Cafés have been so relentlessly romanticised in Western literature and films that they have become somewhat basic and clichéd, which is ironic because the quintessential coffee shop represents the independent and idiosyncratic. The displeasure of the French at Starbucks’ arrival in their country (evident in the transnational company’s failure to turn a profit there) and the wariness with which the Milanese are appraising Starbucks’ first Italian store are testament to the strong schema that Europeans hold dear for their cafés. The word offers cosy connotations for those who seek solitude, but also a warm eclectic community where barriers between strangers evanesce. Most negative criticism aimed at chain stores mention their ‘impersonal’ and ‘alienating’ atmospheres.
So it comes as no surprise that Corner Kitchen Café caught my attention. The name itself implies a friendly neighbourhood corner shop. It is a deceptively small, two-storey café tucked away on a hill in Sheung Wan, and serves burgers, wraps, tacos and the usual range of coffees. Situated 10-15 minutes away from the closest MTR stations, it is a pleasantly quiet location on weekdays. On weekends, however, be sure to arrive well before noon to secure a table. And even then, you may be asked to wait for 10-15 minutes.
After visiting four times, I can safely confirm that Corner Kitchen Café embodies the ideological coffee shop much better than either Starbucks or Pacific Coffee (the main chains in Hong Kong) do. The relatively inconspicuous location and the simple fact that it is a single, independent shop help it steer clear of the ‘fast-food feel’ that Europe so despises. The marble tabletops, wooden lawn chairs and comfortable couches add to the cosy-but-chic ambience.
My absolute favourite item on the menu is the pot of sweet potato fries, which comes served with a tin of the most delicious chilli mayonnaise that I have ever tasted. The wraps, although not as great as those at Mana! Fast Slow Food, are decent, but I would suggest avoiding the Greek yoghurt, salmon and coriander one. The yoghurt tasted too out of place – I would have preferred a dollop of another less tangy sauce. The coffee, served in Instagrammable mason jars and ceramic mugs, is smooth and creamy, and I would certainly rank it above Starbucks’ drinks. Unfortunately, it is just as expensive if not slightly more so. Prices for brunches are significantly cheaper; as Corner Kitchen Café offers all-day brunches on weekends, it is no wonder that the coffee shop is so popular on those days.
This tranquil coffee shop is perfect for catching up on your leisurely reading or lab reports on weekday afternoons, and for meeting up with friends for brunch on weekends.
Photograph by Christy Lau.