City's uniqueness being eaten away

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am


Favourite local restaurants are like friends, being places of comfort, closeness and cheer. When they shut down, as they are so regularly doing in Hong Kong's thriving shopping districts, there is a tinge of sadness akin to someone dear passing. It is inevitable with so much demand from mainland tourists for luxury brands, a phenomenon that is pushing up property prices and rents to astronomical levels. But while it is our mental maps, sense of familiarity and stomachs that suffer, with each new closure we also lose another piece of our city's identity.

The importance of food to the average Hongkonger means that a restaurant can appear cramped and dingy, yet because of the quality and value-for-money of the fare it serves, has the loyalest of followings. It is because of such patronage that a simple noodle shop can still be located cheek-by-jowl with outlets for goods of the utmost luxury. Such is the case with the Ho Hung Kee wonton restaurant in Causeway Bay's Sharp Street East, the world's second-most expensive retail street. But despite it opening 38 years ago, and having a prestigious Michelin star, customers fear its days are numbered now that the owner of the 1,000 square foot space has decided to sell.

Proving the buoyancy of the market, the site was bought a year ago for HK$100 million and could now fetch up to HK$180 million. When the noodle shop's lease ends next year, that could translate into a doubling, perhaps a tripling, of the rent, assuming property prices stay strong. That would ramp up the price of a bowl of noodles - a matter that loyalty or not, is ultimately the bottom line for customers.

They would lose a dear friend were the shop to close, as with scores of other long-standing restaurants in recent years. With each goes another facet of the uniqueness that is Hong Kong, along with the skills, industriousness and hard work of the staff. All is not lost if the restaurant relocates, but if it closes for good and another faceless international brand appears in its place, our city loses another piece of what makes it special.