The Pawn, a British gastropub that operates out of a traditional ‘tong lau’ or Chinese tenement building symbolises the revival of Hong Kong's entertainment district, The Wan Chai
The Wan Chai entertainment district in Hong Kong has been celebrated in films such as The World of Suzie Wong, whose plotline is centred around a “hooker with a heart of gold”. In recent years, however, a gradual gentrification of the area continues apace, freeing up spaces for trendy, and upmarket drinking and dining options.
Nothing symbolises this reinvention as much as The Pawn (thepawn.com.hk), a British gastropub that operates out of a traditional ‘tong lau’ or Chinese tenement building. Since 2008, The Pawn has operated from the premises of an erstwhile moneylending ‘pawn shop’, and has quickly become a humming watering hole. I have fond memories of visits to The Pawn, downing endless rounds of beer, sitting by the balcony and looking at trams clanking and ‘ding-ding’ing their way around.
On a recent visit to Hong Kong, I returned to Wan Chai and to The Pawn. The district has been gentrified to an even greater extent, and The Pawn has been relaunched as an upscale restaurant with British celebrity chef Tom Aikens as consultant. Much has changed: the cheery colonial vibe of the bar area has given way to a swanky designer ambience, and the dining area, one floor up, has become even more plush.
But what The Pawn has lost in terms of soul has been compensated by the lavishness of the repast. Try the juniper-marinated venison for starters, served with beetroot snow; go on to the brined pork belly with fermented grains, braised onion and fried onion rings; and wind down with a creamy violet and chocolate éclair or a lime leaf and basil panna cotta with macerated strawberry and black olive dust. A meal for two, at HK$2,000, is steep, but it’s a fabulous experience that
symbolises Hong Kong’s ceaseless change.