Picture this – a typical late-summer rainshower has just lifted. You cross the footbridge over the freeway from Victoria Park (or take the underpass from nearby shopping mall, World Trade Centre) and arrive at a curious typhoon shelter. You descend a short flight of stairs and board a simple wooden boat…with a table right in the middle of it. You sit, and after about 45 seconds of rowing by a disconcertingly strong woman, you’re docked to a ‘mother ship’ and immersed in a cloud of heavenly smells that instantly summons pangs of hunger. About 4 wooden boats flank yours on both sides. Your gaze settles on the source of those smells – ultra-fresh seafood dancing in flaming woks, submitting to the whims of Chef Leung Hoi. A smile alights on your face. You can’t help but feel like you’ve descended into the laid-back seafood equivalent of a speakeasy, a gem of a place that feels simultaneously like a well-kept secret and a quintessential Hong Kong dining experience. You have arrived at Shun Kee.
Shun Kee, at the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, is definitely ‘quintessential’, even if no longer so much ‘secret’ – but it is still a place we learned about only via a local Hong Konger (thank you, Florence!). A boomerang relic from the past, Shun Kee is the only typhoon shelter floating restaurant to have returned to the area, which had a colorful if checkered past as a thriving nightlife scene decades ago.
This is a restaurant that epitomizes the beauty of simplicity. Straightforward, no bells or whistles, absolutely nothing pretentious about it. Your ambience for the evening is basic (fluorescent lighting, plastic tablecloth, mismatched chairs, bewildering clusters of power cords dangling from the ‘ceiling’, and a toilet on one end of the boat not so far from your table – so do yourself and your fellow diners a favor, and take care of business before you board!). Yet the food you are about to enjoy quickly makes these surroundings somehow feel…charming in a way.
Here, the focus is on high-quality, fresh seafood (caught that morning), simply seasoned or sauced, prepared to order, and consumed family-style. Snails and the traditional, chewy octopus are not my favorites. The steamed prawns are simple but tasty (served Chinese-style, shell and head on). But the sauteed baby clams in brown sauce (unfortunately with a few bits of sand still in them on our visit), bamboo clams (you may know them as razor clams) swimming in scallions, fried garlic, and glass noodles, and the standout typhoon shelter-style chili crab are truly delicious and likely to become craveable favorites. Noodle and soup dishes can also be ordered, but the seafood is the star here.
This is possibly one of the most efficient, multi-course menus you’ll enjoy – a parade of deftly prepared sea creatures, best paired with beer (available on the boat, along with soft drinks) or wine that you are welcome to bring with you. Note that there’s not much English spoken here – so don’t be surprised if you end up in a comically cyclical battle between requesting ice and receiving rice!
Shun Kee is a venue best enjoyed with a group of friends ready for a casual feast and a great time. It’s probably a peaceful experience for most – although our somewhat boisterous group had other ideas in mind, and I fear the family dining in the adjoining boat were warning their wide-eyed children to look away and cover their ears! A mid-dinner power outage threatened a very dimly lit final flight of courses (this is not a candle kind of place) and brought on a flurry of laughter, but the generator kicked in and had everyone back in frenzied eating mode within minutes.
For an offbeat, unexpected, yet very Hong Kong experience, you can’t do much better than Shun Kee. This is not a full-evening adventure – you’ll have your boat for about 90 minutes. Don’t worry – you won’t feel rushed, there is just a steady stream of dishes. And you WILL be stuffed. But don’t let that stop you from extending your evening and satisfying your sweet tooth like we did. Hopping over to an equally low-key cha chaan teng for some coconut sago or mango ice cream seems like just the right thing to do after a meal like this.
Shun Kee Seafood Restaurant (website in Chinese only)
Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter
Reservations required, 90-minute slot, maximum 12 persons per boat
HKD 800 minimu per boat, menus from HKD 1080 for 2 people to HKD 3680 for 12 people
Note: taxis cannot stop readily at the pier, so plan to take the footbridge from Victoria Park or underpass from World Trade Centre
2.5 HKF stars (out of 5)