Food for thought: Dan Ryan’s forced closure at Pacific Place takes cultural heritage off the city’s menu

Much-loved restaurants that have served patrons for decades are just as important for the city’s history as famous landmarks, post boxes and local dialects

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 February, 2016, 1:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 February, 2016, 2:44am

I am sure we have all noticed that Hongkongers are much more sensitive nowadays about their cultural heritage, in aspects both hard and soft.

It is natural enough for older folk to regret the loss of things that were familiar to them in their youth but no longer exist or have changed out of all recognition.

For example, who does not miss the days when the Star Ferry Pier was reasonably close to Central before excessive reclamation pushed it half-way to Tsim Sha Tsui?

It used to be a nice stroll from the post office, but now you need to bring a map, a rucksack and plenty of water because it’s become a route march.

What impressed me very much a few years ago was that so many young people got involved in protecting the old one, and even Queen’s Pier, despite its politically incorrect name.

Heavens above, a case was even made to protect one of the most ugly buildings on God’s earth, the old West Wing of the Central Government Offices.

I remember when the public debate was at its height I offered, live on air, to drive the first bulldozer to knock it down, and still feel disappointed at the final decision to save it.

A recent hoo-ha was caused by the geniuses at the Education Bureau – when will they recruit someone with an IQ in three figures? – to put more emphasis on Putonghua and simplified characters at the expense of Cantonese and traditional ones. Hardly the sort of thing to endear local people to Beijing, I suspect. And while we’re on the subject, when can we get back our red post boxes, royal insignia and all?

But Hong Kong is still a gourmet’s paradise and it’s food that I want to talk about today. The owners of Pacific Place have just given notice to quit to Dan Ryan’s – one of the best patronised restaurants in our city – from premises they have occupied for more than a quarter of a century.

READ MORE: ‘Tears will be shed’: US-style diner Dan Ryan’s to shut down Pacific Place venue in Hong Kong after 27 years

There is no rhyme or reason to this: the establishment offers good food at reasonable prices and is wildly popular with both expats and locals. It certainly pays a decent rent.

People dine there before going to see a movie, or going to buy a book or a DVD at nearby shops. Don’t the landlords realise they are upsetting the ecosystem of the entire mall? It’s only a couple of years since a similarly popular Chinese restaurant, Zen, was evicted from the same building.

These dining icons are part of the warp and weft of a middle-class family lifestyle. How many birthdays have been celebrated in them? How many marriage proposals stammered out, or Valentine’s Day dinners consumed with hands held across the table?

Damn it, they are part of our cultural heritage. Scrapping them is not modernisation or progress, it is social vandalism.

At the end of the day, their passing will be a monument to the power of our property tycoons to ignore public opinion and taste, and simply go their own way, as if we didn’t have enough reminders already. I suspect they have also made a commercial error for which, of course, they will pay in lost rental. But by then it will be too late, and our loss – albeit intangible and emotional – will have been the greater.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University

mike@rowse.com.hk