Classic Hong Kong restaurants: Flying Eagle, Sham Shui Po
This 'soy sauce Western' has delighted for decades, says Janice Leung Hayes
Woo Bo-keung, the owner of retro steakhouse Flying Eagle, doesn't recall when he opened his Sham Shui Po restaurant. "1979, perhaps?" he says. His wife, Woo Lee Yi-ling, can't help. "We never thought about having to remember these things," she says. "We just came to work every day." They find it almost amusing that people are interested in their history.
"I suppose there are some people who come here these days because of a sense of nostalgia," says Woo Bo-keung. It also remains popular with couples. "I just don't know why they stare at their mobile phones so much," he says.
The first Flying Eagle opened in Macau in the 1950s by Woo Bo-keung's father. But "children normally don't like to work with their fathers," he says half-jokingly. "Hong Kong has a much larger population than Macau. It made more business sense." He trained as a Western chef, making dishes like borscht, French-style escargot, pig's trotters, Greek mixed grill, and the main attraction - steak with black pepper sauce, served sizzling on a hot iron plate.
Menus like Flying Eagle's were the closest thing Hong Kong had to fine dining in the 1970s. Although they're nothing like the European dishes inspired then, they are still loved by many and have their own niche in Hong Kong's gastronomic library, dubbed "soy sauce Western".
Steak dinners at Flying Eagle are served as set meals, with soup and a large, fluffy brown bread roll to start, and coffee or tea to finish. The main course (chicken, pork or beef) is served with either garlic or black pepper sauce, and fries.
"I don't think there's much point changing the menu," Woo Bo-keung says. "I just want to do a few things, do them well, and keep it that way." He checks with his bread roll supplier to make sure they make rolls the way he likes them. "Not too hard. They should be soft and delicate," he says.
Woo is a humble man, but now in his 70s, he's keen to share his wisdom about the industry. "Rent is that invisible hand that strangles businesses," he says. The Woos partially own their property so have been able to survive. "That's the key to a small family business - low prices and good quality food."
Lately, he's been thinking of retiring.
"Big Western businesses make all these structured plans, but we're just a family business," he says. "My children can decide if they want to take over. Maybe they like working for other people instead."
Flying Eagle, 258 Lai Chi Kok Road, Sham Shui Po, tel: 2395 2576. Open: 11am-11pm