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Hong Kong Food Diaries: Kid-friendly dining with Jeremy McCarthy, Spa Director of Mandarin Oriental

As the Group Director of Spa & Wellness at the Mandarin Oriental, responsible for the group’s global spa division, Jeremy McCarthy knows a thing or two about staying fit and good nutrition. Undoubtedly one of the foremost authorities on spa/wellness and associated mental well-being in Hong Kong, it’s no surprise that McCarthy spends most of his (very limited) time off engaging in adrenaline-pumping activities, whether it’s volleyball on the beach or an exhaustive yoga sesh.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all grain bowls and kale salads when it comes to meals: with two young mouths to feed (Max and Dylan, aged 6 and 8) and a packed schedule of social entertaining, McCarthy has a verified list of go-to places around town to suit all sorts of occasions, from low-key family meals to romantic date night dinners and hosting out-of-town guests — not to mention satisfying the occasional burger or pizza craving. For the inside scoop on McCarthy’s favourite food haunts, read on for his Hong Kong Food Diary below. 

Mandarin Oriental Group Spa Director Jeremy McCarthy with sons Max (6) and Dylan (8).

It’s a holiday so we’re having a lazy morning in. My son Dylan offers to make French toast for breakfast. He’s become a whiz in the kitchen and his specialty is breakfast, though he needs a little supervision to ensure we don’t have a cinnamon overdose. At 10am, I head down to Repulse Bay Beach for volleyball. I try to get my kids to come by promising to take them to Pizza Hut for lunch, but even the allure of their favourite restaurant isn’t enough to pry them away from their toys. Somehow, they think they can still finagle a pizza out of me and call me on the beach at noon with their lunch order. But I decide that it’ll be more practical if we all meet at the Breakers Café at the Repulse Bay Club. The kids can still have pizza, and I try the new salmon burger, which is delicious. I substitute a side salad for the fries, trying to be good (but still end up eating half of my kids’ French fries.)

At night we grill dinner on the barbecue on our balcony. It’s a couple of days early for 4th of July, but a good chance for me to pay homage to my American roots. We grill sausages for the kids and my wife and I have lamb chops. Everything tastes better when grilled. My wife makes some French beans in the kitchen, which is the perfect accompaniment even for our kids who are pretty good at eating their veggies. My wife is in a “Paleo” phase so this is a perfect meal for her.

Start the day with a quick breakfast with the kids. We seem to go through fads with different cereals but the current trend is Rice Krispies for Max and Cheerios for Dylan. I prefer the Cheerios but Dylan is guarding them carefully so I settle for the Rice Krispies before catching the bus to Causeway Bay for work.

Lunch is a sandwich on the go from EXpresso in the Excelsior Hotel. This is my old standby when I don’t have time for a proper meal. I have (as per usual) the tuna and egg salad sandwich and an apple. When I have a little more time, I go for the seared tuna salad or a Caesar salad with shrimp. But today, I’m  eating on the MTR (shhhh) on my way to a meeting, so a sandwich is the practical choice. 

After work, our kids have a playdate on Old Peak Road so I search for something nearby with good reviews and find Sumac, a Lebanese restaurant with a shisha lounge. We bypass the lounge but enjoy the delicious hummous, chicken and steak skewers, and a wonderful lamb couscous dish for dinner. My wife has a glass of pinot noir, and I order a Lebanese beer (which I would not recommend!). We’re pleasantly stuffed and out the door by 8pm to pick up our kids just as the restaurant is filling up with a few large parties.

What could be more American than hot dogs on the 4th of July? Tonight, we leave the kids at home and meet two other couples for gourmet hot dogs at Please Don’t Tell (affectionately referred to as “PDT”) at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  

We love this “secret” bar (you have to enter with a code through a hidden doorway in a phone booth) for its cosy intimate setting, it’s playful prohibition speakeasy concept, and the inspired cocktails.  

I resist the urge to have a beer with my hot dog (it is the 4th of July after all) and have the Benton’s Old Fashioned, which is their signature drink from their NY origins. For food, we do what we usually do at PDT, which is order one of everything to share. Each hot dog is a unique gourmet experience and the takoyaki tater tots are the perfect accompaniment.  

