Tsui Hang Village is an institution in the local culinary scene. The restaurant chain, comprising of two locations in Central and TST, is operated by the Miramar Group (a subsidiary of Henderson Land). Tsui Hang Village saw its hey day in the pre-Handover decade when it was the place de rigueur for bankers and well-heeled businessmen to splurge on shark’s fin and bird’s nest. Three decades since it first opened, however, the restaurant that is named after Sun Yat-sen’s birthplace has lost much of its sheen. Today, it is not much more than an overpriced dim sum parlour frequented by an ageing fan base.
Just two days ago, a third location opened at the newly refurbished Lee Theatre Plaza where the bustling Uniqlo flagship resides. Having all but exhausted my dining options in Causeway Bay, I decided to give the newcomer a try. What struck me as soon as I walked in is the décor. It is clear what management is trying to do: steer clear of Chinese gaudiness – of red and gold and mirrors and crystals – and go for a more tasteful, muted palette of oak and beige. But it doesn’t quite work. The space ends up looking more like a Muji store: spartan and bland. It being an upscale restaurant, the tables need tablecloths and the interior needs a focal point.
My guest and I arrived at 8.45pm on a Friday evening. The restaurant was about half empty. Instead of seating us at a bigger, more comfortable round table, the waitress led us to a tiny two-person table in the back. I didn’t mind it until condensation from the air-conditioning grille above my head started to drip. When I asked to move, the waitress gave me a black look before saying, “No problem!” with a big, over-compensating smile. Hmmm.
A few minutes after we sat down at our new table, the manager brought us a complimentary plate of honey-glazed barbecue pork (valued at $128), something they offer during the first two weeks of opening until 7 June. It was a nice gesture. We then flipped through the pictureless menu and ordered three more dishes – half a crispy chicken, fried sea bass fillets and steamed tofu with shrimp and scallops – all standard Cantonese fare for which Tsui Hang Village is known. The food was delicious, with that unmistakable taste of “high-end Chinese”. Timing, though, left much to be desired. The tofu dish didn’t arrive until about an hour after we placed the order. I had to chase three times. And what was the manager’s explanation? “We use very fresh ingredients here, and of course fresh ingredients take longer to cook.”
Half way through our meal, a young waiter brought a piping hot casserole to the table next to ours. As he set the clay pot down, he knocked over a wine glass and spilled shiraz all over a patron’s blouse and handbag. Everybody gasped in horror as the waiter froze and the head manager rushed over to do damage control. But instead of offering to pay for dry-cleaning or free dessert, the manager decided to defuse the tension by praising the secret recipe of the casserole.
I suspect these incidents are not isolated. Despite the better-than-average food, the new restaurant has far too many teething problems to work through before I can recommend it to anyone. I will wait a few months before going back again, if at all. And if I’m spending that kind of cash on food (our dinner for two costs over $800), I expect better décor and much better service. All that leads me to one conclusion: the Miramar Group needs to do some serious soul-searching about its F&B business. It needs to take a hard look at failures like French Window (at the IFC Mall), Room One (at the Mira Hotel) and Tsui Hang Village. It needs to up its game to avoid being forced out by competitors like Maxim’s and Tao Heung.