef/owner most probably know and I'm sure the place was prepped prior to his arrival. (Afterall, Its a TV reality show!!!). So for sure they'll make the food great for him!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          totally agree and i mean dont get me wrong the food at lamma is fine, its reasonably tasty and certainly better than alot of places in north america, but it a) takes some time to get out there (this is supposed to be a layover) and b) its certainly not the best HK has to offer by any means. so i just dont think it fits well in the context of the show either