Old feuds return as Peak landmark faces new tender

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2006, 12:00am

Hong Kong's landmark tourist restaurant, the Peak Lookout, formerly the Peak Cafe at 121 Peak Road, is to be retendered. Five years have passed since Sherman Tang's Epicurean Management bid a monthly rent of just over $1 million - amid scenes of emotion and acrimony - to remove tenants of 12 years, partners Graeme Reading and Martin Allies of Cafe Deco Group. Other underbidders included Igor's Group.

Surprisingly, the Government Property Agency seems in no hurry to start the process, although the deal was done and dusted by mid-February last time. The agency is only now getting around to thinking about it, although the lease expires in mid-July, which leaves little time for a new tenant to refit. It says vaguely that gazetting and tendering, a four- to five-week process, will take place 'in the coming months, probably in May, depending on the progress of the retendering exercise'. It is also guarded about whether it is highest bid wins, or the most suitable candidate, or some other criteria, saying only that as the retendering proposal is being considered by relevant government departments, and the term and the awarding conditions of new tenancy are yet to be confirmed.

Cafe Deco Group, trading as Freedragon, took the Peak Cafe name and logo and opened the Peak Cafe in Soho, while Dr Tang rechristened the former Peak Cafe as Peak Lookout.

Last time, things became unpleasant, with the incoming tenants highly critical of the state in which they took over the building. Mr Reading feels this was adding insult to injury. He says he was too upset to give his side of the story five years ago, but now he wants to state that his company gave back the premises in the condition stipulated by the government.

'The government insisted I put it back to the state it was in when we took over. To do that I would have had to smash the roof in half, put back worm-infested beams and rip up the floor,' he explains. 'So it was a negotiated reinstatement and even so, they insisted that many things had to be taken out. It was a horrible thing emotionally for me.'

Now he is champing for the chance to 'return the Peak Cafe to its rightful home and birthplace - on the Peak'. He's likely to face stiff competition from the likes of Dining Concepts, whose managing director Sandeep Sekhri could be interested, and Igor's, which may bid again. Epicurean Management is unlikely to give up without a fight. Calls to Mr Tang's office went unreturned last week, although his assistant confirmed that he would definitely bid again.

But times have changed. The renovated Peak Tower opposite will have half a dozen new restaurants. An educated estimate puts the Peak Lookout's monthly turnover at about$5 million - which means any bid above $1 million puts the operator's rent at a perilously unviable 20 per cent of sales. Then government tenders require bidders to stump up three months' deposit, which means a cheque in excess of $3 million.

One thing is for sure, it will be one of the hottest tenders this year. Mr Reading cannot wait. 'Losing the Peak Cafe was like losing a child - it had a soul and now I think it's a lost soul.'

However, let us hope that if 121 Peak Road does get a new tenant, common sense will prevail and the government will avoid a repeat of last time's handover performance.

Tung Chung Surprise

Who would ever have thought that Tung Chung would become one of Hong Kong's premier tourist hubs?

Not only is it the jump-off point for the new 25-minute cable car ride to Lantau's Big Buddha, the bizarrely named Ngong Ping 360, which opens at the end of June. Its location puts it only five minutes from not just AsiaWorld Expo and the vast soon-to-open SkyPlaza, which contains the airport's second terminal combined with shopping and entertainment centre, but Chek Lap Kok's new nine-hole golf course, too.

And last week, Accor opened its third Hong Kong Novotel, the Novotel Citygate, a four-star, 440-room hotel complete with Asia's tallest revolving door.