Hong Kong real estate is one of the most expensive in the world, and this naturally creates a vicious cycle that pushes up rent, salary and cost. To survive, restaurants and bars have to mark up significantly, often much more than double, and this makes consumers think twice before opening a decent bottle of wine.
Luckily, there are a few places in this expensive city where wine lovers can enjoy a bottle or two of wine at very reasonable prices in a relaxed atmosphere. If needed, friendly sommeliers are on hand to make recommendations. What I like about these places are their non-intimidating environments and the availability of non-mainstream wines. In fact, when I’m there, I often just ask them to recommend an interesting wine that suits my budget.
Le Bistro Winebeast is a retail shop cum restaurant. The focus is on France and Spain, but charming sommelier Cristina is slowly expanding the wine list, and I’m glad to say that the first country she is working on is South Africa. The big selling point of Winebeast is that guests can buy wine at retail prices and take away the bottles – or even better – drink at the restaurant, with a delicious menu prepared by Chef Johan that changes regularly. In case you don’t want a full meal, just browse the shelves and pick the bottle you fancy, then enjoy it at the high tables along with a few plates of tapas. I have been there a few times for Sunday afternoon drinks and dinners with friends – all occasions were lovely. Cristina also hosts winemaker events, so make sure you are on her mailing list if you want to talk to winemakers up close and personal in a cosy setting.
G/F and 1/F, Tai Yip Building, 141 Thomson Road, Wanchai, 2782 6689
BETA Wine Studio, a wine lounge, is the new kid in town. It is first and foremost a retail shop, but if you're a member, you can drink your wine while relaxing on the sofas. Although not a restaurant, cheese and ham are readily available. Laid-back sommelier Ali says that the studio serves semi-niche wines that excite the palate, and he is proud that he has the biggest selection of premium South African (24 in total) and Lebanese wines. Forget about the wine list – ask Ali to make a recommendation based on your preference and spending. He changes the list every few days and is happy to share his cellar in case you prefer older vintages. Located in SoHo, most customers have a bottle of wine at the lounge before ordering another bottle for dinner. By the way, the studio is the first in Asia (and third in the world) where you can order wine from Deliveroo.
Basement, 46 Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, 6039 6339
Le Quinze Vins (LQV) is a wine bar that serves only French wine, with the bottles coming directly from its mother shop in Paris. The wine list is a good 30-minute read for anyone who wants to know about wine from all French appellations. It has a big selection of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, but for me, the most interesting are the wines from the less well-known regions such as Jura and Loire. I read the wine list every time but always end up asking for a recommendation from the friendly staff under the leadership of knowledgeable Chyson. I have to say this is the most relaxing French wine bar in the city. Cheese and ham platters are served, but customers can also take away any wine for an extra $100 per bottle to enjoy with their dinner elsewhere.
32 Gage Street, Central, 2652 0588
9 Swatow Street, Wanchai, 2673 7636
These are the few of my favourite wine places. Although having different operations and wine selections, they have the same philosophy: to share their passion for wine with customers in a comfortable environment without intimidating them, all for a reasonable price (a very good bottle can cost just $200).