Much has changed on Hau Fook Street in the past 40 years. The small dead-end street next to Granville Road once had just two restaurants, one serving seafood and the other specialising in the cuisine of Shunde.
'There were also stores selling silk, metal, stationery and Indian groceries and herbs,' says David Wu Yuk, owner of The Sun & Moon Co. His father first rented the shop in 1969 to sell fruit and fruit juices, bought the premises about 20 years later and gradually expanded the selection to include other types of beverages, including an impressive collection of wine.
'My father started as a hawker selling fruits at the junction with Granville Road, to raise me and my seven brothers and sisters,' says Wu. 'The rent went sky high in the 1980s during Hong Kong's economic boom. So he started selling wine and liquor to balance the expenses. My shop now sells more than 300 kinds of liquor but I also sell freshly squeezed juices as a kind of legacy from my father.'
Two decades after the Wus started out, Cheung Chor-suen and his partners opened Ching Yan Lee Chiu Chow Restaurant across the street from the wine shop. 'We moved to this street from Granville Road 20 years ago,' says Cheung.
Others soon followed, and the street is now crowded with 18 food and beverage outlets. '[Some of the restaurants that opened] could not survive more than one or two years because of increasing rent,' Cheung says. 'We can still keep the business running because we have a group of loyal customers. We are the only Chiu Chow restaurant in this alley and we serve higher-end dishes such as shark's fin.'
The two original Hau Fook Street restaurants are long gone but competition between the current outlets is fierce at lunchtime.
Dinnertime is often a different story. 'This street is funny,' Cheung says. 'It goes from two extremes, one night it could be quiet, with very few customers around, but sometimes it's so busy there is a queue at almost every restaurant.'
Most of the places that have opened over the years have been small, old-fashioned and inexpensive noodle and congee shops. But newer dining outlets are boosting the area's popularity.
'We chose this street for our fusion dessert shop because everyone comes to Tsim Sha Tsui for shopping - it's easily accessible no matter how far away you live. We came here in 2000,' says Cheung Suk-han, one of the partners of Happy Together. 'All our desserts are designed by our chef, who worked for the Miramar and the Regal [hotels].'
Happy Together's only competition is Hui Lau San, the chain famous for its mango desserts, which perhaps explains its relatively high prices that start at about HK$35 for a lavishly decorated ice cream puff. For a dessert house with a cha chaan teng-like decor and not very friendly service, it's surprising to find the place packed, with customers waiting for seats.
The Red Ant chain, which offers western and updated Asian dishes, opened a branch there in 1998 because the area is known for its variety of cuisines, says marketing supervisor Li Ying-yee. 'Although it's difficult to operate on a food street as competition is fierce and there's pressure from increasing rents, it helps to attract more clients. It's better than being the only eatery on the street,' Li says.
One of the newer restaurants, 798 Unit, is a chic New York-style bistro that has received favourable reviews. 'We rented this place in March 2006,' says its director Bridget Chen. 'We wanted to target a mass market so the choice of the lease was either Tsim Sha Tsui or Causeway Bay. [The company has since opened a second branch in Times Square.]
'Because of our casual and stylish environment, we attract regular customers who have backgrounds in fashion and the arts, and we also get foreigners as well,' Chen says.
However, the street is especially quiet during public holidays and typhoons, she says. 'Restaurants in Central and Causeway Bay can rely on business people coming for lunch and dinner but there isn't such a clientele here.'
The bistro is one floor above Homeless, which, with its beautifully designed gifts and home products, also helps to attract young, avant-garde clients to Hau Fook Street. 'After we opened, we saw some transformation at nearby eateries,' says Chen. 'Some old restaurants renovated their spaces.'
The concentration of so many restaurants on such a short block attracts customers and keeps standards high, says restaurateur Cheung. 'It's great to see more people coming to Hau Fook Street. Still, you need good food to keep the clients coming and to pay the rent.'
All change as eat street gets a makeover
Hau Fook Street
1. Kwai Kee Wanton Noodles, 45-47D, tel: 2722 0118
2. Coconut Forest Vietnamese Restaurant, No2, tel: 2312 0086
3. Hung Lee Congee, No2A, tel: 2721 6606
4. Ichiban, No3, tel: 3421 0851
5. Full Restaurant, No5-6, Shop 1, tel: 2369 3108
6. Happy Together, No5-6, Shop 2, tel: 2311 6078
7. The Sun & The Moon Co, No5-6, Dorfu Court, Shop 4, tel: 2367 6788
8. Wat Yat Noodles, No5-6, Dorfu Court, Shop 6, tel: 2311 1498
9. Taste King Restaurant, No9, tel: 2366 2886
10. 798 Unit & Co, No9, 1/F, tel: 2366 0234
11. Sino Recipe, No10, tel: 2312 1719
12. Ching Yan Lee Chiu Chow Restaurant, No10A, tel: 2366 1079
13. Red Ant, No11, tel: 2368 8198
14. Yi Pin Jiu Shanghai Restaurant, No11, Shop A, tel: 2368 8061
15. Your Thai Restaurant, No12-12A, tel: 2311 0333
16. Traditional Chinese Noodle, No13, tel: 2722 0282
17. Yeh Lam Kwok Restaurant, No49, Shop A & 1/F, tel: 2367 7780
18. Hui Lau San, No49, Shop C, tel: 2366 8025