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Classic Hong Kong restaurants: Jimmy's Kitchen

Chain founded in Shanghai in 1924 is still serving up colonial comfort classics and has lost none of its old-world charm, writes Janice Leung Hayes

 

When it opened in 1924 in Shanghai, the restaurant we now know as Jimmy's Kitchen was named The Broadway Lunch. But it didn't take long for regulars to start calling it "Jimmy's", after its founder Jimmy James, a former US navy officer.

Four years after its hugely successful debut in Shanghai, Jimmy found a partner, Aaron Landau, to open a branch in Hong Kong. Although it was shut during the Japanese occupation from 1941-45, Jimmy's Kitchen in Hong Kong has survived for longer than the original, and is one of the oldest restaurants in the city. James closed the Shanghai flagship in 1948 (it was revived in 2010), but the Landaus kept the flag flying here.

The restaurant opened close to Hong Kong's ports, on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai, mostly serving sailors. In 1934, it moved to Theatre Lane in Central - this time with Aaron Landau's son, Leo, taking charge. It moved again in 1975, to Wyndham Street, where it remains.

The operation also expanded to Tsim Sha Tsui, with a branch on Hankow Road opening in 1969.

Its clientele were British and American navy and military officers, and later, as the military presence declined, expatriates.

Martin Ho Kwok-leung, began working at the TST branch, but is now the captain of Jimmy's Kitchen in Central. Ho started at a time when long lunches were the norm. "Our clients were mostly expats. They had wine with their lunch, then something stronger with their cheese at the end of a meal. They'd still be here at 4pm."

Nowadays, the lunch crowd has cleared out by 2pm, but Jimmy's old-world charm remains intact. "We renovated in 2006, but the decor has been preserved. For instance, the bar is still at the front," Ho says, gesturing to the wrought iron divider that separates the bar from the entrance.

The Western comfort food menu is largely unchanged, Ho says. "Many young diners don't know what some of the dishes are," he says. "I have to explain them."

Ho, 71, says the only thing that keeps him from retiring is his customers: "Some have been coming here for four generations. Others who have left Hong Kong call me as soon as they come back. It's truly heartwarming to see them."

48hours@scmp.com

 

Jimmy's Kitchen, South China Building, 1-3 Wyndham Street, Central. Tel: 2526 5293; Kowloon Centre, 29 Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Tel: 2376 0327. Open: Central, noon-3pm, 6pm-11pm; Kowloon, noon-2.30pm, 6pm-11pm

 

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