LUXURY CENTRAL

With the ad­di­tion of the new Mur­ray ho­tel, the lure of Hong Kong’s Central dis­trict is hard to re­sist.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOGRAPHED BY DAVE WHEELER

In an am­phithe­atre in Hong Kong Park, tai chi master Daisy Kan is tak­ing me through a se­ries of fluid poses, my thighs protest­ing the held lunges and my pre­con­cep­tion of how tai chi was too gen­tle a form of ex­er­cise for me to be both­ered with be­ing steadily sweated away in the hu­mid mid-morn­ing heat. One of the res­i­dent gym train­ers from the Mur­ray, a newly opened five-star ho­tel right across the road from the park in the city’s Central dis­trict, minds our gear as my fel­low ho­tel guests and I at­tempt to per­form the rou­tines with some sem­blance of grace.

The trainer is soon joined by a swarm of school­girls in track­suit uni­forms, who take up spots on the am­phithe­atre steps for morn­ing tea, spread­ing out plas­tic pic­nic squares and un­pack­ing snacks. Their gig­gles and chat­ter drown out the clas­si­cal Chi­nese mu­sic be­ing played on a Blue­tooth speaker at Kan’s feet, but she seems un­per­turbed as she con­tin­ues her un­hur­ried rou­tine, even when some of the more bold school­girls stand next to her and strike ex­ag­ger­ated poses for the ben­e­fit of their friends.

Af­ter an hour of be­ing taken out of my com­fort zone in slow mo­tion, I hap­pily re­treat to the air-con­di­tioned oa­sis of the Mur­ray, a 1960s-era for­mer gov­ern­ment build­ing that has been re­worked by Foster + Part­ners to cre­ate Hong Kong’s lat­est luxury ho­tel. The ex­te­rior of the Mur­ray is soberly geo­met­ric, with the win­dows are an­gled at 45 de­grees to the face of the build­ing, so that the sun doesn’t shine di­rectly in dur­ing the city’s fierce sum­mers. The spa­cious, sump­tu­ous guest rooms are also off­set by 45 de­grees to align with the win­dows and max­imise the sweep­ing views, al­though you wouldn’t re­alise this if you didn’t no­tice the sharp an­gles of the door­ways in the dis­creetly lit halls.

The makeover of the Mur­ray is part of the city’s Con­serv­ing Central project, which seeks to pre­serve his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant build­ings in the orig­i­nal mil­i­tary and ad­min­is­tra­tive colo­nial cen­tre. Tak­ing in the views from Popin­jays, the Mur­ray’s rooftop restau­rant, you’re sep­a­rated from the pha­lanx of apart­ment blocks ris­ing up the steep hills of Mid-Lev­els and the im­pos­ing tow­ers of Central’s fi­nan­cial dis­trict by the massed green­ery of Hong Kong Park, with its vault­ing arched aviary and mu­seum of teaware, the grounds of Gov­ern­ment House and the zoo and botanic gar­dens. There’s a mar­vel­lous sense of space here that’s a rare com­mod­ity in this city of over seven mil­lion.

One of the most dy­namic and charis­matic of these seven mil­lion res­i­dents is Dou­glas Young, the co-founder of Goods of Desire, a life­style and fash­ion store in Central’s SoHo. When Young, who trained as an ar­chi­tect in the UK, learns I’m stay­ing at the Mur­ray he ca­su­ally men­tions it was he who first sug­gested in an open letter to the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment that the de­com­mis­sioned of­fice build­ing be re­born as a ho­tel rather than be­ing torn down. We’re on an ex­pe­di­tion to check out the gar­ment dis­trict of Sham Shui Po in Kowloon, a taste of old-school Hong Kong for vis­i­tors and a source of in­spi­ra­tion for Young, who trawls the fab­ric and but­ton stores and street stalls for near-for­got­ten pat­terns and prints he can re­fash­ion for his own line of tongue-in-cheek prod­ucts.

“My mis­sion,” says Young, “is to find things that are ob­vi­ous to lo­cal peo­ple and turn them into ob­jects of desire.” The re­sults of his for­ays into the city’s rich cul­tural past can be any­thing from a graphic shower cur­tain printed with over­sized Chi­nese char­ac­ters from old news­pa­per head­lines to home­wares dec­o­rated with mahjong tiles and ad­ver­tise­ments for Vic­to­rian-era ho­tels.

This chaotic, rough-and-ready gar­ment dis­trict is slowly be­com­ing gen­tri­fied, with Miche­lin-starred restau­rants, chic cafes and art spa­ces mov­ing in among the ram­shackle stores and crowded streets. “Hong Kong is con­stantly chang­ing,” says Young. “It’s al­ways in flux, which is why I love it so much.”

As we drive back to Central from Sham Shui Po I men­tion to Young that I’m go­ing to the buzzy Ho Lee Fook, a two-minute walk from his SoHo store, for din­ner that evening. The seem­ingly best-con­nected man in Hong Kong sings the praises of the eatery, then tells me he was re­spon­si­ble for the mis­chievous moniker, a riff on the name of the fa­mous – and now de­funct – Lon­don restau­rant Lee Ho Fook.

There are an es­ti­mated 18,000 restau­rants in Hong Kong – with their tiny apart­ments and even more tiny kitchens, many lo­cals of­ten eat out three times a day. These in­clude a mul­ti­tude of back-to-ba­sics Chi­nese ‘tea restau­rants’, so named as they serve tea as a re­fresh­ment (as op­posed to Western-style din­ers of­fer­ing ta­ble wa­ter), along­side an in­creas­ingly rar­efied strata of fine din­ing. The lat­est ad­di­tion to the fine din­ing scene is Ar­bor, whose youth­ful Fin­nish chef Eric Räty uses pre­mium Ja­panese in­gre­di­ents and clas­si­cal French tech­niques to cre­ate in­cred­i­bly com­plex dishes on the 25th floor of a high-rise on Queen’s Road in Central. It’s a cul­tural mash-up that’s very Central, and very much Hong Kong.

For more de­tails on the Mur­ray, go to www.nic­colo­ho­tels.com. Vogue flew with Cathay Pa­cific, which of­fers more than 70 flights a week to Hong Kong from Syd­ney, Mel­bourne, Bris­bane, Perth, Ade­laide and Cairns; www.cathay­pa­cific.com.

Look­ing down at Central from Vic­to­ria Peak.

The fa­cade of the 1969 build­ing in Central that now houses the Mur­ray, Hong Kong’s new­est five-star ho­tel.

Clock­wise fromtop left: a snap­shot of the city as viewed from a Mid-Lev­els es­ca­la­tor in Central; the sig­na­ture Mur­ray Suite at the Mur­ray, which comes with his and hers walk-in wardrobes; the heav­enly bath­room in the Mur­ray Suite; Dou­glas Young out­side his Goods of Desire store in Central’s SoHo.

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