Best Haven in a Sea of Change
Hong Kong, China
Jimmy's Kitchen has been in operation for 80 years. In a city that often feels like a working demonstration of the Buddhist notions of chaos and impermanence, this is as close to escaping the wheel of karma as anyone gets. Hong Kong's still point lies behind the restaurant's mock baronial door, and when you are beckoned over the threshold by Tom, the general manager, you pass into a hushed refectorium of lamplight, solid dinners and red upholstery.
The menu is part officer's mess, part Playboy Mansion. You can still ask for mulligatawny, beef Wellington and wine trifle the kind of thing an inebriated gang of safari-suited colonials would have dispatched on a midwinter afternoon in 1965. Or you can sup on the swinging-bachelor fare that Hugh Hefner might have ordered in his frisky, dressing gown-clad prime: chicken à la king, baked Alaska, Irish coffee. The Jimmy's Kitchen cookbook, published in 1988, is full of phrases like "add the brandy," "serve with thick fresh cream" and "flame at the table." There has been no pressing need to update it.
Of course, Hong Kong people no longer come to Jimmy's for the food. Customers come, instead, to draw deeply upon the restaurant's immutability when all else is in economic, political and architectural flux. Because of this, the attractions of Jimmy's are not readily grasped by out-of-towners, who probably wonder how the consumption of prawn sari or strawberry omelette can be elevated by the locals to the status of high culture. Let them dine elsewhere. Jimmy's is one place that is always and defiantly Hong Kong's own.