Today at lunch, I sneak out to Pure Fitness at Lee Garden Theatre for a quick midday workout. The Coco Water at Nood is the perfect post-workout hydration and I get a chicken and avocado sandwich to eat quickly on my way back to the office.  

Tonight, we again coordinate our meal plans around our children’s play dates. This time, Dylan is playing with a friend at The Belcher’s in Kennedy Town so my wife and I decide to meet for dinner in town before picking him up. A friend who lives in the area had recommended Chino, and as Mexican and Japanese are my two favourite food cultures, it sounds right up my alley. My wife is not a fan of Mexican food, but I figure the Japanese influence will win her over. We also bring young Max along for the ride. The fresh tortilla chips and guacamole at the start of the meal are a highlight and Chino is worth a visit just for the chips. They do not, however, have a kids menu. We try the fish tacos with the sauce on the side, but Max mostly sticks to the chips and guacamole and a plain tortilla for dinner (bad parents!). We both enjoy the tacos including duck carnitas and a vegetarian version with avocado, black bean and Oaxaca cheese. If I can get my wife to eat Mexican food more often by adding a little Asian flair, I plan to come back here regularly.

I have a lunch meeting with our Chief Marketing Officer to talk about our marketing strategy and our new Mindful Meetings initiative that we recently launched, trying to bring health and wellness into our meetings spaces. We meet at the Dickens Bar inside the Excelsior Hotel, which sounds an unlikely place for a discussion on wellness concepts, but they are known for the extensive salad bar and the Indian curry buffet. When I have meetings with my colleagues, this is where we normally go. It allows something for everyone as you can make a healthy salad, put together a heartier curry lunch, or indulge in some sweets from the dessert buffet. Or you can do all of the above, which is what my lunch looked like today. 

At night we’re supposed to have a double date with some friends but it’s cancelled at the last minute. We’re secretly relieved because we wanted to make it home in time to watch France play Uruguay in the World Cup. Having our evening suddenly free, we take advantage to do something we rarely get to do and do a vinyasa yoga class together at Pure South. After getting our Yin and Yang back in balance we browse the options at The Pulse in Repulse Bay before finally deciding to try Fratelli, the new pasta restaurant. It’s run by the same team as Amalfitana, the upscale pizzeria a few doors down, which we go to often.

We start with a couple glasses of the Illuminati Montepulciano and a delicious burrata bruschetta. I have a pasta bolognese, which is very good and my wife is able to order a smoked salmon salad so her Paleo diet isn’t compromised. They also have a kids menu so we plan to come back with the family. The only downside is that it’s a very humid night, and the air conditioners keep dripping water on us from above. Hopefully this is one of the kinks that gets worked out in their soft opening. We skip dessert so we can get home to watch the game (France ends up winning 2-0!).

Another lazy weekend, breakfast with the kids, more volleyball at the beach, and then a lovely kale and bacon frittata for lunch prepared by my wife. Kale and bacon are not things that you usually think of going together, but it works beautifully. 

For dinner, I decide to take my wife to Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental for an over-the-top date night experience. And over-the-top, it is. The view, the service, and the food are all extraordinary.

To be honest, it’s hard to describe the meal. I could tell you that I had the lamb and my wife had the sea bass, or that we started with a poivrade of artichoke and a broccoli véloute and a black rice in broth, but these words do not do the meal justice. I can’t begin to explain the incredible culinary acrobatics that the chef does to make dishes that are incredibly delicious but also unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Every course and every amuse-bouche is an experience to be savoured and discussed. This is a meal my wife and I will remember for a long time.

Hong Kong Food Diaries: Kid-friendly dining with Jeremy McCarthy, Spa Director of Mandarin Oriental

Leslie Yeh

Editor in Chief

Having worked as a lifestyle editor for almost 10 years, Leslie is thrilled to be writing about the topic she loves most: wining and dining. When she's not out pounding the pavement for the latest new restaurant opening or tracking food trends, Leslie can be found at home whipping up a plate of rigatoni vodka and binge-watching Netflix with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand.

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